Sha Na Na

Sha Na Na Lenny bear tshirt

Sha Na Na inspired me to believe that when you truly and deeply love something, have no expectations of an outcome and live in joyful awareness of that love – you can create a force that time and space does not contain.

Never heard of Sha Na Na perhaps? Well what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “The Fifties”? Chances are you probably thought of when Marty McFly went back in time or Grease featuring John Travolta or maybe even Fonzie in Happy Days but the rock group Sha Na Na who started at the end of the 1960’s are actually the reason you thought about those things (instead of people terrified of the atom bomb, The Korean war, McCarthyism or beatniks). Think that’s a stretch? well, I wouldn’t be the first one to say this and smarter minds than me have observed this phenomenon!. But if scholarly reading is not your bag then why not just look at this clip where Dirty Dan, the lead guitarist for Sha Na Na is doing his take on Chuck Berry years before Marty McFly made this act a meme!

They were college students with enough clout and talent to put on a couple of quality shows for the fun of it and they did. The shows were well received perhaps in part because good old fashioned fun was in short supply for anxious draft age people. Popular acts such as The Doors were now casting a dark shadow, The Beatles were bickering, LSD was now illegal and drug busts for many top bands such as the Rolling Stones were fueling anger against long haired youth – especially those who were protesting the Vietnam war. Black Sabbath was set to change hippy music forever and it  seemed like the Summer of Love, only a couple of years before, was of a different era entirely even as The Woodstock festival was set to end the decade of the 1960s on a high note.

Jimi Hendrix happened to catch a gig of theirs and loved their energy and apparently that’s why they ended up playing their third gig as the act right before him – not bad! Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock was one of those moments in history that will not fade away anytime soon – it defines all that is good about America – and Sha Na Na was a part of it.

Rob Leonard co-founder of Sha Na Na interview.
Rob Leonard co-founder of Sha Na Na interview.

When the movie documenting the festival came out the following year – it was Jimi Hendrix that drove home the point that these young people who didn’t want to be drafted and killed in Vietnam over a political ideology WERE America and the war against communism was already won as it took the freedom of a country like America to allow a Jimi Hendrix the level of individual artistic expression to brake all boundaries!

Don’t get me wrong, Sha Na Na didn’t re-invent the music of the 1950’s, maybe bands like The Stray Cats did later on but Sha Na Na were for entertainment rather than pure artistic purposes – they were the cathartic release that the public needed in a world where the nightly news contained body counts. What has to be emphasized is that they were not the brainchild of a savvy record or TV producer trying to find the next Monkees to cash in on. They created their market against the wave of the mainstream and on their own terms.

Sha Na Na evolved in many directions after Woodstock, their energetic concerts were a hit with the hippy crowd as well as regular people and they sold a ton of records -even recording some great original songs – but when they were offered their own syndicated TV variety show they locked in their original revved up 1950s doo wop personas.

Yes, ain’t it a shame, a tragedy of epic proportions like crashing and dying on the way to give your love an engagement ring that the Sha Na Na tv show, (that ran for 97 episodes) has not been digitized and put up for sale in a box set like Hee Haw or even The Lawrence Welk show was.

I was totally inspired by Sha Na Na – I wanted to be cool like Bowzer (even if I was a tenor rather than a bass man)– my friends and I even made our own cover band of Sha Na Na called Baa Na Na and recorded ourselves on cassette tapes singing over their records. Yes, my first band was a cover band of a cover band haha!

Below, with my commentary above each video about the video, are my favorite Sha Na Na songs and video performances!

Jocko (my favorite New York Italian dude, sorry Larry!) played drums and was there from the start, is STILL in SHA NA NA and wrote and recorded this amazing song (right before they started their tv show)! I cued the video up to Jocko’s song “Chills In My Spine”

Denny (who recently passed on to the great gig in the sky after a successful career as a law professor) wrote this masterpiece – it inspired me to write my favorite poem.
This performance of The Edsels hit Rama Lama Ding Dong is typical of why their concerts were so popular -it’s so much fun, just look at Lenny the fat guy with the voice of an angel, wearing a mustard stained ‘wife-beater’ t-shirt and sax strap dance around like a kid without a care in the world – these hippies who dressed like 1950’s rockers and tough guys were the coolest cats on Earth!

Screamin’ Scott Simon (Sha Na Na’s version of Jerry Lee Lewis who joined right after Woodstock) wrote this amazing original tune called The Vote Song that is a total classic – screw you Richard Nixon!

Bowzer, everyone’s favorite New York Jew (perhaps until the Beastie Boys hit the scene anyway!) was way more than his tough guy leader of the pack persona but he plays it for all it’s worth in this complete concert from 1973. I cued it up to their version of the Marcel’s hit Blue Moon but check out Bowzers monologue after Blue Moon too!

AND another original song (pretty sure it was by Screamin’ Scott Simon)- but weirdly this is a country song!!

If you have time, listen to these interviews with Jon Bauman aka Bowzer as he explains the Truth in Music Movement where legislation has been passed so that the original 50’s and 60’s musicians (and even more modern groups) are now less likely to be victimized via band identity theft.

On April 17, 2007, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha Na Na spoke before the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media in support of Assembly member Anthony Portantino’s Assembly Bill 702, the Truth in Music Act. The bill would protect the public from falsely advertised performance groups by mandating that a musical or performance group contain at least one member of the original recording group, or hold a trademark from the original act, in order to publicly perform using the original group’s name.

How totally cool is Jon “Bowzer” Bauman? The coolest man on Earth? I think so!

In conclusion, Sha Na Na were hippies who actually DID make a difference in the world. They spread joy and peace far and wide and are STILL everything good about America, the country that invented rock and roll music!

Next year, 2019, you can expect to see current members Donny, Jocko and Screamin’ Scott and probably a bunch of former members too playing their 50 year anniversary concert! They will probably even have some guest stars who were in the original doo wop bands that inspired them too!!

As Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen said in their tribute song to Sha Na Na – “you can move to Montana and listen to Santana but you still won’t be as cool as Sha Na Na”. I just happened to be at the right place and time to be a fan of Sha Na Na and I think of them when I proudly wear my tie dyed Sha Na Na t-shirt with a drawing of a Lenny bear I drew on it!

Grease for peace!

Here’s another 10 minutes of good stuff from the Sha Na Na tv show! (thanks to

The Lost Viking for sharing this on YouTube)!

My favorite one with Johnny on lead vocals (he was my sister’s favorite in the band)! The audio drops for a second here and there but they nail the harmony in this version of that song from that Grease movie!Yes, Johnny went on to be a famous newspaper reporter and of course a singer too!

Here Santini (the jock of the band) nails the Jive Five classic. He left the band after the tv show to go back to school and became a successful orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine – because he could!


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