"Hey Baby, you ain't old enough to remember rock 'n' roll." The middle-aged man was wearing a black suit, black shirt and a flowing white handkerchief in his lapel pocket - decked out for a high night of hard dancing and rousing memories. "This is gonna be the hard stuff!" he growled.
The show billed "D.C.'s Greatest Oldies Concert" and to back up the claim, some of the greatest oldies of rock 'n' roll were featured. Mary Wells, Bo Diddley, The Five Keyes, The Vibrations and The Clovers all have carved out a slice of musical history for themselves, and the songs they recorded in the '50s and early '60s were some of the first rumblings of the rock 'n' roll steamroller.
The show, held "In Behalf of the National Black Veterans Organization," was staged at the Washington Coliseum, a structure that, like the music, has seen better days but is still standing despite its age. Inside, the lobby was filled with hawkers peddling programs, photos and souvenirs. The record booth heightened the sense of being in a time warp - old Chubby Checker and Bo Diddley album covers were displayed on the walls the way they must have been in countless areas in the '50s.
Everyone applauded politely for the opening acts, The Jewels and The Velons, who were backed by the Donald Watts Sextet. The sound was horrendous. While ideally suited for circuses and hockey games, the coliseum is a perfectly terrible concert hall. Oddly enough, the accoustics sounded remarkably like the old 45 RPM records - heavy on the echo effect, with a discernible lyric occasionally bouncing off the birdcage-like chandeliers.
The energy level began to bubble over when the Clovers launched into their classic "Love Potion No. 9." Dancers jumped into the aisles and the fanning of programs gave way to hand-clapping and swaying.
The marathon continued with the rich vocal harmonies of the Five Keyes' "Dream On," followed by the rocking rhythms of the Vibration's hit, "My Girl Sloopy." With the first notes of each familiar tune the crowd erupted for a moment, then sang along with the groups.
"Are you ready?" screamed Bo Diddley. "Amen!" Like a Bible-toting preacher, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his primal, stomping rhythms and steely guitar work. He stormed through his theme song, "Bo Diddley," splaying the hall with needle-like notes. Dressed in a red suit and a black sheriff's hat, he danced about the stage, swinging his famous box guitar in time to the songs.
Singer Mary Wells, the featured performer of the evening, was a mainstay of the Motown label in the mid-'50s and early '60s. She featured many of her most popular numbers including "Two Lovers" and "My Guy." and the crowd shouted her name throughout the night.
At the end of the show, people were still snapping their fingers and shaking their hips as they filed out of the exits, back into the '70s.