Delaware’s newest Hall of Fame puts the spotlight on the First State’s rockin’ history
With the creation of a new hall of fame, it’s safe to guarantee that rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay in Delaware, but its presence, at least at the start, will be more virtual than real.
The Delaware hall will hold its first induction ceremony on Sunday, July 15, but fans won’t have a place to visit year-round to gaze at plaques and photos or listen to vintage tunes on 45 rpm vinyl discs, except for on the internet.
For now, the only way to visit the hall will be at its website, delawarerockandrollhalloffame.com, but that’s understandable, given the fledgling non-profit’s limited resources and the lack of available venues.
With the demise of two of the state’s best-known rock concert halls, there’s no logical place to locate the shrine, even if funds were available. The Stone Balloon in Newark has transitioned twice since its heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, morphing from a nationally known college bar into an upscale winehouse and then to a more casual brewpub. Kahunaville, on Wilmington’s Riverfront, dominated the entertainment scene from 1995 until it closed in 2006, eventually making way for the Delaware Children’s Museum.
“We’ll need to raise a lot of money” to make a permanent location possible, Hall founder and president George Wolkind says.
But the lack of a permanent site doesn’t faze Wolkind, who gained a measure of notoriety in the ‘60s as the leader of the antiwar Students for a Democratic Society unit on the University of Delaware campus and later became lead singer for Snakegrinder, a Newark-based post-Woodstock group that developed a strong following among local Grateful Dead aficionados.
“We want a place where people can come in, press a button, and up pops music from the Sin City Band,” he says. Having a building would also make it possible for older musicians to give lessons, “to show the younger folks how to play jazz, how to play blues, how to play rock.”
Until that happens, says Wolkind’s wife, Paula, who began following the local music scene while a student at Newark High School, the hall’s organizers will build a stronger website and Facebook presence to preserve the memory of the pioneers of Delaware rock.
They rely heavily on Steven Leech, rock historian and host of “Even Steven’s Boptime” on Saturday mornings on the University of Delaware’s WVUD-FM.
None of Delaware’s early rockers would achieve national recognition, but the state does have a healthy musical heritage, Leech says, thanks to links to Chester, Pennsylvania’s Bill Haley and the Comets, who soared to popularity with “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954 and featured Wilmington’s Johnny Kay on lead guitar in the ‘60s, and the presence of Wilmington teens dancing on Dick Clark’s after-school “American Bandstand” television shows in Philadelphia.
The Delaware Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame holds its first induction ceremony on Sunday, July 15, from 2-6 p.m. at the baby grand, 818 N. Market St., in downtown Wilmington. Tickets are $35 and may be ordered online at www.thegrandwilmington.org/ or by calling 302-652-5577.
Many members of the Delaware Hall’s inaugural class were important contributors to the early popularity of rock music in the state, Leech and George Wolkind say.
Some of the honorees are deceased, George Wolkind says. Others are better known for their current station in life, such as Lue Cazz, the stage name for Lou Casapulla of the Casapulla Sub Shops’ family. And still others, like Larry Tucker and Scott Birney’s Sin City Band, continue to play regularly at clubs throughout the state.
“These are the forerunners, the pioneers. We want to honor them first,” says Leech.
For the first year, Paula adds, “we’re honoring the little people … people who are sitting in our back yard who haven’t gotten the applause that is due them.”
Missing from the roster of inaugural inductees are a couple of big names who would come along later, notably Brandywine Hundred’s George “Bad to the Bone” Thorogood and Wilmington’s Johnny Neel, a singer-songwriter-keyboardist well known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band.
“The problem with any hall of fame,” George Wolkind says, “is that you can’t get everybody in at the same time. You have to space it out.” He hints that Thorogood and Neel should receive strong consideration for the second group of honorees.
Also missing are two even bigger names who briefly passed through the state in the ‘60s, reggae artist Bob Marley, who lived in Wilmington and worked at the Chrysler assembly plant in Newark for about a year, and folk legend Bob Dylan, who married Sara Lownds, a Wilmington resident formerly known as Shirley Noznitzky. While both achieved iconic status in the music world, neither had a significant impact on Delaware’s music scene, Wolkind says.
The hall’s website consists of far more than words. It’s a musical memory lane, featuring not only photos of many performers but also images of their 45 rpm discs, with many of those images providing links to recordings of their songs.
For Delaware’s numerous halls of fame, that sort of virtual presence is more the rule than the exception. While the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame has a dedicated space on the ground floor of Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, many others might better be described as a “wall,” not a hall, if there is a physical presence at all.
