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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rocky and the Rollers to mark 25th year of playing in The Villages

Gerry “Rocky” Seader was a teenage busboy at a hotel in Atlantic City. One day, the kid was carrying supplies on an elevator when in stepped Chuck Berry.

Young Rock was suddenly face to face with a music idol. Rocky played drums and knew most of Berry’s big hits. The Rock sheepishly tried to wave and say hello.
Berry just ignored him.
But the story doesn’t end there. A year later Rocky, barely 18, was playing drums in a backup band for Chuck Berry.

Gerry ‘Rocky’ Seader, of Rocky and the Rollers, will soon celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary with a performance in The Villages.

Now, nearly a half-century later, Seader is still rocking. Rocky and the Rollers will mark their 25th anniversary of playing in The Villages on Saturday, April 13, at 5 p.m. at Brownwood Paddock Square. The show will feature special guests and other surprises.

“Playing in The Villages for 25 years means a lot to me and the band,” Rocky said. “I have such respect for the people who live here; they enjoy our band and keep coming out to see us.

“It also means a lot that The Villages Entertainment department keeps bringing us back to do all these shows. I’m humbled and honored for this 25th anniversary celebration.”

Rocky adds that this celebration is for all the Rollers – past and present. He estimates the band has had about 30 members during its nearly four-decade history.

Rocky and the Rollers are highly popular in The Villages.

“This anniversary isn’t just about Rocky,” Seader said. “It’s about what we have accomplished as a band.”
Keyboardist Al Layton has been a Roller nearly 32 years.

“I have to pinch myself to think we’ve been playing The Villages for 25 years,” Layton said. “It’s been great.”

Al Layton signs and plays keyboards with Rocky and the Rollers.

The current lineup features Layton along with  singer Steve Santo, Kenny Lewis, Pat Gallo, Rick Abbott, Dave Maki and Steve Falkner who has been with the Rollers for 15 years.
In recent years, two longtime members – singer Al Morse and guitarist Bruce Wallace left for medical reasons.
“There’s nobody else like Rocky,” Layton said. “He’s dedicated to the music, and to the band.” Layton notes that Rocky not only plays in the band. He also books shows, contacts agents for acts, keeps the books and helps make travel arrangements.
Rocky and Rollers have played all over the world. “I remember we played before 80,000 people in Georgia,” Layton said.

Like The Villages, the band has changed over the years. Early on, the Rollers  focused on ‘50s music. Eventually, the group emphasized the ‘60s and Motown. Now the setlist stretches into the ‘70s and ‘80s, and beyond.
“I started out in an ‘80s band, and the musicians in this band can play anything or any style,” said Layton, noting one of the later numbers is a cover of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” Another is “The Way It Is,” by Bruce Hornsby.
Rocky remembers playing early rock ’n roll here.
“When we started playing The Villages, no one else was playing that music here on a regular basis,” Rocky said. “Some people were upset about hearing that music.”
Rocky and the Rollers played in a tent near Spanish Springs during the early years. Later they moved to the Church on the Square and were regulars at the old Katie Belle’s club.
“We loved Katie Belle’s,” Rocky said.

Rocky, who grew up in Philadelphia, started his career playing the Danny and the Juniors (“At the Hop”) on the oldies circuit in the late ‘70s. He moved on to the Dovells (“The Bristol Stomp”) in the ‘80s.

Rocky was too young to remember those songs when they came out. But he had a passion for early rock’n’roll. He had a gig with the backup band on Dick Clark’s oldies rock tours. Eventually, he worked with Wolfman Jack.
Rocky was part of the house band for Wolfman’s national oldies TV show, “Rock ’n Roll Palace.” The band also played the club that hosted the show in Kissimmee, called Little Darlin’s.

During that gig in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Rocky and the band played for a host of major rock acts.
Among the acts the Rollers have played with: Del Shannon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Walsh, Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, Peter Noone, Frankie Avalon, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Paul Revere, Bobby Rydell, Lesley Gore, Lou Christie, Spencer Davis, The Association, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Buddy Holly’s Crickets, Johnny Tillotson, the Diamonds, Fabian, Joey Dee, the Platters, the Coasters and the Drifters.

These days Rocky and the Rollers travel the nation as the regular band for Jon “Bowzer” Bauman’s  “Rock ’N Roll Party.” He was the former leader of Sha Na Na.

It is The Villages, however, where Rocky and the Rollers made their biggest musical impact.
“Rocky and Rollers set the tone for live entertainment in The Villages and gave the audience ‘their music,’” said “DJ” Al Brady, who has worked with Rocky for nearly 40 years. “It’s the music we grew up with and they do it in a style that’s close to the original recordings.”

Villager Al Brady has known Rocky Seader for a long time.

Brady, currently with WVLG radio, said Rocky wants the band to remain relevant.
“They have changed with the times, by including music that every generation can recognize and be entertained by,” he said. “They can play Big Band through the 70’s, and when called upon they can play recent hits.”
Rocky said his most memorable concert here came five years ago during his 20th anniversary celebration when, “about 20,000 people showed up.”

He also loves playing local “Big Band” shows, with music from the ‘40s. “My grandfather was in a big band and I learned a lot from him and his records,” Rocky said. “That music means a lot to me.”

“There’s no one else like Rocky,” said Peggy March who sang the 1963 standard  “I Will Follow Him,” and often performs with the Rollers. “He just has a way of bringing people together.”

Rocky Seader and Peggy March celebrate his anniversary with her song I Will Follow Him
Peggy March and Rocky Seader.

Al Layton added that Rocky and the band are still going strong.  “He’s not slowing down,” Layton said. “We’re still having fun, and the people in The Villages are having fun with us.”

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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