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December 13, 2002 - Image 87

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-12-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

tist and member of a choir at the
Hollis Hills Jewish Center. Yet despite
having a beautiful voice, his son
laughingly recalls that his dad never
knew all the words to any song,
whether it was in English, Yiddish or
His mother and older brother were
completely "amusical," he notes.
The future rock 'n' roller, though,
was somewhat of a child prodigy on
the piano. At age 12, Bauman was
studying classical piano at New York's
prestigious Juilliard School of Music,
yet to discover that he had any
singing talent.
"My bar mitzvah wasn't any great
shakes, in terms of performance. I
could play the piano, but I wasn't par-
ticularly noted as a vocalist," he
recalls. "That happened later."
Upon entering Columbia University
in New York City, from which he
would graduate magna cum laude,
Bauman was already an avid fan of
doo-wop and rock 'n' roll.
And it was from sharing that mutu-
al interest with some other college
undergracls that the group Sha Na Na
was born.
The faux 1950s act's primitive ros-
ter temporarily included Jewish mem-
bers Elliot Cahn, Alan Cooper (who
went on to teach at the Jewish
Theological Seminary) and Henry
Gross (the same singer who recorded
the Top-10 hit "Shannon" in 1976).
But undeniably, Bowzer was Sha Na
Na's most charismatic attraction.
"Bowzer was just a nickname that I
came up with and attached to my Sha
Na Na character," says Bauman, 55.
"It comes from my last name,
which is German for 'tree man.' My
father loved the Bowzer thing, and
with me being an Ivy Leaguer, he'd
say that he sent me to Columbia
University to become a moron. That
was his characterization, as a joke."
Sha Na Na would enjoy widespread
exposure via its appearance in the film
documentary Woodstock. Scheduled
next to last at the famous 1969 music
festival, the flashbacks band preceded
legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
Back then, with its old 'n' gold
repertoire and flashy choreography,
Bauman believes that putting "live
performance back on the map" was
Sha Na Na's most important contribu-
tion to rock 'n' roll.
Also impressed with the group's
visuality, TV producer Pierre Cossette
offered the music makers their own
syndicated show, which aired from
1977-1981 and co-starred Detroit tel-
evision legend Soupy Sales.

The top-rated Sha Na Na program
was the zenith of the group's populari-
ty, after which Bauman started to seri-
ously reassess his future.
"I had done a lot of Sha Na Na for
14 years, we had done the movie
Grease, and I thought that it was a
good time to go, because I didn't
think that we would do anything sig-
nificant as a group again," Bauman
explains about his departure in
November 1983.


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The following year, he returned to the
small screen as Jon Bauman, the new
co-host for an hour-long, syndicated
pairing of Match Game and Hollywood
Squares. The series had only a nine-
month run.
"It was a good opportunity, in a
way, but I knew what the pitfalls
would be," he says.
"What I discovered was that I really
didn't like working for bosses, and I
didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed
being Bowzer."
These days; when he sheds his
Bowzer facade, the "real" Jon Bauman
lives in Los Angeles with Mary, his
wife of 31 years. The couple have two
children: Nora, 22, and Eli, 20.
Bauman also devotes time to the
Truth in Rock Association, which he
founded with Joe Terry of Danny and
the Juniors.
Their objective is to educate all
remaining singers and singing groups
of the 1950s and 1960s about trade-
marking their names and protecting
their legal rights.
Being on stage and moonlighting
for justice allows him the best of both
As Bauman says, "It's impossible for
a lot of people to fathom that I'm
really this sort of academic intellectual
who's interested in trademark rights
for artists and that I'm interested in
law and well-read, yet I can still play a
funny, slightly moronic greaser.
"Everything about my life now is
the best that it's ever been, and I'm
really not kidding," he says.
"I really enjoy being a working per-
former emeritus and giving people a
good time, on my own terms." ❑

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Jon Bauman stars in "Bowzer's
Rock 'n' Roll Christmas Show"
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at
Macomb Center for the
Performing Arts. $27-$35.
(586) 286-2222.






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