Believe it or not, there wouldn’t have been a Sha Na Na without Jimi Hendrix. “He kept coming to our shows — he dug what we were doing,” says founding member John “Jocko” Marcellino of the rock-guitar legend. “Jimi not only got us our Woodstock gig, he saved our set! We were going to be bumped [for time], but he and his manager made sure we got our slot.”
Though the show wasn’t perfect (“We got paid $350 … and the check bounced!” John laughs), their rendition of “At the Hop” was captured by Martin Scorsese, then a young film student working on the 1970 documentary Woodstock. “That film really put us on the map,” John exclusively told Closer at An Evening With Sha Na Na to Celebrate Their 50th Anniversary at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. “It started our career.”
Before there was Sha Na Na, there were the Kingsmen, an a cappella group John formed with some of his Columbia University pals back in 1969. They played campus gigs, took a new name (from a line in the 1957 hit “Get a Job”) and eventually began performing in NYC clubs. “We let everybody know this is Americana music, and we are going back to the beginning,” John recalls. “At first, it looked sort of campy, but then people realized this is the real-deal music our parents listened to.”
By 1977, they’d land their own TV variety show, Sha Na Na, and a year later they’d appear in the blockbuster Grease as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. “We had six songs on the Grease soundtrack,” John tells Closer. “And a Grammy nomination! That was pretty awesome.”
Today, Sha Na Na is still rockin’ and rollin’, but with only two of its original 12 members (John and Donny York) as well as longtime member Screamin’ Scott Simon (who cowrote the Grease hit “Sandy”). “It feels unbelievable!” gushes John, who collected recordings for the band’s new 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition live album. “We are still doin’ it, and we will keep rockin’ on as long as we are wanted! So good!
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