2002-09-18 / Front Page

Freehold rocker leads way for ‘old’ gang at Stone Pony

By Clare Marie celano
Staff Writer

By Clare Marie celano
Staff Writer

George Theiss and his band were originally slotted to perform at 11:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, the usual time slot for headliners at the famed Jersey Shore club.

But a couple of days before the show, Theiss told a reporter the band’s time slot had been moved up to 10:30 p.m. stating, "We’re old, you know?" implying that people his age, 53, would be tired and ready to go home by midnight — but the Freehold Township musician couldn’t have been more wrong.

This band, these musicians, this singer-guitarist and founder of the George Theiss Band was anything but "old" when it came time to rock on Aug. 31.

Theiss and his band mates slammed, banged and belted out rock ’n’ roll tunes with charisma, savvy and guts for more than four hours. Although Theiss only played with his own band, members of the George Theiss Band also played in two other bands which took the Stone Pony stage that evening, A Cold Blast of Steel Mill and Boccagalupe and the Bad Boys.

Yes, there were many guests at the Pony who were over 40 years old ... OK, maybe most of the fans there were over 40, but gray-streaked hair didn’t stop any of them from feeling the energy that Theiss and his band mates were putting out across that stage. Fans moved, danced and clapped their hands as well as anyone years younger, and were having a great time doing it.

Although Billy Walton is not an original member of the band, he plays with Theiss and his band frequently. The youngest member of the George Theiss Band, Walton, 26, started out the night blasting his guitar with A Cold Blast of Steel Mill, as did Tony Amato, who plays the keyboards for Theiss, and John Lurachi, who plays the bass guitar in the George Theiss Band.

Walton brought the audience into the performance when it came to numbers like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven," and had them up on their feet, dancing and stomping to tunes they may not have heard for years. Dancing may just be like riding a bike. It all seemed to come back once the music clicked in.

A Cold Blast of Steel Mill’s drummer and lead singer, Vini Lopez, who was the original drummer with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and who started out playing in one of Springsteen’s early bands, Steel Mill, had the audience nodding their heads and relating to his song "Whatever Happened to Asbury Park?" and caught their attention with his tune "The Judge."

When it was Theiss’ turn to take the stage, he received a warm welcome from fans who pretty much packed the famed club where rock stars like Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi had their beginnings.

The sound of Theiss’ deep, raspy voice entertained, moved and connected with an audience he obviously left wanting more.

Theiss sang original tunes like "Daylight" and "What’s Inside." Remembering his roots and the beginnings of his musical career in Freehold Borough in the mid-1960s, Theiss dedicated "Run Down the Middle of the Road" to "Tex and Marion and Bruce’s little sister, Ginny (Springsteen)."

Tex and Marion Vinyard were two people who helped Theiss get his start in music by allowing the Castiles, a neighborhood band Theiss formed when he was 15, to practice in their home on Center Street. Tex also managed the Castiles.

The Castiles spurred Theiss’ career and also served as a proving ground for Springsteen early in his career.

Theiss’ original music and lyrics — what some people would call the "Jersey Shore" sound — blended with covers like Van Morrison’s "Domino" and "Wild Night." The artist moved back in time, performing a duet with his longtime friend and co-worker, Roy Smith. They brought the audience into the tune as the duo belted out Bob Seeger’s "Old Time Rock and Roll."

To the delight of the audience who heard him, drummer Eliott Bauer had a chance to sing his first solo, "Mustang Sally," and the sound of Tommy La Bella’s upbeat, sometimes haunting saxophone couldn’t help touching a nerve.

Fans who started out their evening sitting at the famed hot spot’s memorable decoupage tables — tables depicting designs of the Jersey Shore on postcards and on old black-and-white photos, were up on the Pony’s hardwood floor, moving to the music by the time Theiss was up on stage.

After the band’s performance, veteran Stone Pony DJ Lee Mrowicki asked the crowd if the club should invite Theiss and his buddies back again. The roaring applause was answer enough. Unfortunately, this performance of the George Theiss Band was its last, at least in its present form, but Theiss is already in the process of putting together a new band. He’s planning to keep some old music, all his originals and add some new tunes to the mix.

Mrowicki jokingly added that some people were beginning to refer to the Stone Pony as the "senior citizen center of the future."

If that is in fact true, then this is one heck of a way to move into maturity — by not acknowledging it at all and by keeping it at bay with every ounce of stamina Baby boomers are known to have inside them. Theiss and his buddies made music. They also appeared to have made a bunch of "mature" adults feel, and consequently act, as though they were very young, once again.

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