'Bowzer' to bring his show to Westfield State
By G. Michael Dobbs
WESTFIELD - Listening to Jon Bauman speak during an interview with Reminder Publications
last week, there was no indication that since 1969 the musician, singer, actor and activist was actually the Brooklyn-toned "Bowzer" the long-time front man for the celebrated rock revival group Sha Na Na until the end of the conversation.
That's when in his best Brooklynese accent he said good-bye with his signature line "Grease for peace."
If this conversation has been on a videophone there is little doubt Bauman would have flexed his arms and reared back his head as Bowzer has done since 1970.
Bauman credited Sha Na Na, which started as an acapella singing group at Columbia University, as being the sparkplug for the revival of classic rock 'n' roll from the 1950s and early 1960s. Now decades later, Bauman is keeping that flame alive for people who remember the era and for those just discovering it with "Bowzer's Rock-n-Roll Party."
He is bringing the party to Westfield State College's Woodward Center Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. Admission is free and the show is open to the public. The show will feature Bauman's back-up, the Stingrays, as well as Rocky and the Rollers, Charlie Thomas's Drifters and Shirley Allston Reeve, formerly lead singer of the Shirelles.
Bauman said the show is really designed for people to dance through it.
He said with a laugh, "We probably have more show than we have the time for it."
"Show" is very important to Bauman, who said that Sha Na Na actually had a profound influence on contemporary rock 'n' roll. Before the group's hit television show in the 1980s, Sha Na Na was "a very hip underground act," he said.
"We were all about the show," he explained.
Most rockers at the time simply got on stage and performed their latest recordings.
"There wasn't much 'show' in live performances ... it was an era of wonderful music, but little showmanship," he said.
He recalled a 1971 performance in the Winterland Theater in San Francisco, Calif., when the group opened for Jefferson Airplane. After the evening, Bauman said Jefferson Airplane told their agents never to book them with Sha Na Na.
"The opening act ran away with the show," he said.
He said Sha Na Na "felt a kinship with Alice Cooper and David Bowie" who also embraced their own brand of theatricality.
Sha Na Na helped break the ground for movies such as "American Graffiti" and television shows such as "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley," Bauman asserted. The success of those television shows and movies made their own syndicated show possible.
Bauman left the group in the mid-1980s and has been successful as an actor, television host and producer. He currently does 65 to 70 live shows like the one he is bringing to Westfield a year.
A magna cum laude graduate from Columbia University, Bauman has had interests othen than performing. He has also been very active in the Truth in Music Association. Bauman has successfully lobbied for legislation in 33 states that prohibits bands from promoting themselves fraudulently as being a classic rock act.
"Consumers pay good money for a phony show," he said.
He explained the greatest problems have been in the Northeast in the past and that Massachusetts has been active in enforcing this legislation.
He noted that at his performances today, he now greets people who watched the Sha Na Na television show as children who are now bringing their own children to his live shows. He has heard more than once that bed time for these children of the 1980s was often defined as when he closed the show with his "Grease for peace" line.
Bauman said, "I really still enjoy doing this. It's vital. It's upbeat and it keeps you young."