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By Jacqueline Monahan

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The New Chaperones Escort Doo-Wop into 21st Century

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.

L to R - Stevie Dunham, Skyler Jewell, Dave Dannemiller, Nick Salvato, Ken Phillips

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”.
 
Original Chaperone Nick Salvato

 It’s called doo-wop for a reason that has nothing to do with being Italian (of the five members, only Salvato has the surname of a paesan). In the course of a performance you’ll hear song choruses and refrains that sound like “she doo be dee doo ba ba ba” and “shoo be doo” and even the actual phrase “doo-wop.” It’s upbeat, romantic and optimistic, but doo-wop can also have its share of slow, dreamy, or sad ballads.

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.
 
Frankie Citro Warms up the Crowd
 
The New Chaperones, comprised of Stevie Dunham (baritone), Ken Phillips (bass), Dave Dannemiller (baritone) and Skyler Jewell (2nd tenor), formed a musical line as Salvato joined them for the original Chaperone’s 1959 hit Cruise To The Moon. Dunham sang the lead for the opening number and also filled the role of group historian and spokesperson.

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.
 
Stevie Dunham, left, and Dave Dannemiller
 
The affable Ken Phillips moved center stage for The Way You Look Tonight, Little Star, Mr. Blue, My Shadow and Me, and ‘Til Then (encore). It’s Phillips’ contention that any song can be “doo-wop-ified.” Aside from being the bass component of the New Chaperones, his television credits include "One Life to Live" as well as the starring role in the film "Phil". He is also a veteran of the Piano Bar circuit throughout Manhattan as well as appearing in many Off-Broadway musicals.
 
Ken Phillips takes the Lead

Dave Dannemiller’s baritone took the lead in Man From the Moon, Why Worry, and Blueberry Sweet. He dedicated the ballad Why Worry to his wife (they are about to adopt a child from Kiev, Ukraine) accompanying himself on guitar. His range, like Dunham’s reaches from 1st tenor to baritone – a voice for all seasons. Dannemiller has performed on several continents, winning gold at the World’s Chorus Competition in Llangollen, Wales.

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.
 
Skyler Jewell's got a Gem of a Voice
 
The four serenaded audience member Candy with 1959’s Hushabye (she won a New Chaperones CD by knowing the year the song debuted). The upbeat effort was met, like every other song the group performed, with a wildly enthusiastic audience response indicating not only approval, but a validation of the authenticity of delivery, spirit, and mood of the music.
 
Serenading Candy with 1959's Hushabye
 
A short intermission brought master of ceremonies Frankie Citro back to introduce the two-piece band. Both are seasoned musicians with long, varied careers and the stories to prove it.

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.
 
Eric Walters and Paul Swiss

The 90–minute show which featured a total nineteen songs plus one encore – dedicated to all of the enlisted men and women stationed around the world - garnered the vocalists two separate standing ovations, followed by a meet and greet in the church lobby, and an after party at the Italian American Club.

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.
 
The Guys Strike a Pose
 
Doo-wop is back and deserves to be, with all of its passion, drive, and braided melodies, both fast and slow. Dunham won’t let you forget its relevance and after hearing the New Chaperones, you won’t want to.

For further information on shows, bios, song previews:

www.thenewchaperones.com

 

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