St. Patrick’s Day met St. Joseph’s Day with echoes of “Sister Act” and the Peppermint Lounge – thanks to the Paisans Club.
The saints came rocking in Sunday with Peggy March (“I Will Follow Him”), Joey Dee (“Peppermint Twist”) and Rocky and the Rollers. They made sure it was a great day for the Irish and the Italians at a packed SeaBreeze Recreation Center.
Colorful green costumes meshed with memories and baked goods – along with oldies but goodies. It was all part of a joyfully frenetic, entertaining Paisans Club gathering.
“We love St. Patrick’s Day, and we love St. Joseph’s Day,” said Jerry Vicenti, head of the Paisans Club, sporting a green carnation on his lapel. He later shared a St. Joseph’s Day dessert with his wife, Annette.
“St. Joseph’s Day isn’t until Tuesday but we’re celebrating tonight,” Vicenti said. “It’s all right. There’s a lot of green in the flag of Italy.”
In honor of St. Joseph’s Day, everyone in the crowd was treated to a tasty pastry. They also were treated to a couple of historic musical performers.
Joey Dee and the Starliters were headliners at the old Peppermint Lounge in New York City. During the early ’60s, it was the hottest club going, with the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland showing up to do the twist.
Joey Dee – whose hits included “The Peppermint Twist” and “Shout” – credited, “the timing and location in New York City. We had some society people and actors come in one night and they got up and did the twist. They wrote about in the newspaper and everything happened.”
In 1965, Joey Dee hired a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix.
“Jimi had just left the Isley Brothers and Little Richard,” Dee said before the show. “He was easy to work with; an all-for-the-band kind of guy. He wanted us to be the best we could be, and he had a wonderful sense of humor.”
Did Joey Dee realize Hendrix’s revolutionary talent?
“He was great and he started experimenting with different amplifiers and sounds,” Dee said. “I was used to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and those kinds of guitar players – but Jimi just took it to another level. He was an innovator and originalist. He’s the greatest rock and roll guitar player in my opinion.”
Dee, 78, can still do a mean twist. He wore a white suit, with a green shirt and tie, as he opened with a rocking “Hey Let’s Twist.” That was the title to a twist movie that Dee starred in during the twist craze.
Then he sang one of the most underrated Joey Dee songs, “What Kind of Love Is This.” It has a softer pop feel, and Dee sang it in the 1962 movie, “Two Tickets to Paradise.”
Villager Gerri Orlando is Dee’s cousin and sings with the local group, “Remember When.” Dee introduced her to the crowd.
“Joey was always a lot of fun and a great singer,” Orlando said. “My father got him started in music when he bought Joey a clarinet.”
Joey Dee kept the memories flowing in a set that included a tribute to Dion with “A Teenager In Love” and “Runaround Sue.” Then, just for fun, he tossed in his version of a rap number called “Baggy Pants.”
“And they call that music,” Dee joked.
Dee’s Starliters have included members of the Rascals and Ronnettes. Dee is a Jersey boy and as a kid sang with Frankie Valli and acted with Joe Pesci.
“But one of my favorite people I worked with is my brother from a different mother – Al Morse,” he said. Dee greeted Morse – current lead singer for Rocky and the Rollers – on stage. Dee also acknowledged Gerry “Rocky” Seader for “leading the preeminent rock and roll band there is today.”
Peggy March was just 15 in 1963 when “I Will Follow Him” hit No. 1 on the music charts.
“That song just endures,” she said before the show. “When I meet young people, they may not recognize my name, but they know the song. It’s a tremendous gift for me.”
As years passed, March began to understand the impact of the song.
“I was 14 when I recorded it, and I really didn’t like it at the time – I thought it was too repetitive. At one time, I didn’t want to sing it anymore,” she said. “But reality sets in. You keep on singing it because people want to hear it. It’s a wonderful thing to be identified with a song like that.”
March has a huge following in Japan and Germany, where “I Will Follow Him,” is a standard.
“I’m so lucky that song happened to me,” she said.
She did not know that the song was going to be in the hit film “Sister Act” until she saw the movie.
“I was shocked; it was another gift for me,” March said. “It opened up a whole new world of fans. It was like a rebirth and I’m so thankful.”
Another March song, “I Wish I Were A Princess,” was featured in the movie “Hairspray.”
March opened a lively set with the theme from “American Bandstand.” She sang oldies, including a soaring vocal on her hit single, “Hello Heartache, Goodbye Love.”
Then came the song everyone wanted to hear, “I Will Follow Him.” Peggy March delivered it in a vocal style that showcased the song’s timeless appeal.
Tony Violanti is an award-winning journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.