Monday, July 2, 2012

Bob Campanell Beach

Bob Campanell Beach

Officially the Somers Point Municipal Beach is named in honor of William Morrow, but it’s Bob Campanell's beach for one day a year. Campanell owns the Somers Point beach every July 4th, as he’s been playing that gig every independence day for a number of years now, and when they sit down to book the summer beach concerts for the season they can just keep penciling in Bobby’s name for that day every year, at least as far as the music fans are concerned.

For Campanell the road to Bay Avenue was long and winding but he seems to be glad to be there. An original South Jersey guy who discovered rock & roll at an early age, Bob began playing the guitar and singing in a garage band before making his way to Asbury Park, where he was an integral part of the blossoming music scene of the ‘70s. With the Shakes, Bob played the Uptown, Stone Pony and other now legendary Asbury Park Clubs, often sharing the stage with Bruce, Southside Johnny and John Bon Jovi, whose band once opened for the Shakes.

Bruce and Bob at the Pony 

The unofficial history of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band records the facts that, “On 28 May 1977, the Springsteen-Apple lawsuits reached a final settlement and finally Springsteen was able to get into a studio and record. Recording sessions for the next album began in early June 1977, but Springsteen kept making guest appearances at other artists' gigs, and jamming with Southside Johnny at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. On 13 Sep 1977, he performed a set of 5 songs (including THUNDER ROAD) with Southside Johnny and the E Street Band at the club. This was during a benefit show for Bob Campanell, member of The Shakes, who were a house band at the club at the time.”

While those guys went elsewhere, Bob Campanell and the Shakes drove down Highway 9 until they got to Somers Point. Since there weren’t any beach gigs then, they drove down Bay Avenue and auditioned for Anthony Marotta at Tony Marts.

Not getting that job, and feeling a bit rejected, they went around the corner to Mothers, which was a late night, all night joint just on the other side of bridge, and technically in Egg Harbor Township, where the beer and booze could flow after the places in Somers Point closed at 2am. Like the Dunes, Brownies and the Attic, Mothers was popular with those who left Bay Shores, Tony Marts and the Anchorage, and wanted to keep dancing. The party that never stopped.

Mothers had previously been a shot and beer bar with a pool table and previously known variously as O’Brynes, the Mug and the Purple Villa before Andrew bought it. He remodeled the place as a carpet joint and named it after the nightclub in the once popular TV series Peter Gunn. Gunn was a private eye and the TV Mothers had a jazz band with a hot female vocalist, but at Mothers at the Jersey Shore, rock & roll was king, at least at that time.

Other good bands – Airport, Hit & Run, and some great ones like Johnny Caswell and the Crystal Mansion played Mothers, but I remember Bobby Campanell and the Shakes the best, and he was the guy I always went out of my way to see. He plays with a passion and makes a classic cover song his own, just like he owns the Somers Point beach. 

The first time I heard the Shakes I thought they were great, but wouldn’t be able to keep up the same pace for long, but they did. They came out and played hard every set, and introduced that frolicking Asbury Park sound and style to the South Jersey Shore. They never stop to talk about what song to do next, they just kept playing great songs they liked, and gave it a twist. You know how they keep the beat up between songs and tell a story, sometimes to frame a tune? Even on live recorded albums they cut it back to just the songs, so you miss out on all the between song banter, like an epic poem - that frames the song and places it somewhere, somewhere familiar or exotic. Well once Bobby was telling the story of how he auditioned for Tony Marotta, without actually mentioning his name, but you knew who he was talking about, “We walked in through the doors above which is a sign that reads: ‘through these doors walk the most beautiful girls in the world.’” 

Then after the brief audition, or maybe it was in the middle of it, Tony took a cigar out of his mouth and told Bobby with a wave of his hand, “Get out, you Bums!,” and then the Shakes would break into a rousing version of “Hit the Road Jack, and never come back no more, no more…”, the dance floor would fill up and the whole room would rock for the next hour or so.

Bob's not only a good guitarist and great singer, but a proficient song writer who has a number of original tunes, including, "Pour It Out," a cut that made the WMMR "Breakout" Album one year when the Shakes were playing Mothers. 

One night I followed the Shakes off the stage to their dressing room, a broom closet near the back bar, where I found Bobby sweating profusely from playing and rummaging through an old tin Beatles lunchbox he must have had since grammar school. Bob is also a big Phillie fan, and somewhat resembles Pete Rose, “Charlie Hustle,” especially when he wears a Phillie baseball cap, so I called him the “Pete Rose of Rock & Roll.”

