Bowzer’s show about true oldies rock and roll

Published on March 23rd, 2021

By Jim Dail

There’s something about early rock and roll that still has a strong effect on people. It may be a sense of nostalgia. It may be because close friends and relatives listen to it. It may simply be that the music is pretty good.

Just ask Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, perhaps the most famous member of the legendary group Sha Na Na, who brings his show, “Bowzer’s Ultimate Doo-Wop Party” to the Pechanga Showroom on Saturday night.

It is a star studded line-up featuring original artists singing their hits: Gary Troxel and the Fleetwoods (“Mr. Blue,” “Come Softly To Me”), Gene Chandler (“Duke of Earl”), Paul and Paula (“Hey Paula”), The Crystals (“He’s a Rebel,” “Then He Kissed Me,” and “Da Doo Ron Ron”), Cleve Duncan, lead singer of the Penguins (“Earth Angel”) and Kathy Young (“A Thousand Stars”).

“It’s an incredible show,” Bauman said. “Gary sounds like himself and just like the records. You can close your eyes during ‘Mr. Blue’ and think you are listening to the record. Gene is great, and everyone loves being able to see him on the West Coast.”

He’s thrilled to have Paul and Paula.

“I love having them on my shows because they can come out and score with that one song,” he said. “People cry when they sing because it takes you to a time and a place somehow. It’s the teen dream about young love and it says a lot about the generations and how some things can just affect everyone.”

Of course, “Bowzer” will be performing as well. Though a lot of people may call him legendary, Bauman may hesitate to use the word legend.

“I don’t think anyone thinks of oneself as legendary, but I have noticed there’s a lovely generation out there of younger people in their 30s who grew up watching the ‘Sha Na Na Show’ and were little kids at the time” he said. “I once got to meet Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger, who was one of my heroes, and it was one of the times in my life when I was tongue tied. I’ve had people act that way around me and it is a great feeling and makes you feel that maybe there is something to all this.”

Sha Na Na formed in the ‘60s at Columbia University, naming themselves after part of the famous chant repeated throughout The Silhouettes 1958 hit “Get a Job.“ Throughout the ‘70s, the band could be seen on stage, movies (“Grease”) and their own hit television show. Bauman went solo and has done everything from being a V-J on VH-I, a game show host and providing voices for animated films (“Hollywood Squares,” “Pop ‘N Rocker Game”). But there’s always been one real true love when it comes to entertainment: rock and roll.

There’s no doubt that his heart is in rock and roll, especially the ‘50s, even though – and some may not know this – he was a Juilliard student on the piano.

“When I was at Juilliard, I was thinking, ‘Wow, all these other kids are really better than me,’” he said. “That’s what you think when you are there. I did eventually rescue myself of the notion that I probably wasn’t going to be a concert pianist. But I always loved and still love music.”

He was a kid during the beginnings of rock and roll, which clearly shaped his love of music.

“The whole style of rock and roll music happened when I was in grade school and intensified when I was a teenager,” he said. “The style was such a break with the past and appealed to every kind of kid. I used to drive my mother crazy. She bought me a transistor radio and I just wanted to listen to the rock and roll stations. I’d run the wire up my shirt and would be sitting at the piano practicing Chopin while listening to my favorite radio station.”

And he does not believe that the music has ever gone away.

“See, the style has stayed around for a long time,” he said. “We are still doing a lot of fairs and cruise shops, random family stuff. Everyone loves this music. After it’s said and done, rock and roll is the fundamental shift. I mean, everyone complains about rap, but even it has a backbeat to it, as Chuck Berry sang about rock and roll.”

His love for the music and the performers runs much deeper than just the songs. It is well known that many artists of the ‘50s never saw much of their money due to unscrupulous managers, record labels and promoters. While modern artists have it much easier, Bauman was and is quite aware that the ‘50s artists were still being ripped off, this time by imposter shows.

Imposter shows sprung up over the last few decades touting themselves as the real deal, when no one on the stage was an original member; but the show, unlike tribute shows, charge as if it was the original band.

 “In 2005, I just decided to take the bull by the horns,” he said. “I just couldn’t watch it anymore.”

The end result is the Truth in Music Committee of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, of which Bauman is the chairman. He and others have traveled nationwide to promote bills that require groups to have at least one prominent original member in order to bill themselves as the original group. So far, 34 states, including California, have passed laws banning groups from calling themselves original and allowing state attorney generals to go after and fine imposters.

“We started to work at the state level, work on it as a consumer bill,” he said. “There have always been two approaches, two sides. There’s the consumer getting ripped off because they are paying for these shows and not seeing the real guys. They are getting ripped off. Someone needs to tell them. On the other hand are the imposter groups pretending to be the real deal, and they have no connection to the original group at all.”

The authentic groups and performers, of which there are still many, never have a chance.

“It’s easy to undercut the authentic artists,” he said. “These guys barely made any money at all during their peak times so the only way they can make money is performing shows, but because of these imposters, they are stuck at home, wanting to work but getting ripped off once again.”

And the performers in the “bogus” bands don’t even have a sense of the history, which is a major difference between the imposter bands and tribute bands, the latter of which are not trying to rip off the original groups, but rather pay homage to them.

“We aren’t trying to put tribute bands out of business,” he said. “But it’s totally absurd what is happening. Charlie Thomas, one of the original members of the Drifters, went to an imposter show of The Drifters in a park in New York City. He had an album and went up to them after the show. The guy autographed his name on Charlie’s face on the album! Then one of the other guys recognized Charlie and they got out of there.”

That leads to one of the real problems, and one of the major reasons why imposter groups can fool the fans.

“The real problem is the anonymity of the members of so many of the early groups,” he said. “They are the easiest targets for imposter groups. The Drifters, Coasters and Platters had very little visual exposure, but a lot of hits. The record companies didn’t like to put photos of African American groups on the records so nobody knew what they looked like. So anyone can pretend to be The Platters.”

He sees it as a true tragedy, especially when one considers the importance of these real musicians on not only music but society.

“What’s happened is a sophisticated form of identity theft,” he said. “These musicians were social pioneers beyond what they were intended. This style of music was designed for young people more so than anything and I truly believe it brought races together. Elvis clearly loved the Delta blues and combined it with country music, and that broke down a lot of racial barriers. I deeply believe there was a direct link between this music and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

So far, most states have moved toward his position and have made it harder for imposter groups to steal the shows from the originals.

Ultimately, it’s all about the music and the truth: The real performers playing the real songs.

“There’s no two ways about it, I still love doing the show,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprise to be this age and still be in the business and have a terrific audience and be able to do this.”


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