By Samantha Calderone
Feb. 26, 1980
When Sha Na Na lead singer Johnny Contardo looked out at the crowd of about 3,000 fans gathered for his band’s show at the Scranton Catholic Youth Center, he couldn’t quite contain his surprise.
“What’s going on here? We just packed Madison Square Garden, there were 15,000 people there,” Contardo said.
Despite being disappointed with the turnout, Sha Na Na still gave a great performance of 30 songs and three encores. Some of the songs included “Hound Dog,” “The Monster Mash,” “Tequila” and “Runaround Sue.”
Sam and Dave were the openers that night. Their appearance in Scranton followed their Feb. 23 turn as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.”
Sha Na Na, a “greaser” rock group, was started by a group of students at Columbia University in the late 1960s. The band had performed only a few shows before making an appearance at Woodstock, where it played the slot just before Jimi Hendrix. After playing the festival, the band got a record deal and later released its own television series.
On June 1, 1978, the movie “Grease” was released, and in it Sha Na Na portrayed “Johnny Casino and the Gamblers” — the band that performed “Born to Hand Jive” at the school dance. The ballad “Sandy,” sung by lead actor John Travolta, also was co-written by band member “Screamin’” Scott Simon.
Sha Na Na’s involvement with the “Grease” soundtrack led to the group’s first Grammy nomination.
When the band performed in Scranton, members consisted of Jocko Marcellino, Contardo, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, Frederick “Dennis” Greene, Lennie Baker, Simon, Donald York, “Dirty” Dan McBride, Scott Powell and David “Chico” Ryan. Sha Na Na’s official website
states that the band’s fan base ranges in age from those who may have been familiar with the TV show to those who are younger but recognize the band from “Grease.”
“Sha Na Na … has sustained itself as a musical force since the late ’60s by playing the kind of music that took the nation’s youth by storm in the late ’50s,” The Times-Tribune reported.
Since the band was established, it has released a total of 18 albums. This year, Sha Na Na celebrated its 50th anniversary of rocking and rolling with a tour across the states and new themed merchandise.
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Brian Fulton has been the librarian at The Times-Tribune for the past 14 years. On his blog, Historically Hip, he writes about the great concerts, plays/musicals and celebrity happenings that have taken place throughout NEPA. He once won a chili cook-off with a kielbasa and three pepper chili, and he competed and was crowned grand champion on an episode of NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9140; or @TTPagesPast