Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

They’re here to stay

It’s been 40 years since Sha Na Na first started rockin’ and rollin’ after they got their big break opening for Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Festival.

The ’50s-style band went on to co-star in the film “Grease” as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

Then they landed their own television show broadcast over NBC affiliates in Burbank and in worldwide syndication from 1977 to 1981.

They will be celebrating their anniversary with two shows this week in Glendale. The first show will be during their CD release party at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes & Noble at the Americana at Brand and then they are the headliners for the 16th annual Cruise Night Car Show on Saturday on Brand Boulevard.


Several of the familiar songs they’ll be performing — “Rock ’n’ Roll is Here to Stay,” “At the Hop” and “Sandy” — are included on the new CD “Sha Na Na — 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition,” recorded on Pat Boone’s Gold Label.

Co-founding member and drummer Jocko Marcellino was 19 when Sha Na Na sang at Woodstock, he said.

“Woodstock was Sha Na Na’s eighth engagement,” he said, adding that the founding members met at Columbia University. “We started doing shows on campus.”

They grew to international fame through the Woodstock movie, he said, followed by worldwide syndication with the television show.


Then came “Grease,” and in addition to the band’s role in the film, another founding member, Screamin’ Scott Simon, wrote the lyrics for the song “Sandy” sung by Travolta.

Music of the 1950s has remained popular over the generations because it gets so much play, Marcellino said.

“It really has become America’s folk music,” he said. It has been passed down from generation to generation and between being played on the oldies stations and its use in films, it’s in everybody’s ear.”

The golden era of rock ’n’ roll spanned from 1955 to 1962, Marcellino said.

“We’re proud to be carrying the banner of this great classic rock ’n’ roll,” he said.

Gene Jaramillo has been a member of the group for five years.

“I feel like I’m part of history, when you think of all the events they’ve played and the film and television shows they’ve had and all the people they’ve worked with,” he said. “It’s like an encyclopedia of show biz history, from Henny Youngman to the Ramones.”

Reggie Battise is a 22-year member of the group.


“I was singing opera in Paris, but I wanted to do something different,” he said.

He picked up a Variety magazine and saw the ad for a bass singer.

“I auditioned with zillions of other guys,” Battise said. “We hit it off really well, and I thought this is something I’d get a big kick out of.”

The ’50s music has a lot of rhythm and blues, he said.

“It’s American music,” he said. “It’s all a part of rock ‘n’ roll — a similar soup. They got me singing Brook Benton and Chubby Checker.”

Simon is looking forward to seeing the cars on Brand during Cruise Night, he said.

“I used to have a ’65 Mustang convertible,” he said. “I’ll be taking a look around before the show.”

His favorite auto from the era is a ’57 Bel Air painted turquoise, he said.


“It has great sentimental value to me,” he said. “That’s the look.”

Sha Na Na really connects with the age of the car owners, said Ross Phares, Cruise Night Committee chairman.

“They have transcended the popular music spectrum in the last 40 years or so, and that’s what the people who attend Cruise Night, the car owners and spectators, can relate to,” he said.

Also on the bill are the Jan and Dean Show and the Four Preps, he added.

“Jan and Dean represent Southern California’s surf culture,” Phares said. “They have one or two hits that talk about cars.”

The Four Preps were more from the era of the mid-’50s to early ’60s, the time that many of the cars displayed at Cruise Night were made, he added.

“Last year, a guy brought a 1948 Chevy Fleetline and said it was made when Harry Truman was president,” he said. “A lot of people hook up their favorite cars with public figures or current events.”