The Delaware Business Leaders Hall of Fame might best be described as “a wall down the hall,” says Rob Eppes, who oversees the hall in his role as president of Junior Achievement of Delaware. The hall started as a collaboration between Junior Achievement and the Hagley Museum and Library, its original home. When Junior Achievement built its center on South Walnut Street in Wilmington, the hall became part of the new facility.
As halls go, it’s not a destination per se, Eppes says, but it draws the attention of about 14,000 people a year – the 10,000 or so students who participate in Junior Achievement programs plus the adults who accompany them to the center.
It’s a similar situation for the Hall of Fame for Delaware Women, according to Melanie Ross Levin, who heads the Office of Women’s Achievement and Advocacy in Delaware’s state government. The hall, created in 1981, occupies a wall on the fourth floor of the Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington, where it displays photos of many inductees and a book of stories about their accomplishments. Also, there are plaques inscribed with the honorees’ names in Legislative Hall in Dover, she says.
Given the limited space available in the Carvel Building, the most effective way to tell the stories of outstanding Delaware women is through its website and social media, she says.
The Special Olympics Delaware Hall of Fame recognizes athletes and volunteers who have contributed significantly to Special Olympics programs. Inductees are honored at the annual Night of Heroes fundraiser, but the only listing of hall members is on the Special Olympics website.
“The money it would take to build and operate a hall of fame is far better used to serve the 4,200 athletes who participate in Special Olympics programs,” says Jon Buzby, the organization’s director of media relations, “and the 30 members who have received recognition in the hall would be the first to say so.”
While some people might be interested in visiting such a hall of fame, “it’s not the type where they would come year after year,” he says.
Unlike the baseball diamond in the corn fields of Iowa in “Field of Dreams,” he adds, “it’s not a case of ‘if you build it, they will come.’”
Eppes, Ross Levin and Buzby all noted that creating and maintaining a hall of fame that is designed to be a visitor attraction can be an expensive and time-consuming proposition – an endeavor that is well beyond the means of the usually nonprofit and mostly volunteer organizations that establish them.
Wilmington attorney Chuck Durante, who helped the Wolkinds with incorporating the organization, has been involved with three similar ventures in the state, its sports, track and basketball halls of fame. Only the sports hall of fame has a permanent home.
A physical presence may not be essential, Durante says. “Unless you have a substantial array of visual displays and a need to hold archival materials, the virtual hall is the path to follow.”
The Delaware Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2018:
Teddy and the Continentals: This doo-wop group from the early 1960s, headed by Teddy Henry. and they had a national hit with “Ev’rybody Pony” in 1961, and later opened for Bill Haley and the Comets at St. Elizabeth High School when Haley tried to revive his career in the early 1960s.
The Five Diamonds: Another 1960s doo-wop group, the quintet recorded four songs on the Treat label in New York City and once performed at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Andy and the Gigolos: Led by Andy Ercole, this group was known for its dance tunes, including “The Bug” and “Bop Diddle Widdle.”
Vic and the Versatiles: Led by Vic Holveck, formerly with Andy and the Gigolos, this band concentrated on playing at clubs, weddings and other social events.
The Hurricanes: This ’50s band was led by Richie Immediato and featured Joe Allegro Sr., who played with and backed up best-selling rock and pop groups like Danny and the Juniors, the Platters and the Shirelles.
Lue Cazz: Better known today as Lou Casapulla of Casapulla’s Sub Shops fame, he recorded several songs in the ’60s.
The Continettes: One of the most prominent local girl groups in the early days of Wilmington rock, its lead singer, Valerie Robinson, later became a pediatrician in the Chicago area.
Al Santoro and the Highlighters: Originally known as the Starlighters, Santoro’s group would play for more than 50 years, frequently highlighting the St. Anthony’s Italian Festival. Johnny Kay, Bill Haley’s former guitarist, was a mainstay with the group.
Lisa Jack: Well-known as a blues singer in the ’70s, she led a group called Lisa Jack and the Boys in the Back.
The Watson Brothers Band: Led by Gary and Wayne Watson, the group was a dominant force in Delaware’s club scene in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Sin City Band: Started in 1974 by Scott Birney and a few friends, the band built a strong following in Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., and still plays blues and country at weddings, parties and, on Monday nights, at Argilla Brewing Co. near Newark.
Larry Tucker: This veteran Delaware musician still leads a band that plays a mix of blues, reggae and dance music.
Bill Stevenson and Don Bunnell: Club owners who promoted rock music in the 1970s and 1980s,
Stevenson at the Stone Balloon in Newark and Bunnell at the Buggy Tavern in Brandywine Hundred.
Charlie Gibb: A photographer revered by Delaware rockers for his images of their performances.