As we drive into the parking lot of Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center this warm and sunny Tuesday Sept. 26, 2017 afternoon, we notice lots of NJ music lovers lined up at the gates waiting to enter today’s free concert sponsored by The Garden State Arts Foundation featuring The Cameos.
Once inside the auditorium, we take our seats. Here we meet a woman, Marianne, who tells us she is the manager of The Cameos. She takes us over to introduce us to her “thin and handsome husband,” Cameos’ bandleader and drummer, Paul Stuart.
Stuart provides us with a bit of background on The Cameos, a Jersey-based cover band that specializes in music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ‘70s.
According to Stuart, with a schedule of over 100 shows per year, the group not only performs in venues here in the Garden State, but also plays shows throughout the Northeast in places like Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. Stuart explains that, as a musician, he spent six years working with Roger DelRusso, the founder of The Cameos, who started the band back in 1957.
“For a time, the group broke up,” reveals Stuart, “but then Roger and I created a new Cameo group.”
Before he passed away, DelRusso turned the leadership of The Cameos over to Stuart which, he says — in its current format — has been together now for 11 years.
“Typically, we have eight members in the band,” says Stuart, “but because this show is special, today we have ten,” adding, “Nine out of the ten musicians on stage today are from Jersey. Just one — guitarist Jamie Bannon — is from The Bronx.”
“Our niche is doing songs that everyone can relate to,” Stuart acknowledges, “covering artists like Johnny Maestro, The Duprees, Jay and the Americans, The Four Seasons, and more. And we don’t use pre-recorded musical tracks,” noting, “everything we play and sing is performed live — including all of the harmonies.”
Concludes Stuart, “We are very grateful to have a following which we’ve developed over the years” cautioning, “but we don’t usually call them a following,” explaining, “Instead, we call them our friends and family.”
Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino makes his way onto the stage to welcome the crowd and thank the corporate sponsors of today’s concert — LiveNation Entertainment, PNC Bank, Sirius XM Radio, and others — in addition to thanking the audience for their generous contributions to the GSAF.
Given this is the final GSAF performance of the season, Gravino asks the crowd to let him know if anyone has any suggestions for artists who could perform next season joking, “Don’t suggest Paul Anka — we can’t afford him — but maybe Tom Jones?”
Gravino introduces The Cameos, who take the stage and open the show with their four male lead vocalists — Chris Cerullo, Dan Ugarte, Arno Petronzio, and John Basilone — performing an a cappella rendition of The Dubs’ “Chapel of Dreams.” Following generous applause, The Cameos backup band kicks in and accompanies the lead singers on a patriotic rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” The audience is so taken with the group’s majestic performance, they rise to their feet just as an enormous American flag is unveiled behind the musicians.
“Today is a special day!” exclaims Stuart from behind his drums. Pointing to the huge flag, he says, “This is why we are proud to be Americans!”
Going on to also note, “This is our sixth time returning to the PNC Bank Arts Center,” Stuart asks the eager crowd, “Are you ready for a good time?”
When the audience replies in the affirmative, The Cameos launch into a medley of songs by the late, great Johnny Maestro which includes numbers like The Crests’ “Sixteen Candles” and The Brooklyn Bridge’s “Blessed is the Rain,” “Welcome Me Love,” and “The Worst That Could Happen.” The group’s big sound fills the PNC Bank Arts Center and prompts the audience to respond with hoots and hollers.
Following a dynamic rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” The Cameos move on to a song which Stuart jokes, “comes from so far way back, I don’t even remember it!” Adding that the tune “is from 1958, and was performed by five guys from Brooklyn,” The Cameos delight this crowd of “oldies” enthusiasts with their harmonious vocal blend on The Fascinators’ “Chapel Bells.” They follow that up with a spirited rendition of The Vogues’ “Turn Around Look at Me.”
Saxophonist Cathy Carbone takes center stage to gracefully handle the lead vocal chores on The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.”
Carbone is followed by today’s special guest, Doreen Arminio, who joins the band to perform The Students’ “I’m So Young,” her big voice making a huge impression on this PNC crowd. During the program’s short intermission, we chat with Mary from Staten Island, NY, who reveals, “I’ve come to the PNC Bank Arts Center to see The Cameos six times already because they do the music I love,” before confessing, “I adore Johnny Maestro, so I was in heaven when The Cameos did their tribute to him!”
Act II opens with The Cameos’ guitarist Jamie Bannon singing lead on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the crowd happily clapping and singing “so good, so good, so good” on the song’s ubiquitous chorus.
“You wanna hear a little Four Seasons?” asks Stuart, after which the group performs a Four Seasons’ medley of tunes including “Save it For Me,” “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye),” and “Dawn,” the vocal harmonies ringing out all thorough the PNC auditorium. A high point of this Cameos medley is Paul Stuart’s top-notch drum solo which earns him avid applause. Singer Dan Ugarte tells the crowd, “In 1956, I remember hearing this next song on my way to junior high school,” before launching into a riveting version of The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night,” his effortless high falsetto voice exciting this Jersey crowd.
