Episode #217 — Sha Na Na’s Scott Simon

What, exactly, is the word? Some people think the bird’s the word. No offense to ornithologists, birders, or ornithophilous dilettantes, but for us, that’s not correct. Birds are important members of the ecosystem, warn miners about dangerous carbon monoxide levels (though they’ve now, thankfully, been replaced with digital detectors), and are sassy companions to olde tyme pirates. But they also serve as a reminder that Jurassic Park could happen. So, we can’t allow them to be the word.

Maybe mum’s the word. Everybody loves a good secret, and it always feels good when people trust us with their deepest and darkest. Plus, who can forget the mum references in Langland’s “Piers Plowman” and Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part 2” (Act 1, Scene 2, of course). On second thought, mum can’t be the word. We don’t appreciate that traditionally, mummer’s plays only used male actors … not to mention the face “painting.” That’s a big nope.

That brings us to the Word — you know, that Bible verse from John. No, not the one held up on signs at football games. The one that’s literally “In the beginning” of the book of John. We respect that it could be the word for many people, but we want to be inclusive of all belief systems, so we’re looking elsewhere.

Ultimately, Grease is the word for us. Why? Because it is the time, is the place, is the motion. Essentially, Grease is the way we are feeling. Lucky for us that our guest for this week’s episode is intimately associated with the legendary soundtrack for “Grease.” But Scott Simon of Sha Na Na is so much more than that, and once you listen to his interview, you’ll be using that soundtrack as merely a jumping off point to get the full Sha Na Na experience.

For those of you not familiar with Sha Na Na, they are rock and roll/doo-wop icons that have been around since 1969. Scott filled us in on how the group formed at Columbia University, combining 50s music and theater to create a unique cultural entity. One of their first professional gigs was at Woodstock, appearing just before Jimi Hendrix. And if it seems out of place for a group of Ivy League greasers to sing songs from the 50s at Woodstock, Scott assures us that it makes perfect sense. And after hearing his explanation, it does! Sha Na Na went on to have their own TV show, perform with lots of other famous acts (John and Yoko!), and appear on eight songs on the “Grease” soundtrack. Remember Johnny Casino and the Gamblers, who performed at Rydell High’s National Dance-Off? (The very same dance where friend of the show Dinah Manoff said her unforgettable Marty Maraschino line about the cherry.) That was Sha-Na-Na!

We had a lot of questions for Scott about what it was like to be in a classic like “Grease” and he graciously answered them. But Scott not only performed on the soundtrack, he cowrote one of the songs. When Danny pours his heart out at the drive-in movies singing “Sandy,” he’s singing Scott’s song. Pretty legendary! Scott told us how his song got in the movie and what it’s like to perform all of those songs for audiences today.

Our talk with Scott really highlights Sha Na Na’s unique place in American music history. If you want to know more about Scott and Sha Na Na — and you will — follow Sha Na Na on Facebook and check out their website. And if you’re craving some old school entertainment, look for clips from their TV show on YouTube. Whether or not their style of music is your jam, their musical talent is undeniable!

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