On Saturday, July 31, The New Chaperones cruised onto the stage of the Community Lutheran Church on East Tropicana Avenue with a dynamic vocal harmony performance, effectively re-introducing the group to a modern day audience.
This is the first time the group has performed in several years. Reformed under the mentoring of current and founding member Nick Salvato, the original Chaperones recorded the hit single, "Cruise To The Moon" in 1960 on the Josie Label. Salvato has numerous stories about those early days, when the group recorded in a studio right next to one occupied by none other than Elvis Presley.
Now based out of Las Vegas, the group performs classic vocal group songs from the 50's and 60's. That means seamless harmony, finger snapping rhythm, and recognizable standards that you, your parents (or even grandparents) can look back on with youthful nostalgia. They knew it as “doo-wop”.
Doo-wop voices are smooth and clear, with an astounding range of notes emanating from one or all of the group’s members. The sound is a skillful blend of vocal honey, and the kind of bravado that makes a young man exclaim, “Hey! Ya wanna piece o’ me?”
The genre flourished from the mid-fifties to about 1963, the year that group member Stevie Dunham proclaims, “The English invaded and just KILLED doo-wop.” The New Chaperones are determined to revive it.
With an introduction by original Internet series “Tough Guy” star and comedian Frankie Citro, the charismatic four-man (five, when original member Nick Salvato joined them) proceeded down the middle aisle and onto the stage singing Let Me Be the One, an upbeat number that got the audience jazzed for the performance to come.
Dunham also sang the lead for Shining Star, I Found Heaven, and Gloria, and is blessed with a dynamic voice, capable of hitting falsetto notes as well as deeper registers. The vocally impressive Dunham has a range that takes him from 1st tenor to baritone, and if there’s a hole in a song, Dunham’s the one to fill it with the skill and confidence of a master at his craft. He’s a Street Corner Harmony specialist and has authored books on the subject.
Age-wise, Skyler Jewell may be the embryo of the group, but his 2nd tenor voice is fully formed. Jewell sang the lead on I Only Want You, So Much in Love, and Since I Don’t Have You. A dog lover, Jewell has done community and school theater and sung with local a capella groups. Despite his youth, Jewell captured the unrequited angst required to propel Since I Don’t Have You into the stylized melancholy wail that’s kept the song relevant for over 50 years.
Bassist Paul Swiss (the upright kind you hold between your knees) has worked for major recording studios, cruise lines, bowling alley bars to Madison Square Garden. Eric Walters, on guitar, has shared the stage with Chuck Berry, Jose Feliciano and Grover Washington, Jr., is a Grammy award nominee and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Member. The talented duo played the classic “Save the Last Dance for Me” with Walters singing the lead while the New Chaperones took a break backstage.
No less an iconic group than Capitol Records recording artists The Lettermen (When I Fall in Love, Theme From A Summer Place, 11 gold records, 5 Grammy nominations) has submitted the New Chaperones for induction to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
At one point Dunham asked the audience “How many of you have flown in from New York City?” When nobody raised their hand, he continued, “I know why. We all live HERE now,” referring to the each member of the group and retirees in general.
So Las Vegas has its own homeboy doo-wop group in the New Chaperones, appearing just around the corner from anywhere you live if you’re lucky enough to be a local.
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