Moving on to Larry Chance and The Earls’ “A Capella with My Friends,” The Cameos’ smooth vocal harmonies are accented by Cathy Carbone’s wailing sax.
Doreen Arminio is invited back to the stage to perform Etta James’ “At Last.” As she sings, a couple can be seen blissfully slow dancing on the right-hand side of the auditorium.
When the song is through, we ask the couple — Lenny and Brenda from Red Bank — why they chose to dance to this particular number.
Explains Lenny, “It was our wedding song,” revealing that he and Brenda are presently celebrating eleven years of marriage— ironically the same number of years the current incarnation of The Cameos has been together.
Stating, “I’m proud of the members of this band,” and adding, “thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting us for the past 11 years,” Stuart introduces each of the members of The Cameos to the large PNC Bank Arts Center crowd.
Afterwards, the group performs a medley of Jay and the Americans’ hits including “This Magic Moment,” Come a Little Bit Closer,” and a show-stopping rendition of “Cara Mia” featuring Chris Cerullo which earns the group a well-deserved standing ovation
“We have time for one more,” states vocalist John Basilone who sings the lead vocal on Larry Chance and The Earls’ “I Believe,” and closes the show by announcing, “God bless each and every one of you!”
As audience members make their way out of the amphitheater, we chat with several in the crowd who share their opinions of The Cameos’ performance this afternoon.
Paul from Warren discloses, “I’ve been a New York Giants fan for 50 years and The Cameos’ performance of ‘God Bless the USA’ reminded me of the same feeling I always felt hearing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ played live at the games,” before exclaiming, “That should have been shown on television so people can see what our country — America — is all about!”
Michael from Toms River, a long-time fan of The Cameos — in addition to being a vocalist who used to sing with Cameo’s member Danny Ugarte in a group called The Plazas — comments, “This show was fantastic — one of the best Cameos’ shows I’ve seen,” calling the group’s performance of “In the Still of the Night” his favorite number.
Jeanne from Hazlet informs us that she sees many Garden State Arts Foundation shows here at the PNC Bank Arts Center because, as she explains, “I live so close, I could walk here from my home.” Calling The Cameos “a talented group of musicians,” she further notes, “They put on a great show!”
Lastly, we chat with Sy who is here visiting the Garden State from Boynton Beach, FL.
After stating, “This is one of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen in a long time!” Sy smiles before likely summing up the feelings of many here at The Cameos’ performance today upon uttering two simple words:
~ MEET THE CAMEOS ~
Paul has been playing drums since the age of 9. Born in Scranton Pennsylvania,. Paul was influenced by some of the greatest drummers in history Ed Shaughnessy, Louie Belson and Buddy Rich. Paul studied drums privately with the well regarded Frank Marripodi from Watchung, New Jersey. In addition, Paul continued his musical studies with The Glenn Weber Drum Studios in West Orange, New Jersey and attended Fairleigh Dickenson School of Percussion. Paul has had the opportunity to play with many well known groups including one of New Jersey's Top Show Groups, "The Galahads", Jerry Vale, and the Allan & Rossie band. He has performed at the Garden State Arts Center (PNC) with all three of these groups. He's had vast experience in Studio Work and is very proud to have been chosen to "carry on" The Cameos name at the wishes of it's founder: Mr. Roger "Bassman" DelRusso." The Show must go on and Paul will see to it that Roger's wishes are fulfilled to the extreme!
ocals (1st, 2nd tenor; baritone; bass)
I am proud to say that I was born and raised in a Newark, New Jersey Housing Project named “Steven Crane Village”. I started getting involved with music when I was 12 years old, listening to my big brother, Angelo Basilone, the Lead Singer of the great acapella group known as “The Savoys”. My friends and I decided to start our own band, at the age of 15, and we called ourselves “The Five Reasons.” B=elieve it or not, one of our very first gigs was a wedding at a club called “Joey’s” which was located on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark. Not only were we influenced by “The Savoys” but you may have heard of another well known person, who also was born and raised in “Steven Crane Village” (named Frankie Vallie) and that’s why we called ourselves “The Five Reasons”.
