An Interview with Vinny of The Bronx Wanderers: Keeping the Music Alive!

Oct 5, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) Vinny, first of all, how did the Bronx Wanderers get their name and when did you get started?

The group as you see it today with the kids is roughly 9 years old. Years ago I was playing with Dion’s band and Chazz Palminteri stopped by and came on stage with us. My young son was in the audience and he looked just like the young son from Chazz’s movie A Bronx Tale. We took my son on stage and the crowd went crazy with him and Chazz together. Chazz told me I should start a group with my kids and call it The Wanderers. It was right after that I took his advice and called my friend Jimmy Fracasse who was The Earls original guitarist. We’ve been on the road ever since. We were lucky enough to meet Abby Koffler who became our manager. She’s taken us all over the country.

2) You have just done a dynamic show in Clovis, New Mexico (home of Buddy Holly) and brought the place down. How did it feel to perform in such hallowed ground?

We were honored to be able to play in New Mexico. We can’t thank Christy Mendoza and her entire staff enough. I am a big Buddy Holly fan and he does have a strong connection to the Bronx. Most people don’t acknowledge or even know that the Winter Dance Party’s Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper concert also featured the Bronx’s Dion & The Belmonts. It was an amazing thrill for us to perform in Clovis.

3) Now, let’s talk about the music—-you guys do a good deal of “do-wop”. Why is this music important and what memories does it bring back?

First and foremost, I like to say we are Nu-Wop. We take classic songs put our spin on them as I try to stay as close to the original as possible. When people tell me we sound just like the original record, I smile and think mission accomplished. My main focus when we perform is to try to bring the audience in. I want them to be a part of what we do and sing along with us. I’ll even bring a few people on stage to help us do a song. An example is a while back we were in Massachusetts playing a 50th high school reunion. I asked the audience if any of them were in a band 50 years ago and actually played the high school dances and sock hops. This is your chance to play for your class mates and old girl friends again. Three guys came up and did a song with us and by the end of the song they were crying and thanking me for taking them back. The audience was crying too. That’s what it’s all about. We want to invoke strong memories and take people back to the era they grew up in.

4) A while ago, I interviewed the actor who played the part of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys—how much of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons stuff do you do and what is the audience reaction?

It’s amazing as we only play 15 minutes of Jersey Boys music in our 90 minute shows, yet this is what has been resonating with all of our audiences. Our thing is that we are a family act with me and my kids and that is what makes us appealing. Audiences love seeing a 19 and 22 year old play songs that are 50 years old. They always ask me how I got them into that kind of music. We also play a lot with the Chicago cast of The Jersey Boys. The kids have played dates with them and even for Frankie Valli.

5) I also interviewed Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon who has a quite distinctive sound—how do you guys go about getting your distinctive sound ?

Another Bronx link. Freddy teamed up with The Belmonts years ago to record a song called “ Let’ Put The Fun Back In Rock & Roll”. Regarding our sound, it all starts with family. We all have the same genes so naturally we all sound alike. This along with us all living in the same house makes for us always being able to rehearse and work on new things.

6) Now, could you tell us a bit about the band, and what each contributes to your spectacular sound?

I just explained about our family link above and that makes for our vocal sound. Having the kids do this type of music adds an element of youth and excitement to what we do too. Having Jimmy Fracasse as our guitarist really adds authenticity to what we do. Jim was at a lot of the original sessions of the songs we perform and he knows exactly what chords were played and how to approach each song. Our newest member John (JT) Tutino on sax loves what he is doing and that just adds more excitement to the mix.

7) Why you think it important to keep that do-wop sound alive- that sound from the street corners of the Bronx?

We’re originally from the same neighborhood where Chazz Palminteri and Danny Aiello grew up and we know them from the neighborhood. Dion, The Belmonts and The Earls are also from this neighborhood. We’re just keeping a neighborhood tradition alive.

8) How many of your group are actually from the Bronx?

We are mainly a 5 piece band and sometimes 6. Jimmy, JT and I were born and raised in the Bronx. My kids were both born in New York but raised in Bergen County New Jersey. Our sixth member who works with us on all our CDs and occasionally tours is Adam Reich from Brooklyn, NY.

9) I used to teach on Brook Avenue in the South Bronx and some of the local groups would sing in hallways, on rooftops, and in the subways trying to get or capture “that sound”. What is it about “that sound”?

I really think that that sound just evokes memories of a simpler era. Look at all the success the PBS Doo-Wop specials achieved.

10) Do you guys have a web site and have you got any recordings there available. Tell us about them?

Our website is www.thebronxwanderers.com We currently have two CDs available on our site. Our first album was called Family Affair which featured everyone in the band doing at least one song. This album featured a lot of the music of Dion and Frankie Valli. The second album is called Not Afraid to Dream. On this album I featured the kids a lot more and we did more original material. You hear the difference with the kids and overall the group maturing on this CD.

11) Next batch of gigs? Where and when? and how do we keep in contact with you guys?

We’re traveling all over the country. Next up is Livermore, California and from there we head to Orlando, Florida. You can see all of our scheduled dates on our website and you can also follow us on Facebook.

12) If I visit you in Vegas on your next gig—are you gonna let me sing “Why Must I be a Teenager in Love??”

Absolutely!!!

 

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