Sha Na Na’s Jocko Marcellino recalls opening for Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock: ‘We bathed in the pond’

It was 50 years ago when Sha Na Na opened for Jimi Hendrix at a music festival called Woodstock during the summer of 1969 — you might have heard of it.

Since then, the '50s-style band, which originated as a 12-piece a cappella group at New York City’s Columbia University, has released 18 albums and sold more than 20 million of them. In addition, they also starred in 97 episodes of their own worldwide syndicated television show, with guests ranging from James Brown to Paul Anka, to name a few. If that weren’t enough, Sha Na Na had six songs on the Grammy-nominated “Grease” soundtrack. Sha Na Na continues to hit the road and already has two shows coming up before the year is over.

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Jocko Marcellino, circa 1978.

Jocko Marcellino, circa 1978. (Photo by Getty Images)

Sha Na Na co-founder and drummer Jocko Marcellino spoke to Fox News about opening for Jimi Hendrix, his encounter with the Godfather of Soul and what has kept the group going.

Fox News: How did Sha Na Na end up opening for Jimi Hendrix?
Jocko Marcellino: We went to a club in Hell's Kitchen and they had us two straight weeks. During that time Hendrix started showing up to see the show. It was a hangout for a lot of rock musicians; for Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa. So for me, a 19-year-old student, this was unbelievable — meeting and seeing these rock stars enjoying what we were doing.

Janis Joplin died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles at age 27.

Janis Joplin died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles at age 27. (Getty Images)

Jimi Hendrix got the promoters of Woodstock down to see us. And that night they gave us an offer to do the show, of course, the festival.

They paid us $350 and the check bounced, but we got to Woodstock. And after a long weekend, I was out there for two nights, three days... Hendrix's deal was to close the show, no matter what. And the stage was sinking, because after the rain on Sunday, it was just a mud pit. And there was a about a third of the crowd left.

Jimi Hendrix performs at the Felt Forum on January 28, 1970, in New York City, New York.

Jimi Hendrix performs at the Felt Forum on January 28, 1970, in New York City, New York. (Getty)

But [the promoters] came to Jimi and said, "We want you to close now." And he said, "No, there are some acts that have been here all weekend and deserve to get on." And so, he and his management really saved our slot, which was unbelievable. We did our 35 minutes, just before Jimi Hendrix. So, you're hearing this doo-wop and then Hendrix is playing "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was pretty extraordinary.

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Fox News: What was your initial impression of Jimi Hendrix?
Marcellino: We loved Jimi... We did shows at different festivals, following Woodstock. I'm not going to say I knew him very well, but he was always very nice to us.

Jimi Hendrix in 1966 

Jimi Hendrix in 1966  (AP)

He was just quiet. He was quiet and thoughtful. And then, it's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when he got on that stage. Man, he killed it. I was a senior in high school when I first saw him in Massachusetts and it was one of the greatest concerts I've ever seen. And now here I am, a little more than a year later, meeting Jimi. And then eventually doing Woodstock right before him.

Music fans pack around the stage at the original Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, lower right, in Bethel, N.Y., on August 16, 1969.

Music fans pack around the stage at the original Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, lower right, in Bethel, N.Y., on August 16, 1969. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)

Fox News: What was that experience life performing at Woodstock?
Marcellino: We were very tired. I think I stayed outdoors one night, but otherwise, I slept in the van and we bathed in the pond. And we were a little bit hyper because we needed the energy to get through it.

There was just a rough scene out there. People were, a lot of the diehards, stayed to see Hendrix close, so when we come on they were trying to figure out, "What is this?" And they took a few songs and then they really got in the groove with what we were doing.

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Fox News: How did you respond to Hendrix’s passing?
Marcellino: He was 27. It was scary. There were several major deaths at age 27. I was very saddened. I remember walking on the street and saw the front page of a newspaper. He had passed. It was horrible.

Fox News: Who were some of your biggest influences?
Marcellino: I’m a big R&B fan and I just love Little Richard. Also James Brown, who did our show. We cut a track for him, and we were playing it for the first time. He was about to sing against it in front of an audience. But very quietly, he brought us over and asked, "Who's the drummer?" And I said, "I am."

He turned his hand up and he wanted five. He said, "Brother," and shot me five. So, for a young drummer who is a huge fan of James Brown, it was the ultimate compliment.

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American Rock and Roll musician John 'Jocko' Marcellino, of the group Sha Na Na, performs onstage at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, August 18, 1979. 

American Rock and Roll musician John 'Jocko' Marcellino, of the group Sha Na Na, performs onstage at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, August 18, 1979.  (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Fox News: What has kept the band going for decades now?
Marcellino: Well, we've discovered that rock 'n' roll is here to stay. It's fun to do, traveling. Being in airports is a pain in the neck, but to do the shows, it's a lot of fun. And I think we live up to the expectation of what we're going to do and that the show will be fun. You're going to have a good time and that happens every night. It’s meaningful music, to five generations of people.

[The music is called] Americana, but they are oldies. And I never even like the term oldies because I don't go back. I might put on the leather jacket and do my hair, but we're on a stage tonight. And we're doing these songs. It's like if you went to a classical concert you wouldn't say, "There's an oldie by Brahms." No, these are the selection of songs we're doing tonight.

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in "Grease."

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in "Grease." (AP)

Fox News: With the music industry constantly changing, is there anything you wished the band could have done differently?
Marcellino: Probably, but I would say in general, no. We've been very lucky, we've been able to command an audience. We still do it because we like it, we don't do 200 shows a day, a year. We do probably about 25, which is enough to keep it rocking and tight, but you still have your life.