The Corvettes Show Band
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The Corvettes Show Band

San Diego, California, United States | SELF

San Diego, California, United States | SELF
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Taking Stock: Two Veterans of Sha Na Na Look Back on Woodstock
It was the most memorable 35 minutes of their young lives.
Forty years ago, Columbia University students John "Jocko" Marcellino and Joseph "Joe" Witkin were at Woodstock, the soon-to-be legendary rock music festival that drew half a million young people to a hilly dairy farm in upstate New York.
But Marcellino, then 19, and Witkin, then 20, came to do more than experience such charismatic music greats as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the just-launched Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The two students, who shared a dorm room in Manhattan, were at Woodstock to perform a 35-minute set with their fledgling band, Sha Na Na.
Their appearance enabled them to participate in a landmark event — aptly billed as "3 days of peace and music" — that came near the end of a tumultuous decade of social unrest, political upheaval and a Grand Canyon-sized generation gap between young and old, the counterculture and the establishment.
"It was a weekend when it seemed like the whole world was watching and there was such a euphoric feeling of co-operation between people," said Marcellino, 59. "The '60s were such an intense time, with a lot of idealism and a lot of excessiveness, and what became known as 'Woodstock nation' was born."
Unlike every other act that played at the festival, Sha Na Na didn't even have a record deal, let alone a commercially available recording. The 12-man group, which specialized in 1950's doo-wop and vintage rock 'n' roll, had only formed a few months earlier.
"Woodstock was just the seventh or eighth time we'd played in concert," Marcellino noted.
Consequently, Sha Na Na's performance slot at Woodstock kept being pushed back. This allowed other, better-known artists to take the stage first, after monsoon-like rains — five inches in three hours — had brought the festival to a prolonged halt.
So, instead of appearing Saturday night as originally scheduled, Sha Na Na didn't go on until after the sun was rising on Monday morning. The group's fast-paced, 12-song set immediately preceded Hendrix's festival-concluding performance, which culminated with his visionary reinvention of the "Star Spangled Banner." Marcellino (who started as the band's drummer and periodic lead singer) and Witkin (who played keyboards) recall it all as if it was, well, barely 40 years ago.
"The stage was sinking in mud and there was no electrical grounding for the equipment," Marcellino said.
"By the time we went on, at least half of the audience was gone. It was so close to being a disaster on so many levels. But everyone came together — the fans, musicians, production people, the local police and the military, which flew in food and water to make the whole thing possible. It was an amazing gathering and the music energized everybody."
For Witkin, 60, Woodstock produced a reassuring feeling about humanity.
"You look around these days and wonder: 'Why can't we all be friends'?" he mused. "At Woodstock, with half a million people, we were."
Back in the real world, the check for $350 Sha Na Na was paid to play at Woodstock bounced, Marcellino recounted. And the group received just $1 for the film rights to its performance in the Oscar-winning 1970 "Woodstock" film documentary.
"There were 12 of us, so that was 8 cents a piece," Marcellino said.

"But I'm so grateful, because this whole career with Sha Na Na wouldn't have happened without Woodstock. We were in the most important music film documentary ever, even if we didn't get paid."
Or, as the still musically active Witkin succinctly noted: "We were starting off as nothing, so how could you rip us off?"
Sha Na Na took its name from a vocal refrain in a 1958 song by The Silhouettes, "Get a Job," which is newly included in the expanded, 6-CD "Woodstock" soundtrack box set. Featuring 11 Columbia University students and a guitarist from Brooklyn College, the group got together in the spring of 1969.
Its combination of high-energy music, the impromptu choreography Witkin devised and the group's 1950s-inspired look — greased back hair, leather jackets, white T-shirts — clicked almost instantly. After obtaining gold outfits from a Broadway production of "Bye Bye Birdie" and doing a few more shows, the young band got a two-week summer residency at one of New York's hottest nightclubs.
"I saw Sha Na Na at Steve Paul's Scene and they knocked me out, so I invited them to play the festival," Michael Lang, one of the four co-producers of Woodstock, said from his upstate New York home.
The group's eye-popping Woodstock gig quickly led to the first of its eight albums for Kama Sutra Records. For the next year, Sha Na Na would only play out-of-town concert and festival dates on weekends, so that its members could attend classes at Columbia on weekdays.
Witkin quit in 1970 to focus on medical school. He never dreamed the band would release 17 more albums, host its own syndicated TV show (from 1978 to 1981) and appear in — and contribute six songs to — the film "Grease," whose soundtrack album would sell 28 million copies worldwide.
"My major was analytical biology and I didn't give much consideration to staying with Sha Na Na," Witkin, who has no regrets, said. "It never occurred to me it would be as successful as long as it was."
Marcellino, who produced the recently released "Sha Na Na — 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition" CD for Pat Boone's Gold Label, was also surprised.
"It didn't occur to us!" he said. "But, almost from the first day, we were doing pretty good. Let me put it this way: I've never had another job since."
Not so for Witkin, who has worked as an emergency room physician.
"They're separate. I certainly don't think of myself as a doctor when I'm playing music," said Witkin, who has performed in bands avocationally throughout his medical career.
Marcellino and Witkin are both married fathers of grown children. Depending on which of the two you ask, their recent reunion for this joint interview at Marcellino's home marked the first time they had seen each other in either 7 or 10 years. Both said they had long standing plans to commemorate this weekend's 40th Woodstock anniversary, although they will be 2,389 miles apart.
"We will definitely talk about the Woodstock anniversary at the gig," Witkin said. "We are thinking about whether there is something special we can do, maybe hand out daisies, but we're not sure yet.
"To a large extent, I think Woodstock is a memory now more than a truth," said Witkin. "I'm not sure how much I recall of it is (reality) anymore. It's been so many years and there's been so much discussion about it. But we're still talking about it — and it always had the same feeling to me that it does now."
To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS.COM





- Creators.Com


Discography

"The Corvettes Doo-Wop and Motown Show Band", 2005 Pacific Records. Available at www.thecorvettes.com.

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Bio

Take a large pinch of nostalgia - that feeling that makes you tingle inside, and brings you face-to-face with the tastes, smells, and feelings of your past. Combine it with the best well-known hits of the fifties and sixties. Stir until totally danceable. Arrange the music on a platter exactly as people remember it. Embellish with glitter, add a helping of wild-and-crazy, and sprinkle with a generous portion of laughs. Serves thousands...

This is the magic recipe for the Corvettes Show Band, San Diego's favorite oldies revue. Their up-tempo, fast-paced show is entertaining for people of all ages. If you grew up in those simpler days, the Corvettes will take you back. Younger than that? Don't worry - the show is so entertaining that even kids can't take their eyes off them- and most of them know the words! And, hey, it’s the roots of rock and roll - EVERYBODY can dance!!

The Corvettes know nostalgia. Their keyboard player performed at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, as an original member of Sha Na Na. Credited with being the first group to introduce the idea of "bringing back the oldies", Sha Na Na is best known for its syndicated TV show in the late seventies, and its appearance in the movie "Grease".