From Enterprise Staff
Sting Ray Anthony’s “Juke Box Rock” with special guest Shake Rattle & Roll will be in concert at 4 p.m. July 17 at the Old Town Theatre located at 1023 12th St. in Huntsville.
Do you remember saddle shoes and poodle skirts? How about jukeboxes and cars with fins? Sting Ray Anthony does–although in the 1950s, he wasn’t even a gleam in his father’s eye yet. But for Trinidad-born, Canada-raised Anthony, it was love at first listen. His mother, as it happens, was a bit more modern than his father (who favored the standard bearers of the previous era, such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin). She was into rock and roll.
“When I was around eight or nine, my mom turned me onto the rock and roll stuff,” Anthony said.
He then proceeded to buy and listen to every Elvis Presley recording he could.
Anthony turned his love of music into a passion for playing. He began playing rock and roll music around town and was doing quite well. Then, the movie La Bamba came out. It was a biopic of the late young California musician who was hitting the charts in the early 1960s with songs that touched a generation, Ritchie Valens. The movie starred Lou Diamond Phillips, and changed the course of Anthony’s career.
“I was already out there playing, and when the movie came out, people started saying, ‘hey, you look like the guy from La Bamba,’” Anthony said.
With his uncanny resemblance to Lou Diamond Phillips, Anthony literally brings Valens’ music and more back to life. There are cover artists. There are tribute artists. There are even look-alike impersonators. But if you want to see the real thing, there is Sting Ray Anthony and his Juke Box Rock show. For those who long to relive the 50s and 60s music of their own youth, and those who are discovering it for the first time, Anthony presents a legendary line-up of songs of the era.
“I’ve been very fortunate to help keep Ritchie’s memory alive and play all kinds of rock and roll,” Anthony said. He has been able to meet and work with several performers of the era and help introduce them to a new generation of fans.
“I’ve gotten to play on the biggest stages and befriend my heroes. Just last week I met James Burton (famously known for working with Elvis). I’ve met and played with and befriended just about everyone who played with Elvis and in that era, including Chubby Checker, Bill Medley, Peter Noone, Frankie Avalon and even Valens’ sister, Connie,” Anthony said.
Perhaps the most touching meeting, though, has been Anthony’s encounter at a show in York, Penn. Gil Rocha, the only surviving member of The Silhouettes (Valens’ original band), was moved to tears of gratitude to Anthony for keeping Valens’ music alive. “The bottom line of this whole thing that we do here is to keep the music and the memory alive. The music is dying out, the radio doesn’t play it anymore,” Anthony said.
He said his show is old school and entertaining. He talks to the audience and encourages them to sing along. “You wanna get up and dance. That’s why I’m here–to entertain you. It’s not a serious show. I like to have fun. That’s why I keep playing this music. By the time you leave this show you’re gonna be rock and rolling out the door, bringing out the spirit again.”
Special guest performers will be the all-girl doo-wop band, Shake Rattle & Roll. These internationally known, award-winning ladies will quickly have you dancing and laughing and loving the music of an era gone by. Made up of band leader Tavie Spivey, her sister LeAnn Bemis, avowed funny girl Brenda Spencer and relative newcomer Debi Comis, the band is on a mission to bring the fun of the 50s and 60s to both those who were there and those who came after.
“It’s a real family show. People bring their kids and grandkids to the show. We cater to those people,” Bemis said.
Achieving the level of success that the band currently enjoys did not happen by magic though. Tavie Spivey was freshly retired from 27 years in the army and had always wanted to have an all-female show group. She had begun singing when she was 15 and quickly discovered that she could make more money singing on weekends than she could in a whole week at work.
Spivey’s husband, Tom, was getting ready to call it a day as well, and entertainment was needed for his retirement party. Bemis recalls the event.
“They wanted her to bring entertainment for the show, and it ended up being just me and her. We didn’t have a group, so we had to put a group together. It went well and the phone started ringing,” Bemis said.
The group has been together for 16 years now, and although Spivey admits it was a bit difficult to find the perfect blend of harmonies and personalities for the show, she said, “Things are trucking, comin’ back and we’ve got a lot of people interested. We do male and female so it’s not all just women’s songs.”
She describes some of the stars that they pay tribute to, “Roy Orbison, the Four Seasons, Elvis … we do everything from Lollipop to Little Darlin’. A big draw on our show is that we get the audience involved with us, we do singalongs, and we’ve got some gals who love to work the harmonies.”
“We’re there to have fun and love entertaining other people to make sure they have fun. Our show isn’t just singing, it’s a show. We have choreography, jokes, we go out into the audience, we try to get everyone involved. It really is an interactive show.”
As it happens, all four members of the group used to sing gospel, and that love of music and harmony shines through whenever they perform. While some of the support from their husbands is more of the cheering from backstage kind, Spivey’s husband, Tom, is their sound engineer, and Bemis’ husband, Doug, handles their merchandise sales, photography and security.
“So many of the fans follow us from show to show, they’re almost like friends, they call out from the audience and say ‘we’re here, we’re here. It’s really neat. We’ve (also) become friends with the bands and other entertainers we work with,” Bemis said.
In addition to the satisfaction of winning awards, including a recording contract at a doo-wop contest in Las Vegas and Vocal Group of the Year by Valley Star Awards, it’s the love of the music that keeps them working hard to continue to hone their skills and bring their show to as many fans as possible.
“We’re excited about coming to Huntsville. We haven’t entertained there before. I think my favorite thing is the friendship that the three ladies and I have together, and we love entertaining other people. We’ve been together so long it’s almost like we’re sisters,” Bemis said.