They’re having a party at Surflight Theatre on New Years Eve. In fact, they’re having two parties, one starting at 5 p.m. and the other at 8. And what makes a party great? A great band. So Surflight brought in a band that bills itself as “The Worlds Greatest Party Band,” the one, the only Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns.
It seems impossible that anyone in Southern Ocean County hasn’t heard of Shorty Long. The popular, high-energy band has been ubiquitous at area bars and clubs for most of the third millennium. But if you just came back from spending a dozen years on the International Space Station or just moved to the Garden State from Montana or Iowa, Shorty Long is both the name of the band and the nickname of its front man, keyboardist and singer Richard Tisch.
Tisch was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as “O.I” or “Children of Glass.” O.I. is a fairly rare genetic condition that is characterized by easily broken bones, thus its nickname “Children of Glass.” The Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation estimates between 20,000 and 50,000 Americans are afflicted with the condition.
O.I. can be deadly and certainly disabling. When Tisch was a child he couldn’t play the rough and tumble games in which other boys participated, especially since he was – and is – confined to a wheelchair. So he engaged in another form of play, learning to play keyboards when he was only 5 years old, and a Jersey legend was born.
One common symptom of O.I., which Tisch displays, is stunted growth. Thus his nickname, first used by Frederick Earl Long, a Motown master of funk in the 1960s who co-wrote “Devil With the Blue Dress On.” Long’s career was just taking off when he died in a boating accident in 1969. Like Tisch, Long earned his nickname because he was short – just 5 feet tall.
Tisch, though, is more reminiscent of another very short bandleader, the jazz and swing drummer William “Chick Webb,” who was also dealt with a so-called handicap that didn’t stand in the way of his success, tuberculosis of the spine.
Webb launched the career of a teenage singer, Ella Fitzgerald. He also led the house band of Harlem’s legendary Savoy Ballroom with its two bandstands throughout the 1930s, where he was famous for competing in – and usually winning – battles of the bands – thus the two bandstands – against such jazz and swing heavyweights as Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
As noted earlier, Shorty Long and The Jersey Horns bills itself as the Worlds Greatest Party Band, and it is easy to imagine the band competing in – and usually winning – battles of the bands against the dozens of cover bands that dominate the Jersey Shore musical scene.
The band consists of Tisch, vocalists Ronnie Brooks and Dee Farace, bassist John Kern, guitarists Matty Kahn and Paul J. Baccash and drummer Tommy Karrick – along, of course, with trombonist Neal “Perkolator” Perkins, trumpeter Danny Kern and saxophonists Dan Fitzgerald, Alec Conigliaro and Kyle Kern. It’s the addition of the horns that separates the band from most of its Jersey Shore competitors, providing a full and “let’s get up and dance” sound.
Tickets for the Shorty Long and The Jersey Horns concerts at Surflight on Dec. 31 are $39.50 and may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the door.
— Rick Mellerup