Local musician recounts 40 years of rock ‘n’ roll
La Jolla resident John “Jocko” Marcellino has made a career out of being at the right place at the right time.
At the right place when his unsigned college band was heard by Woodstock organizers and subsequently picked as the concert’s opening act for Jimi Hendrix. At the right time when its performance was thus seen and immortalized by Martin Scorsese (then a young editor) on the Woodstock film. And a little of both when the band went from third choice for a syndicated TV show to starring in a hit variety show lasting four years. The right place, the right time and of course, a lot of talent.
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Marcellino’s group, Sha Na Na, has had a spontaneous, albeit extremely successful, journey.
Soon after attending Columbia University on a football scholarship, Marcellino was recruited for his drumming ability by a campus glee club ensemble, The Kingsmen.
“It was a tight-harmony group, basically a vocal group, and then we started backing it with instruments,” Marcellino said. “We also started adding classic doo-wop vocals from the late ’50s and early ’60s. At first, it was sort of a campy look back; then we realized as we studied the music how important it was … we realized this was a good thing to go back and study.”
Thus Sha Na Na was born, complete with leather jackets, gold lame and high-energy ’50s renditions.
Sha Na Na was wildly popular on local campuses, but during the summer-break lull, the group decided to book a two-week show at one of New York’s hottest nightclubs. There it found itself in the midst of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Frank Zappa.
“Suddenly, we had made it into the elite rock-and-roll club,” Marcellino said.
Woodstock producers happened to be at a show and immediately invited Sha Na Na to play at the concert. They were the last group to be booked. Marcellino and Sha Na Na went on to play Woodstock, sign with Kama Sutra Records, produce their first of 18 albums and begin touring – all in between classes, of course.
Eventually, the group ventured into the world of television, starring, from 1977-81, in a self-titled TV show featuring comedy skits and live performances. Sha Na Na also performed six songs and played the characters Johnny Casino and the Gamblers in the 1978 musical “Grease.”
“We didn’t depend on having hit records and all that, we were just renowned in all these other mediums and for our live shows, which we still deliver with a vengeance,” Marcellino said.
Marcellino continues to share the stage with two other original members of Sha Na Na, Screamin’ Scott Simon and Donny York, along with five others.
“It is a fabulous shared experience with the audience each night because this music belongs to all of us,” Marcellino said. “I don’t think families are sitting around sharing hip-hop or heavy metal, but they are sharing this doo-wop stuff. In a way, it has become America’s folk music as much as any other kind of music.”
When not touring or recording, Marcellino gets some much-needed relaxation with his wife, Nicki, and dog in their La Jolla home of 12 years.
But it isn’t long before Marcellino is up and going again, never able to stray far from his entertainment roots.
“Sha Na Na will just keep rocking,” Marcellino said. “We will rock until they don’t want us anymore.”
‘Sha Na Na – 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition’ features six previously unreleased recordings and a variety of past hits. Numbering eight, band members include Jocko Marcellino, Screamin’ Scott Simon, Donny York, Reggie Batisse, Jim Waldbillig, Paulie Kimbarrow, Gene Jaramillo and ‘Downtown’ Michael Brown.
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