Lennie Baker, Singer of “Blue Moon,” Other Sha Na Na Hits



“Blue Moon” at Winterland, 1973

Lennie Baker was both a singer and saxophone player for Sha Na Na, the  1950s retro rock-and-roll band. He joined soon after their career-launching performance at Woodstock (only their eighth performance as a band), where they went on stage at sunrise on the last day of the festival, just before Jimi Hendrix.

“Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling Ding-Dong” on Sha Na Na TV Show

Baker (April 18, 1946-February 24, 2016) was on board during their long touring career and appeared with Sha Na Na in the movie production of Grease. In the movie, he sings “Blue Moon” as part of the fictional Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. You can also see him in the documentary Festival Express, which chronicles the cross- Canada train ride of musical festival performers, including Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Flying Burrito Brothers–and Sha Na Na.

 

“Mr. Bass Man” 

Baker participated in the group’s eponymous TV show, a kind of doo wop Hee Haw, that ran from 1978-1981. He retired from the group in 2000. Before Sha Na Na, Baker played sax for another 1950s-themed group, Danny and the Juniors.

 



Sonny James, Consistent Country Hitmaker

“Young Love,” 1965 TV Performance

The “Southern Gentleman” Sonny James had a string of consecutive #1 country hits in the 1960s and 1970s. Only the band Alabama has ever surpassed that number. In all, James (May 1, 1928-February 22, 2016) had 26 #1s, 16 of which were in a row.

“Runnin’ Bear” on Hee Haw

James was a country crooner, producing his records in the sophisticated style that was popular in Nashville during his reign. He was associated throughout his career with Capitol Records, with whom he began playing backup fiddle for bluegrass acts like Jim & Jesse.

“Endlessly” on The Johnny Cash Show

James looked occasionally to R&B, soul and blues for inspiration. He was inspired and became friends with fellow-crooner Nat King Cole. His hit “Endlessly” was a cover of a song by soul singer Brook Benton. James sought to introduce songs by African-American artists to a largely white audience and to promote amity among the races through music.

Dan Hicks, Leader of the Hot Licks

“By Hook Or By Crook,” 1972

I was first introduced to Dan Hicks by my then-girlfriend (later my wife and ex-wife), who brought Hicks’ albums Where’s The Money? and Last Train to Hicksville back from her years at a suburban Chicago college.

I was amused by Hicks’ indifference to modern musical trends. He wasn’t rock, or even folk, but something else altogether. Were it not for his wry lyrics and hippyish looks, he wouldn’t have seemed of our generation at all. (Harry Nilsson took a similar retro turn with his Schmilsson projects.)

“Jukies’ Ball,” 1969 Promo Film

Hicks (December 9, 1941-February 6, 2016) started out in the rock world as a drummer for The Charlatans, a San Francisco psychedelic band that was defining the genre with other local standouts, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

“I Scare Myself,” Live in San Francisco, 2001

I saw the Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks in the late ’90s at the short-lived Rossi’s, an underground jazz bar in Minneapolis. As my friend Brian recalls, he walked through the crowd, playing, on his way to the stage. He opened by saying “I’m sure you’re all here to hear my big hit “Where’s The Money?” Well, we’re not going to play it.”

Whether he did or not, I can’t remember.