In the Villages, first came the roll. Then, 23 years ago, a guy with a couple of drum sticks and a band brought the rock to America’s friendliest hometown.
Now, after 46 years in bands and 23 of them in The Villages, Gerry “Rocky” Seader is still rocking and rolling with his Rollers.
The self-proclaimed Greaser who started banging garbage cans in his grandma’s house back in Philadelphia is a Villages musical institution and nationally acclaimed musician.
“It has been an amazing journey,” Seader said Saturday, before a jam-packed, sweaty, sunbaked crowd in Brownwood Paddock Square. The multitudes came to help Rocky and the Rollers celebrate his 23rd anniversary here. It was originally set for a couple weeks ago but a Florida storm rained on Rocky’s parade.
Weather, however, can’t stop music history – and a man who made it.
When Rocky came here the Villages seemed little more than a glorified retirement community. Explosive growth has turned it into golden-ager metropolis.
“When I first came here, I had no idea The Villages would ever be this big,” Seader said in an interview before the concert. “We just kept playing, and every year, more and more people kept moving here. It’s a thrill to be a part of it.”
DJ Al Brady, who lives in The Villages, has been working with Rocky for nearly four decades. Brady, who introduced Rocky on stage Saturday, believes that Rocky played a role in the Villages’ growth.
“That guy helped sell a lot of houses here,” Brady said. “People came from all over to see him play here. They liked what they saw in The Villages and a lot of them moved here.”
Rocky and the Rollers are far more than just a local act. The band has played with close to 300 national artists. The list of oldies acts includes, Danny and the Juniors (who gave Rocky his start), Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Freddy Cannon, The Drifters, Bo Diddley, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha Na Na, Del Shannon and the singer once called “Little” Peggy March. She had the original hit with the all-time classic “I Will Follow Him.”
“When it comes to Rocky, I love the guy,” said March, who came here to perform for his anniversary. She spoke before the show. “I hope people in The Villages realize what a great band this is. They can play anything.”
More than that, March said, Rocky and the band “make an artist feel safe. And that’s the best feeling a singer can have. That’s one of the reasons I’m here for Rocky.”
Many of the oldies performers have been dying in recent years, “but thanks to guys like Rocky, their music lives on,” March said. “Rocky has always wanted to keep this music alive.”
He does just that for Villages’ fans like Keith and Genie Hibbard. They were out on the mobbed Brownwood concrete dance surface movin’ and groovin’ to songs “Time Won’t Let Me,” “Runaway,” “May I” “Just Like Romeo and Juliet,” and “I fought the Law.”
“I first heard Rocky when we came to The Villages 15 years ago,” Keith Hibbard said. “He makes this music special. It’s nostalgia; but it’s more than that. He just makes the music come alive.”
Brielle Rodriguez, 9, is a little young for the oldies but she likes the music. “It’s happy and it’s fun,” she said, standing near the stage with her mother.
She wasn’t the only kid in the crowd. Francesca Medlin,
Rocky’s daughter, brought his two grandchildren: Rylee, 4, and Garrett, 4 months old.
“Hey, my grandkids are out there,” Rocky yelled from the stage. “My granddaughter wants to learn how to play drums. I told her, ‘You gotta learn and drive your mommy and daddy crazy. Keep banging away.”
That’s what Rocky has done for 23 years here. The Rollers feature singer Steve Santo, Bruce Wallace, Al Layton, Steve Falkner, Rick Abbott and Doug Spoonamore.
Retired Rollers Bruce Nardi and singer Al Morse, coping with a serious illness were set to attend the anniversary celebration.
“The best part for me is being able to entertain people and make them happy,” Rocky said. “If I can play the drums and keep this band together, I want to play forever.”
Long may he rock.