Gary James' Interview With Scott Simon of
Sha Na Na
They took their name from a popular song in the fifties - "Get A Job" (Sha Na Na Na); and made their public debut at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Since then they've enjoyed sell-out concerts, a hit TV show, world tours and record albums that sell amazingly well for a nostalgia act. We are talking of course about Sha Na Na. Group member Screamin' Scott Simon spoke with us about Sha Na Na.
Q - Who is the audience for Sha Na Na?
A - Basically, there's still an audience for Sha Na Na. That's kids of all ages. It might be corporate executives of a huge computer company having a convention in New Orleans or it might be families out on a Thursday night in Syracuse. It could be a casino audience in Las Vegas, Reno or Atlantic City. It's a wide ranging show. It has a female in the show now, which it never did before. That's a welcome addition for all the males in the audience as well as all the females. It kind of rounds out the show. She can sing 'It's My Party' and all the women can relate and it really has nothing to do with cheesecake.
Q - Are you surprised that people are still into your music?
A - Not at all. It's actually bigger than ever, I mean to me it is. To me every record Huey Lewis releases, to name one, is a 50's song. I don't see any difference between what he's doing, and 'oldies' at all. There's two styles of music out, one harks back to the 50's and it's vocal oriented. Every other record Billy Joel releases is a 50's record. Certainly in the spectrum of music, there's an entire sub-genre which is stuff emanating from the field of 50's rock 'n roll. The other half which is being covered by Bon Jovi or all the heavy metal groups is late 60's. Heavy metal is nothing more or less than Jimi Hendrix with infantile lyrics. To me everything is re-cyclable and everything is recycled. There's nothing new under the sun.
Q - Does Sha Na Na have a record deal at this time?
A - We always have some deal cooking, whether it's a CD of a 'live' show, whether it's the kind of thing that Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson had with video/audio kind of sell. We do have a 45 minute video which is, 'How To Throw A 50's Hop', that's some concert stuff combined with some comedic stuff. It shows how to grease your hair, how to dance the stroll, how to do the Lindy. It's a tongue in cheek instructional tape. We've always been much more entertainment oriented as far as audio/visual. We've recorded 15 albums in 15 years, but it comes down to oldies, which is what we're known for. All through the years, we've had original songs on our albums, but people don't want original songs from us, they want 'oldies. It's a Catch 22. So the record business as such, and the music business in so far as expressed through record sales and airplay, is not what we do. We're into entertainment. We're in the entertainment business, we're not really in the music business.
Q - Does not having a TV show hurt the group?
A - Well, it's a very mixed thing, because of the 10 people who were in Sha Na Na at the time those shows were made, 5 have departed and only 5 are still performing with the group. So if that show was on every week and we came to town, there easily could be the confusion that the Sha Na Na they were paying to see, was the Sha Na Na they saw every week. It wouldn't be true, this way we're better off in trying to get our own TV show with this group of people.
Q - Where does the show travel to?
A - We just came back from Singapore and Hong Kong. We do
a lot of travel all over, mostly in the country, because it's a very special situation. It has to be somewhere novel. We've been to Europe and Japan several times. There's always offers out there, all over the world for us as far as anywhere the TV show played, there's interest.
Q - How did Sha Na Na come together?
A - We played at Steve Paul's Scene on the West side of New York just before it closed down. And just before it closed down, a guy came and said "I'm holding this big festival upstate. I'll pay you $600", of which the group saw $300. "Do you wanna play at it?" Sure. Going on just before Hendrix, the camera crews were all asleep, 'cause it was 5:30 in the
morning. Somebody woke 'em up and said you ought to shoot this, 'cause it's really amazing looking, and they shot 'At the Hop'. That was the only song they shot. Getting into the Woodstock movie and being linked in the same breath with The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Santana and Janis Joplin, gave the group instant creditability, that would perhaps never been achieved otherwise. And then, a scant 8 years later we were an overnight success.
Q - Has anyone ever opened for Sha Na Na, and went on to
A - Have you heard of Bruce Springsteen, the guy from New
Jersey? Have you heard of Billy Joel, the guy from Long
Island? Have your heard of Hall and Oates? Have you heard of Steve Martin? This list could go on and on.
Q - Who then, would you be excited to meet?
A - Keith Richards, Mick Jagger.
Q - Paul McCartney?
A - Not me. I would be interested in seeing what a guy worth 150 million dollars looks like.
Q - 150? Try 500 million.
A - Oh, he's done well lately. He's more interesting to me as a business man than as an artist, to tell you the truth.
Q - What do you think of the hoopla that still surrounds Elvis?
A - The guy was everything that he was cracked up to be. What's happening to him in his death is no different than what happened to him in his life, he just doesn't have to deal with it anymore. He's an icon. He's an American original. I wish the Elvis imitators would give him a breather. Take a rest. We used to do Elvis in our show, but not after he died.
Q - How would you answer Mrs. Tipper Gore of the P.M.R.C. when she asks why today's music has to be so negative?
A - There are too many songs out there to make a monolithic statement that just because there is a Beastie Boys, everything's gone in the toilet. It's just not true. It's too big a statement. There's too wide a market to jump on everybody for the sake of a few people. I think the people who are on the cutting edge of obscenity or sexual deviance lyrically are there partially because somebody has gotta be there. It's the nature of the market place that if 4 million people are buying it, somebody will produce it. If what they're selling is being bought, don't blame the artist, blame the businessman. I think she should go out and get a job!