Crooning in that timeless doo-wop style, The Moonlites bring back the silky melodies and smooth harmonies of the 1950s. Photo by Phil Houseal
The Moonlites: Music that still glows
by Phil Houseal
Each night I ask the stars up above
You may not be a teenager; you may not be in love; but chances are you recognize those lyrics and are still moved by the classic doo-wop sound of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Amazingly, there is a group in the Hill Country that performs the acoustically addictive style that sprang up on the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest in the 1950s.
Mike Paladino grew up singing that sound on the streets of New York and New Jersey. It was a time when street battles were fought with harmonies, and gangs competed with doo-wahs, ram-a-lam-a-ding-dongs, and sha-na-nas .
“We would stand on corner or sing in the vestibules of stores to get the echo,” he said in his New Jersey accent. “There’d be a group on the other side, a group down the street, a group up the street.” The singers were in friendly competition. “You’d compete to see who could sound better, you know. People would pass by and throw you quarters. It was a lot of fun.”
Paladino was a singer, writer, and arranger of early doo-wop music. He founded several groups, and shared the stage with the Teenagers, Jackie Wilson, the Flamingos, the Harptones, the Cadillacs, the Dubs, Earl Lewis & the Channels, the Cleftones, the Velours, Lenny Welch, Vito and the Salutations, Manhattan Transfer, the Capris, the Contours, the Chaperones and on and on (you’ve got to love those names). Paladino now performs with a group he started here in 2005 - The Moonlites.
The current line-up includes Michael Herrera, Louie Real, Carlos Escobedo, and Josh Widener. They sing classic tunes such as So Much In Love, Runaway, In the Still of the Night, and Duke of Earl. The group has performed at venues from Vegas to San Antonio. I caught them at The Meet Market, a cozy club in Comfort, where they headline a monthly acoustic gig for appreciative audiences.
“They love us here,” Paladino proclaimed. “We brought the house down - this is the best audience we ever played before.” The doo-wop fans were mostly couples in their 50s and 60s, who were reliving the 1950s and 1960s. But don’t get the idea this music is only for the retirement crowd.
Moonlite member Josh Widener is but a lad of 29, and he has gained a whole new appreciation for this art form.
“Nobody in my generation is familiar with this music, because they didn’t grow up with it,” Widener explained. “Like me, I’d never heard of these guys or listened to that much 50s music.” Widener happened to be at The Moonlites’ show at the Majestic Theater when he had the revelation. “They opened the show, and then I got to listen to all those great groups and was just blown away. It was amazing!”
A short time later, Widener was invited to sing tenor with the group. Even though he did not know all the music at first, he learned quickly and now is the youngest member of the group and newest fan of doo-wop.
It’s the music that matters, always, according to Paladino.
“There is a difference in these harmonies,” he explained. “Chicago, Detroit, New York... they all had different sounds. But I’m a proponent of the music. We have got to get the music out there.”
What is the timeless appeal of the a cappella sound? Paladino knows it’s more than nostalgia.
“Sure, it’s a trip down memory lane, but there’s talent. You’re doing vocals that aren’t done by everybody.”
When it comes to doo-wop, we’ll always be teenagers.