SCHENECTADY — Former teen idol Dion DiMucci, The Wanderer, once lamented to me that the artists of his generation – the ’50s and ’60s – have never been taken as seriously as the chart-toppers from the rest of the 20th century. Don’t tell that to the 2,400 people who attended The Golden Oldies Spectacular Saturday night, April 30, at Proctor’s Theatre.
Veteran promoter Jim Anderson who never steps into the spotlight for his twice-annual showcase of bands from the era came forward and opened the show with a fervent thank you to the 600 ticket holders who had held onto their tickets for more than two years of Covid lockdowns for this night. Then 20-year veteran deejay from Magic Radio Ben Patton asked the audience, “Is everybody ready to let loose?” He didn’t have to ask twice.
The 81-year-old Vito Picone of the Elegants quipped to the audience that he had COPD and several operations including a belly implant. The group capped their opening set with a near-perfect rendition of “Little Star,” a hit that spent 19 weeks on the Billboard top-40 chart and sold three million copies in 1958. They reprised Buddy Holly’s “Every Day,” and Vito told of being on tour 30 days before the fateful 1959 plane crash that killed Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens. Dion to this day has feelings of guilt that he avoided taking that flight that killed his friends. The crash in a field in Clear Lake, Iowa took place around my 16th birthday and was a stark reminder that my musical heroes were not immortal.
The Skyliners capped their segment with their biggest hit, “Since I Don’t Have You,” but the standout song of their set was Dionne Warwick’s “I Say A Little Prayer for You” sung by an unnamed female who nailed it. They mentioned that Bert Bachrach wrote that song for Vietnam vets. Close your eyes, and you’d swear Dionne was on that stage. They told the audience that this was their 64th year on the road. They were the first white act to reach #1 on the Cashbox R&B charts, which led to them performing eight times at the legendary Apollo Theatre.
Bobby Brooks Wilson told me backstage that he never met his father Jackie Wilson. I told him I’d seen his dad of “Higher and Higher” fame on my first honeymoon in 1968 and that his dancing rivaled James Brown, not to mention his incomparable falsetto. Bobby told me that his dad had worked with Michael Jackson on his dancing. While Wilson writes and records his own contemporary dance tunes, he stuck to his dad’s repertoire including “That’s Why I Love You So,” “Lonely Teardrops,” “To Be Loved,” “Baby Work Out” and Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears,” commenting that his dad worked with Smokey and Barry Gordy before Gordy formed Motown.
To say that Wilson stole the show is an understatement. He worked an aging audience into a lather, egging on their response and walking offstage into the crowd. He had some big shoes to fill, but I felt the ghost of his father in his dancing and incredibly similar voice.
Jay Siegel, founding lead singer of The Tokens, had allergies so bad I could hardly understand what he said to me backstage. His emails include a photo of a sleeping lion, and indeed The Tokens’ version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” has been the group’s claim to fame for 61 years. He was able to hit the high falsetto “Wimoweh” part of the song but enlisted the audience to help him through “In The jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.”
To make matters even more problematic, Siegel’s bass singer Bill Reid died a few weeks ago and was replaced by Gabe Dassa, who is an orthopedic surgeon by day. The Tokens did two songs and were gone.
The less said about the Vogues the better. They ended the first half of the show with a version of “Special Angel” sung off key and their big 1965 hit “5 O’Clock World.”
The Brooklyn Bridge did an hour and 15-minute set that took up the entire second half of the concert. The only group that had their own backing band, they presented an extremely well-rehearsed Vegas-styled set that covered their own hits like the Jimmy Webb penned “The Worst That Could Happen” and “Your Husband, My Wife” which was banned by radio stations across the country. Its lyrics are about an illicit affair, a situation the band thought was unfair when Led Zeppelin was topping the charts singing about giving some girl “every inch of my love. The year was 1969, and the popular music market was split between AM hitmakers like the Brooklyn Bridge and FM hard rockers like Led Zeppelin.
Their covers ranged from “Mustang Sally” to Dion’s “Ruby Baby” and “Runaround Sue.” Their version of The Platters’ “My Prayer” was the highlight of the set. They dedicated it to those of us who’ve lost loved ones in these last two years of the pandemic. Much to do was made over the loss in 2010 of Brooklyn Bridge’s lead vocalist Johnny Maestro. That said, current lead singer Joe Esposito was not only versatile but more than adequate in capturing the mood of songs as disparate as “Step by Step,” “I’m Ready, Willing and Able to Rock and Roll All Night,” and “The Best Thing That Could Happen.”
The further away we get from the golden age of early rock and roll, the fewer of the originators are left to carry the torch. One of the newer members of The Brooklyn Bridge is John Williams with the group for two years. But even he is an old hand whose been with other doo-wop groups and is old enough to have been stationed in Da Nang during the Vietnam War.
Jim Anderson treats these shows with respect. Jay Siegel told me that he always tells Jim he’s too nice to be in this business. The people in these groups are not just creating product for an old demographic. They love the music and the memories it creates not just for the fans but for the artists themselves.
Anderson’s next show is the Rock ‘n Roll Doowop Spectacular on November 19th with Chubby Checker, The Duprees, The Doowop Project, and Trish Anderson. On April 29, 2023, The Sixties Spectacular headlines Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, Jay and The Americans, Dennis Tufano of The Buckinghams, and the 1910 Fruitgum Co.