Vocals (1st, 2nd tenor; baritone; bass)
Chris Cerullo, Lead Vocals/Bass/Baritone/2nd Tenor/1st Tenor/Falsetto, born in Garfield, New Jersey and attended Rutgers University where he founded his first Acapella Group "Vito & The Twilights" in 1990, performing in and around the college campus and around the tri-state area. With The Twilights, Chris recorded 4 songs on 2 Acapella compilation CD’s for Starlight. He later founded the Acapella group, "Remembrance" where he received Ronnie I's "UGHA Rookie Group of The Year” honor in 1995 and recorded two original tunes under the Acousti-Pella label in 1997 which received air play on WCBS FM and later was featured in a major motion picture. He also appeared on Don K Reed's Doo Wop Shop several times as well as other radio stations throughout NJ and NY. Chris performed with all the major Doo-wop acts including The Earls, The Crests, The Drifters, The Teenagers, The Five Satins, The Tokens, The Duprees, The Elegants, The Excellents, The Duprees, The Dubs, The Solitaires, The Harptones, The Jive Five, The Happenings, The Chimes, The Classics, and others. Chris also appeared in a 2-week off-Broadway musical production of Saddamn the Musical where he played the lead part of Saddamn. Chris then moved on to a group called “Goodfellas” before making THE CAMEOS his home!
Vocals (Falsetto, 1st, 2nd tenor; baritone; bass)
Danny was born in the South Bronx and started singing at an early age. He sang with a group called The Cordials and recorded “Dawn is Almost Here” on the Seven Arts record label. After moving to New Jersey he started singing with Eric And the Plazas and recorded “I Wish” in 1963. In 1964 he recorded “Danny Boy” with Nicky Addeo and The Plazas on the Revelation label. After doing a lot of background work, with various artists, he joined Sound Investment in the early 1980s and now a dedicated mainstay with The Cameos!
Keys / Vocals
A born and raised Jersey Boy, and inspired by his father who played drums for over fifty years, most notably with the group The Toppers, Arno began playing piano at the age of 8 years old. He has over 40 years of performance history and sings both lead and harmony vocals. Playing in various bands all over the New Jersey and New York area, from the Jersey Shore to the East Village, he has performed all types of music from Doo-Wop and Acapella to Classic Rock and everything in between. Arno also toured Canada in the late 70’s with a nine piece disco soul band! His inspiration comes from such greats as the Duprees, Johnny Maestro, The Four Seasons, Yes, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and Elvis. Today, Arno welcomes his role as The Cameos’ Keyboard Player, Vocalist and Musical Arranger. Together with his band mates, he welcomes the challenge to recreate the original sounds of the 50s and 60s for all fans and lovers of this bygone musical era to enjoy.
Bass Guitar and Vocals
Born and raised in the City of Newark, NJ, I began my musical career singing bass with the acapella group The Savoys. Our stage was the corner of the main entrance to the Stephen CraneVillage housing project where we lived. After a few years of performing at many events in the Greater Newark area, we became a self-contained vocal group. I started playing the bass guitar,while singing the bass/baritone vocal parts.
It wasn’t long before our newly packaged group was heard by Denny Randell and Charlie Calello, songwriter and music arranger, respectively, for The Four Seasons. They took the group into the recording studios of Columbia Records and Metro Media Entertainment, with Stephen Crane Village, their childhood home, as the group’s new name. Those sessions produced 5 records, one of which, “Hey Summer”, hit the Billboard Magazine charts at #40 with a red bulletin the first week of its release. (The song can be heard on YouTube, along with the other songs)
I attended Jersey City State College as a Music Education major on the double bass, earning a Master of Arts as well as a MA Degree in Urban Education. Some of my most memorable experiences were playing double bass for various symphony orchestras in the Essex/Union County areas, and electric bass in the “pit” for many high school musical theatre revivals. Some of the well-known performers I have accompanied on the bass are the original Duprees, Shirley Alston Reeves of the Shirelles, The Coasters, and The Toys. I also toured with Bobby Valli and Jersey Dreams. The show was a tribute to The Jersey Boys. One of the highlights in my life was when I was a “roadie” for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. During that exciting time, traveling all over the country as well as to England and Canada, I learned so much about what it takes to be a professional entertainer just by watching and listening to “my boys” on and off stage. The responsibilities are enormous, and the demands on the performers are never-ending. It is the true professional who lives up to the high standards required of the performer.
Also in my Performing Arts portfolio is my work as an actor, performing with The Actors Project NYC, as well as a screenplay writer. Working with my partner, Joe Stefanelli, 2nd tenor with the Savoys and Stephen Crane Village, we wrote a feature length script titled, “The Corner Boys”, which is the story of the group’s beginnings on the corner to their almost making it big as recording stars.
In closing, I want to say that I’ve been a fan of The Cameos for a long time now. Their blend of singers and musicians is 2nd to none. I also admire The Cameos for their solid work ethic, their respect for their fans, and their reverence for the music which they love to perform. As I mentioned earlier with regard to living up to the demands and responsibilities of the performer, the Cameos consistently maintain that high standard so necessary to be considered professionals, which they most certainly are. Last but certainly not least, I want to give a special shout-out to my dear friend John Basilone for making it possible for me to be a part of this exciting, dynamic show group.