I later learned that the Shakes were originally formed in Asbury Park in 1976 by Vinny Lopez, the original drummer with Bruce Springstte's band, but he was no longer with them when they came to Mothers. The other Shakes at the time included drummer, nicknamed “Bubba,” from South Camden, Frank Gross a sharp keyboardist, Steve Lombardelli on sax and a guitarist, Bobby Buttons, who went on to play with a number of other Philly bands including Robert Hazard's Heroes. Sometimes Bob's brother Gabbo would sit in with his sax, and it Gabbo and his band The Flys, who were playing Mothers when it burnt down, and the band’s equipment, was destroyed in the fire.

Before it was Mothers, the Mug was partially owned by the late George Naame, of Maloney’s in Margate fame. Naame also had a piece of Merals in Margate, where Bob Campanell and the Shakes became the house band throughout the 1980s, and stayed on with new owners when it became Gilhooleys.

One night I hired Bo Higbee to videotape the first Atlantic City appearance of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes when they played the ballroom at Boardwalk Hall. Then we went over to Merals and videotaped a set of Bob and the Shakes. I thought he got it all until on the ride home Higbee confessed that the whole time we were at Merals he accidentally hit the pause button and didn’t get any of it.

They were great times that will never happen again, and while left unrecorded, those who were there still have the memories.

At least I thought they were unrecorded. Then I found an old 90 minute cassette tape labeled “Mothers, Labor Day, 1980,” and recalled taping that and another, similar 90 minute cassette that I had replayed so often the tape broke. In a flashback I recalled sitting at the bar in front of the stage, running the microphone cord up above the glass rack and placing the tape recorder on the bar and then forgetting about it for an hour and a half.

Listening to it today you can hear the glasses tingle, the girls talking in the background, and can almost smell the cigarette smoke as the band gets ready to play. I’m going to try to make a digital copy of the tape, but until then, we’ll have to settle for the real thing, as Bobby Campanell and his new band will play live, on the Bob Campanell beach in Somers Point on July 4th, Independence Day 2012.

While the Shakes are still carrying on without their leader and co-founder, now playing a more funky beat, Bob's new band still rocks and includes Danny Eyre, one of the best lead guitarists at the Jersey Shore who also plays solo and with other bands. Because of his fondness for and prodigious consumption of java, I have dubbed Danny "the human percolator, and I'm proud of the fact that both Bob and Danny are my Facebook friends where you can keep up with where they are playing. 

Bob has also recently returned to play solo at Brian O’Keeney’s Library IV on the Black Horse Pike in Williamstown, and he plays regularly at the Tuckahoe Inn in Beesleys Point on Wednesdays and Sundays, both indoor and out back with his band at the Back Bay Café. Tyson Merriman’s Tuckahoe Inn is a great place to eat and has live music most nights. 

Bob Campanell's CD - "A Road in the Wilderness" 

By Bob's CD: 

Also see: 


Bill Kelly said...

Jack Frenchu wrote: Bill,
Hello, I was a bigtime Shakes fan and your article caught my eye online today.I used to see them when they were the pony houseband mostly.I have a cassette from Thanksgiving 76 and was thinking about getting onto a cd.Didn't quite figure it out tho just yet.If we ever get it done and you want to trade cds I'd be happy to.There is nothing out there.I had/have? another from 77 or 78 with Bobby B on guitar.The 76 show feat Vini and a great Asbury player Rick DeSarno.It is missing right now.I foolishly had it in my sons car(the only cassette that works) and its mia..Bob has said he would someday get some live stuff out there but I wouldn't hold my breath
Jack Frenchu

Unknown said...

I thought I was the biggest fan of The Shakes! Thanks for your post. From the first time I saw them at the Stone Pony when I came back to NJ from NM, I fell in love with their music, their beat, their incredible singing (Bobby Campanell), their guitarist (Bobby Buttons), their bass player (Fran), drummer (Ansom) and the rest. They were the Thursday and Sunday night house band for several years in the late 70s, and I saw many players including Bruce and Steve get up and jam with this awesome band. For my money, there was no better band during that fabulous era of music in Asbury Park than The Shakes, and I was lucky to have heard them all! No one was better than The Shakes!