Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Dr. Cheeko Hams it up Philly Phan
While Island Nite on Sundays at Baia Twisted Italian Cusine deck is still going strong, Island Nite actually originated down the street at the Med, which was a diner up front and a nightclub in the back and is now a furniture store.
It all began in the late 1980s, the year the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up on launching is how I remember it, whatever year that was.
I lived in Cape May Point at the time, and often went to Wildwood to see the bands, and one day I checked out the Hawaiian act on the deck on the waterfront right there as you come into town on the main drag. They weren't very enticing, so stopped in the nearby Pegleg Lounge, a motel bar where the marque sign said Dr. Chico was playing.
It was a small, windowless airconditioned joint with fake plastic palm trees and fancy drinks, and the band was a tight trio of drums, keyboards and guitar.
Dr. Chico was on drums, and I liked their rhythms and sound.
When they finished their set, I talked with Chico, who said the band originally began in Florida, and used to play on the deck but were relegated to the motel bar when the Hawaiian act came in. "They're not really Hawaiian," Chico confined to me, "but they're from Somoa," and he suggested that I expose them in story.
I told him I'd rather write about him, and thought that they deserved a lot better than playing in a motel bar in Wildwood, and wrote them up in my Nightbeat column in the SandPaper.
After the summer was over, we hooked up again, and Chico said they were out of work, so I went to Somers Point and made a deal with Tino, the owner of the Mediterranean Lounge on MacArthur Blvd., to open their nightclub on Monday nights, their worst night of the week. They were usually closed on Mondays during the winter, so we were trying something new.
We called it Island Nite, and put up posters all over the place, I did a column on it as a preview and Rick the publisher gave us a quarter page free ad and we encouraged people to dress in their island shirts and promoted a limbo contest.
We also had to charge a cover of $3 since Tino the Med owner wouldn't pay us anything, and my brother Leo sat by the door to take the money, but when showtime came, only a few people had showed up.
I thought it was going to be a disaster, and went up to the diner to get a cup of coffee, and sulk for awhile. When I heard Chico playing Bob Marley's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," I got up and went back and found the room hopping, the dance floor was full and people were streaming in. Allright!
Island Nite was especially popular with the girls, who wore flower print dresses and did the limbo contest.
Island Nite became an every Monday night thing after that, and Tino started rewarding the band with a few free drinks and an occasional meal.
Then in February I got a call from my old friend Mike Rafferty from Mack & Manco days on the OC boardwalk, and he was trying to book the Wolftones Irish band for St. Patrick's Day week. Tino balked at their price tag, but I said we could make it up at the door charing $10 a head. Pete, the owner of the Tuckahoe Inn, offered to give the Wolftones a free meal at his place, and we decided to book them.
The place filled up quickly and was wall to wall with people eating and drinking but we were still a few hundred short of what they wanted and the band wouldn't go on until they were paid, but Tino was making so much money on the booze he broke down and gave them the ballance out of the till.
It was pretty raucus night, as the band played three great sets and every Irishman in South Jersey was there, including a lot of Atlantic City politicians, and everybody was doing Irish whisky and dancing on tables, some of which crashed to the floor, but Tino didn't care, he was making more money than he ever made in one night.
Then it was back to the more sedate Island Nite, which lasted that whole winter, and we were going to go into the summer too, but Dr. Chico was lured away by more money from the Waterfront. I forget whether it was Harris Berman, Esq., the orignal owner, or Jay Lamont, who bought it from Berman, but whoever it was, they offered Chico more money than he was making at the Med and he took it.
And they moved Island Nite to Sundays, to keep the weekend going another night.
Around that time, Kenny, the guitarist, moved to San Diego, California. I knew Chico was from the islands and played in the band in Florida, but I didn't believe him when Kenny told me he was from Jamacia. He was too white, and I later learned he was from Vineland, but that was okay. He could play guitar and had a smooth voice, ran the limo contests and all the girls liked him.
I forget the keyboard players name, but he had a girlfriend who was always there, and was pretty decent at being able to pick up new songs.
But then when Kenny went to San Diego, he started a band out there that he also called Dr. Chico with the Island sounds. When I was in San Diego to see the America's Cup sailboat races one year, I saw he was playing nearby and checked them out. They were doing pretty much the same songs though they added a little Spanish Mexican twist.
So I suggested that he change his name, so not to be confused with the San Diego Dr. Chico, and call himself Dr. Cheeko, which seemed to work for him.
Dr. Cheeko's Island Nite at the Waterfront was very successful, but when Cheeko asked for a raise, they got another reggae band to replace them, and eventually brought in Verdict, the fine band that continues the Island Nite tradition.
It didn't take long for Dr. Cheeko to find some other gigs, and with a new band behind him he found a strong fan base along the north Jersey Shore and in Atlantic City, where the Dr. Cheeko band performs at Martelli's Tiki Bar in Bayville, every Sunday and Tuesday and at the new Golden Nugget Marina in AC every Monday.