Joe Witkin, Original Keyboardist for SHA NA NA

That's me, second from the right, in 1969...

 

In 1968, I joined the Columbia Kingsmen. They were a traditional barber-shop-type college-song group, actually a spin-off from Glee Club, that recruited new freshman every year and went around in blazers and ties singing alma maters at girls schools. That particular year, a few of the guys had a thing for fifties doo-wop, and the Kingsmen worked up a few of these numbers, just for fun.


Then, one fateful day, the Kingsmen did an informal concert in the Lion's Den, one of Columbia's eatery-hangouts. We were a little ahead of schedule, and the atmosphere was right, so much out of character, still in our blazers, we belted out those fifties tunes.


A strange thing happened. The place went nuts! Everyone rolled up their T-shirts, a few took pens and painted on tattoos, everyone jitterbugged- it was something else! In the audience was the brother of one of the Kingsmen, himself a graduate student at Columbia at the time. This insightful dude arranged a meeting with us that same night and told us "you guys are gonna be stars, and this is how you're gonna do it..." He visualized the whole Sha Na Na thing, down to the gold lame, right then and there. A few weeks, much rehearsing, and several new electrified instruments later, the Kingsmen did an outdoor concert called "Grease Under The Stars", at which five thousand people showed up and went just as crazy. Most of them came greased! Then a name-change and a several-week gig at Steve Paul's Scene, an in-place on 46th Street, where the producers of the upcoming Woodstock Festival saw us. "You guys GOTTA be there!" And we were. (The whole band got $300!) The rest is history...



We had some help with our initial equipment from one of our singers whose family was quite well to do. I wound up with the ole' Wurlizer electric piano. And a fender Dual Showman Reverb with 2-15" JBLs. What an amp! The piano- well it was OK for those days, I guess.


Stayed with Sha Na Na 'til I graduated from Columbia in 1970. Just went on to do what I was planning to do all along (was it medical school?) No one originally planned to turn Sha Na Na into a career, though a several did. Bowser joined just as I left, though he was also from Columbia and I knew him well from Glee Club.


I moved to San Diego in 1975, and put together a Beatles tribute called "Yeah Yeah Yeah" between 1979 and 1984. We played quite a bit locally, and it was lots of fun! Of course, it was just an excuse to buy those Rickenbackers, the Gretsch, the Hofner bass, you know...




CHECK OUT SHA NA NA's current home page and the album "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay, on which I sang "Teenager In Love"!

Continue to Joe Witkin's History of the The Corvettes Show Band

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