Thursday, September 26, 2002

'At the hop'

Book your seats for a musical
vacation in the rockin' 1950s

With Danny and the Juniors, Bill Haley's Comets, the Coasters and the Drifters

Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $25 for upper-level seats and $35 for loges and ground level
Call: 591-2211

By Tim Ryan

It's rock 'n' roll trivia time! Name the song with this opening lyric. "You can rock it, you can roll it, you can stomp it, you can stroll ..."

If you said "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors ... you are so wrong! The original title was "Do the Bop."

"Dick Clark heard us perform 'Do the Bop,' then persuaded us to change the words because the bop was going out and hops were growing in popularity," said Joe Terri, known then as Terranova, a member of the famous '50s vocal group that included Philadelphia high school students Danny Rapp, Dave White and Frank Maffei. "I mean, it was Dick Clark, and even though we were just 16 and 17, we weren't so stupid as not to listen to him!"

"Do the Bop" became "At the Hop," and after Danny and the Juniors performed it on Clark's national television show "American Bandstand," the boys from Philly got a recording deal with ABC-Paramount.

Blaisdell Arena welcomes tomorrow a nostalgic lineup that includes, from left, Joe Terri and Frank Maffei, two-thirds of Danny and the Juniors.

"Overnight, we went from being unknowns to music stars," said Terri, who performs tomorrow night at the Blaisdell Arena with the two other members of the group, Bobby and Frankie Maffei, in a nostalgia-filled show also featuring the Coasters, Bill Haley's Comets and the Drifters.

"At the Hop" topped the U.S. charts for five weeks and sold 2 million copies around the world, reaching the top spot on the pop, country and rhythm-and-blues charts. It's the 23rd all-time biggest-selling record, according to the industry's Bible, Billboard magazine.

The group wasn't a one-hit wonder. The follow-up to "At the Hop" was "Rock 'n' Roll Is Here to Stay," an anthem in the '50s and the band's only other Top 20 hit. They did place nine more songs on Billboard's Hot 100 singles list, including "Twistin' USA" and "Pony Express."

When the '60s brought the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the rest of the "British Invasion" bands, the group struggled to gain another hit. They even tried to capitalize on their early success with a track called "Back to the Hop," but, by then, time had passed them by. They produced some other records but kept away from performing until the 1970s when a classic oldies concert in New York City brought them out of retirement.

But in 1983, original member Danny Rapp was found dead after apparently committing suicide.

"It can be a very brutal business," Terri says.

Though the Juniors are now seniors (Terri is 60, Frankie Maffei is 62 and brother Bobby is 61), they still perform 60 to 100 concerts a year. In 1992, MCA Records released "Rockin' with Danny and the Juniors," and in 1997 the Collectibles label came out with "Danny and the Juniors -- Classic Golden Greats."

"I love every minute of it," Terri says. "We get to go to beautiful places like Hawaii, I play golf wherever we go, our fans are family and we all still love to sing.

"I would have to be nuts not to love this life."

WITH THE initial success of "At the Hop," Danny and the Juniors began touring with other rock 'n' roll greats, including Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Platters, in the famous Alan Freed Big Beat Show.

Terri attributes advice he got as a 16-year-old performer from the group's first manager that has kept the group at the hop professionally.

"We were street kids without much couth," Terri says, laughing. "So our manager says, 'Listen, you little cockers, you want to hang around, you'd better get some class and develop an act. You're not going to survive just on the music.'"

The manager had them buy identical raincoats to wear in and out of the shows, as well as coordinated suits for performances. They then learned how to create a rapport with an audience that extended their stage time from 30 minutes to more than an hour.

"The secret was to let the audience guide us by their responses," said Terri. "We start the audience going, then watch for their reaction and follow their lead. That makes it fresh for us every time out."

The group also does a lot of self-deprecating comedy about the group's nearly half-century of performing.

"Unfortunately, my divorce judge thinks we're the biggest group in the world, and he's charged the alimony to match," Terri said.

Though the timing was perfect when the new group performed on "American Bandstand," Terri said that it was well before the heyday of groupies.

"Our groupies were nuns," he joked. "They all came shrouded like the good Catholic Italian girls they were."

Danny and the Juniors made almost 50 "American Bandstand" appearances, as well as numerous other television shows, from the old "Patti Page Big Record Show" to, more recently, "Nashville Now" and PBS specials. They've also been featured in three motion pictures.

"It's been a blast," Terri said. "And it's not over."

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