Grease For Peaches
Jon "Bowzer" Bauman of Sha Na Na Brings His Rock'n'Roll Show to Georgia
As loveable lunkhead greaser Bowzer, musician-actor-activist Jon Bauman led music revivalists Sha Na Na on stage, records and eventually on their own variety show. After joining the band n 1970, he became the most recognizable member of the ensemble.
Now he produces and hosts touring oldies shows featuring the voices of the some of the greatest hits of the early rock era. The Atlanta edition features Jay Siegel's Tokens, Shirley Alston Reeves of the Shirlelles, Freddy Cannon and his own band The Stingrays.
When he's not rocking, he's busy pushing for legislation to give deserved rights back to some of the genres early pioneers. INsite spoke with him by phone from his home in California.
Tell us a little about the Truth In Music law.
It's a state law and it's called Truth In Music or Truth in Musical Advertising, depending on the state. I spearheaded it to help artists get the credit they deserve. So far, it's passed in 34 states. Basically, it helps to define the billing of a show. If the show is advertised as The Drifters or The Platters, it should actually be the officially recognized band not some knock-off. The effort has been pretty effective and we're definitely seeing¬†results.
In the '50s and '60s the it was quite common to see rouge bands pretending to be the¬†hitmakers.
Oh yes and even into the '80s, as you know. I don't think it'll ever be as bad as it was in the '50s and '60s, mainly because of the inability to recognize the members of the bands then, because there was so little visual media at the time, even up until the British Invasion. Then when The Beatles came along and everything¬†changed.
Right, in the early days, quite often the record labels didn't even put the correct line-up of the band on the cover.
Ah, so you know the story. There was definitely a race component in those days, too. African-American bands were especially hurt by the practice. It was still a rough and tumble business even when Sha Na Na came along. But we were darlings of the Bill Graham Presents world and by that time in the '70s, artists were actually somewhat respected.
In the rock'n'roll revival in the '70s, Sha Na Na was a major player.
There's always been something that kept the music going. We were a big part of the revival and we didn't even know that we were ushering it in. We started as a college singing group at Columbia University, largely to keep the music alive. Amazingly it worked. Whatever you want to call it, it led to things like American Graffiti, Grease, even Laverne and Shirley. Then it all came full circle for us when we had our own television show and they asked us to be in the Grease movie. The guys who wrote it said one of the things that inspired it was seeing Sha Na Na in the earliest days of our career. And it helped younger people relate to us, so it carries on.
Sha Na Na was unusual because you were a show band rather than a hit-making band.
I think we were the most successful band in the history of rock music without the benefit of a hit record. Our mass-media vehicle ended up being a television show. And that was a great outlet for everybody, us and the guests. It helped keep the music alive during that time.
Will it ever be seen on TV¬†again?
The problem is clearing the rights for all the songs in the show. It's so expensive to pay for the rights for every song we did on that show, so i'm not sure if it'll ever come back. Plus, now that its been away for so long, I'm a little worried that if people saw it now, they'd be like, 'We used to watch that?'
TV was the perfect platform for Sha Na Na because you were a true showband.
Exactly. We were putting a visual and theatrical take on all this great music. As the Bowzer character, I was looking at the '50s through the eyes of the '60s and '70s, so there's another full circle. I based Bowzer on the greaser kids who'd try to roll me for nickels as I was on my way to the Julliard School of Music where I was studying classical music when I was 13 years old.
Tell us about the live show.
I love doing producing these shows because I get to hear all these great songs live. I get to hear Jay Siegal sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," or Shirley Alston Reed sing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," sounding exactly like the records. I play with my band the Stingrays and there are some songs we have to do, or I won't get out the venue alive. I have to do "Blue Moon" and "Goodnight Sweetheart." And even after almost 50 years of doing them, I still don't get tired of them.
On TV, you'd end the show by saying "grease for peace." How did that originate?
Somewhere early on, where the Bowzer character was talking in interviews - because there was no talking in the live show at that point - I just said "grease for peace." Then when we did the TV show, it was how I said goodnight. Nowdays, I say, "I've been saying this since 1970 - and it hasn't worked¬†yet!"
Bowzer's Rock'N'Roll Party comes to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on at 7:30 p.m. July 27. For more infromation, please visit cobbenergycentre.com.