So am I but we didn’t get paid for it. I’ve read that we were paid $300 a man for Woodstock but it’s not true. The group got a $300 cheque and it bounced. We didn’t get paid for being in the movie either.
So you didn’t have the right manager?
No, we did. We had a lovely man Ed Goodgold, who founded Trivial Pursuit with his friend Dan Carlinsky. He was perfect for managing Sha Na Na, he was born to it. Nobody could have got that money, it was blood from a stone.
Why did you do the songs so fast?
That’s really asking why did I leave the band. You know, a lot of the guys in the band thought that Pat Boone had done the original version of ‘Long Tall Sally’, and I knew I would either have to kill them or leave peaceably. We were serving up mom’s apple pie and it was the greatest music ever. How bad a version of ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’ could you do for it not to be better than anything else? I do think that the songs we did were brilliantly chosen, but we were recycling. Sha Na Na was not really copying – we weren’t a Platters tribute act. We did a song by each of them – this great melange of everything.
Did you leave Sha Na Na because the money had to be split 12 ways?
Not really. Even with 12 guys we were making a darn good living and enjoying all the accoutrements of the rock’n’roll business, you know what I mean,
After six months, we had played all the big venues in America and people were coming to our show dressed in poodle skirts, It was like The Rocky Horror Show where the audience is the show and it wasn’t for me.
When I saw Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. I knew he was the real deal. He had played with Little Richard and Joey Dee and he had been on the chitlin circuit. He played ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ with footage of fighting in Vietnam. I thought, “He’s making music that only he can make and I’ve got to make my own music too.”
What do make of the 70s revival bands in the UK like Showaddywaddy and Darts who obviously saw what you’d been doing?
They were like a tribute to a tribute act and now of course the industry survives on tribute acts. I do think that there would be no Grease, no Happy Days and no Fonz without Sha Na Na.
And how has it worked out for you?
Okay. I moved to Nashville in 1986 and decided to develop my songwriting. I have done 15 CDs and recorded about 200 songs. I’ve spent my life savings on them but it has been a wonderful thing to do. I’ve known Joe Brown for 30 years and he loves music: he can recognise a song if someone is playing it 40,000 feet below him. He’s also a tough guy who grew up in circumstances similar to mine and yet his shows are all about the joy of living, and that same thing is keeping me making new records.
I know you’ve worked with Chuck Berry so before I go, tell me a Chuck Berry story.