By Tom Ward
Last Saturday on main street in downtown Fort Worth the place was rocking as some of the all-time greats in rock and roll music history performed at the Celebrate Fort Worth festival.
Danny & the Juniors, The Marvelous Marvelettes, The Drifters and Johnny Thunder all hit the stage starting at 3 p.m. and continued into the early evening, putting on a terrific show for all the fans in attendance. It was great seeing my old friends from Danny & the Juniors. They had some chart topping hits back in the late 1950s and early 1960s like “At the Hop,” “Rock & Roll is Here to Stay,” “Twistin’ U.S.A.” and many others. Joe Terry and Frank and Bobby Maffei invited me and my wife Mary Jo backstage to visit with them before they went on stage. I’ve known them for about 15 years, but I hadn’t seen them in quite awhile so it was fun catching up with such wonderful guys. Joe told me his golf game is pretty good these days, but he’s having a procedure on his leg soon which has been bothering him. Also, he’s excited about going to the U.S. Open at Merion in two weeks to watch the tournament. Bobby lives down in the Tampa/St. Pete area in a high rise and he loves it. Frankie mentioned to me that his Bocce ball team won the League Championship again.
While my wife and I were backstage Joe introduced us to Johnny Thunder and his wife Millie. Johnny had a big hit back in 1963 called “Loop De Loop.” He told us he was 80 years old and he sure didn’t look like it. He’s a golfer as well as he immediately got into his golf stance and made some imaginary swings after he found out I’m a golf pro. Joe then took us over to talk with his friend Charlie Thomas of the Drifters. Charlie proceeded to have all the members of the group come over to say hello and take some photos. The Drifters had some hit records with songs like “Under the Boardwalk,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment” and other classics. Later on we visited with The Marvelous Marvelettes, who had a big hit in 1961 with “Please Mr. Postman.” They also recorded songs like “Beechwood 4-5789” in 1962 and “Don’t Mess with Bill” in 1966.
All of these performers were so gracious with their time as they prepared to get ready for their show. Each and every one of them were dressed elegantly as they headed out to perform. I marveled at the high energy level all the groups exhibited once they hit the ground running in front of growing audience that continued to expand as the late afternoon went on. It was like time was standing still as I flashed back listening to all of these great songs that I grew up with as a kid back in the Midwest.
I was surprised that I immediately remembered a lot of the words to the songs and found myself singing along with these wonderful tunes. I couldn’t believe how well all these performers sounded and moved on the stage with some terrific choreographed dance sequences. You have to remember that most of the artists on the stage that night had been traveling around the world performing for at least 50 years. These veteran artists knew how to work an audience, building rapport with their jokes and banter with the crowd. Charlie Thomas (The Drifters) had the place laughing out loud when he admonished a young man whose blue jeans were barely hanging onto his body. He told him to pull up his britches because, “no one wants to see your Fruit of the Looms.” Frankie Maffei ( Danny & The Juniors) was hilarious with his routine, doing some of the different dances from those bygone days that had the fans bellowing with laughter.
After each of the four acts had finished they all came up on stage and did a finale starting with Thomas singing “God Bless America.” Everyone in attendance began to sing along. Then they sang the song “Shout,” which seemed appropriate because it got real loud as the crowd really got in to it. After the show was over we headed backstage to say goodbye to everyone and thank them for inviting us. As we were leaving I remarked to my wife that it was inspiring to see all those wonderful artists still performing at such a high level after all these years. She said, “You can tell they love what they do.”
We saw lots of people of all different ages singing and dancing out in the audience. As I started my car I still had all those great tunes running through my head. As we were driving home I told my wife I guess it’s true that great music like we heard tonight is timeless and will go on forever.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com