What does Doo Wop and Svengoolie have in common?
The Arcada Theatre has given me so many gifts. I've had it for 13 years, and the treasured moments I have experienced there are numerous, yet each one is as special as the one before.
Being a child of the '70s, my center of musical gravity includes Led Zeppelin, STYX, Chicago, Journey, BOSTON, KANSAS and others from that Classic Rock era. But my musical journey has led me down many paths, and those paths have all led to the historic Arcada stage.
And this past weekend was a prime example.
I hosted a classic "Doo Wop" show that starred Ladd Vance, The Tokens, Larry Chance & The Earls and Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon. It was nothing short of spectacular! Yes, I LOVED it! Even though I am, as many people call me, the "Rocker from The Arcada," those pure harmonies, heartwarming ballads and fun pop tunes are as much a part of Americana as is singing the national anthem at a ballgame.
I was rockin' to those deep anthems by Alice Cooper and RUSH coming home from school, and I would watch the weekly television variety show, "Sha Na Na" at night. That show turned me on to what is now called "Doo Wop" music, referring to the "Doo Wop" sound of a cappella group background vocals singing on the East-Coast street corners in the 1950s and early '60s. It was years later, however, that I learned those great songs weren't originals by the guys on the TV show!
I have always loved those harmonies as they represented for me a more wholesome style of music than the acid rock of the time. There is a time and a place for all music, and when I was in an "all-American" mood, there was nothin' like the music of Dion & The Belmonts and The Duprees!
What occurred on our stage last Sunday was American music at its finest.
Ladd Vance, who is the son of Kenny Vance of The Planotones, can't be more than 40 years old or so, started it off with great renditions of songs from the time, with The El Reys from Pittsburgh backing him up. It was great to see a young man keeping the music alive -- and did he do his father proud!
Then, Larry Chance and The Earls came onstage. To see these guys, all pressed in their matching bright blue suits and patent leather shoes, was wonderful. I could only imagine what it was like when they hopped on stage back in the day, getting the sock hops going!
Larry got emotional as he introduced their hit, "I Believe." It is a great song of hope that originally was written about the Korean War. The Earls recorded it later, but after Larry survived throat cancer in 2000, the song had a whole new meaning for him. It was an inspirational moment for everyone in the room and an incredible performance by Larry and the guys.
Jay Seigel of The Tokens was next. He was in astonishingly good shape -- at 80 years old! And when he hit the high notes on the smash hit, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the whole theater was on its feet! It was great to see 12-year-olds to 70-year-olds singing the song together, word for word.
One of the highlights of the night for me was meeting Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon. It was my first time working with him and what a treat it was!
He was spry and funny, as excited to play The Arcada as he was at any of his record breaking 110 appearances on "American Bandstand."
"Ron! So great to finally meet you! Everyone I know talks about this place," he said. I was humbled.
He was also excited to finally meet my friend Kent Kotel, who hosts a blog called, "Forgotten Hits." Kent had been communicating with Freddy for over 10 years via the site, but the two never met in person. Freddy wanted to meet Kent for many reasons, but one was quite a good story.
It seems a few years back, a reader of "Forgotten Hits" had come upon an original acetate pressing of the record "She's My Rock And Roll Baby," a song recorded by Freddy Karmen and the Hurricanes. It was a song written by Freddy's mom in 1958. She paid for her young son to record the track at a small studio called Ace Recording Studio in Boston. After sending it to local disc jockeys, it was presented to Bob Crewe, songwriter/producer who "made" The Four Seasons.
Crewe and his partner reworked the song. "Freddy Karmen" became Freddy Cannon and the song became Freddy's first and one of his biggest hits, "Tallahassee Lassie." But the original recording was lost. That is, until Freddy was reunited with it because of the "Forgotten Hits." It was a wonderful, onstage moment!
Then a surprise guest joined Freddy in the middle of his set. Svengoolie, the character played by Rich Koz on MeTV, jumped on stage during Freddy's performance of "The Svengoolie Stomp." It was a cute song written by Freddy at the behest of his wife. "I just loved watching this guy on TV," Freddy told me and Rich in the dressing room. "My wife Jeanette said, 'You love him so much, why don't you write a song about him?' I did, and everybody loved it!"
Jeanette was there also, and Freddy wouldn't even do the meet-and-greet without her. A true testimonial to their love, and her support.
"I couldn't be more honored," Rich (Sven) said.
What a guy HE is too, by the way. As humble as he is comical. He is also part of our "growing up" years. Another great performer, and another great moment at The Arcada!
The pure excitement and sincere love of what they are doing makes working with these groups from the '50s and '60s a genuine joy. They love the music as much as their audiences do, and they are as excited to perform now as they were on those bus ride circuits featuring five or six acts going from town to town with Alan Freed.
As the acts from the '70s are losing their band members on a daily basis due to bad health and hard rocking and touring, these guys from the '50s and '60s are still at it, sounding as good as ever. My hat goes off to these guys (and girls) from that great Doo Wop era. I hope that as long as there are street corners, THAT music will still be Doo-Wopping along!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.