Good old dancin’ songs seem to be a rarity these days. Take us back about 60 years to the “American Bandstand” era.
Meet Bonnie Nadley Silvestri of suburban Philadelphia, Pa. She gets her blood pumping each day by performing a fancy footwork routine while listening to her favorite song – “Bristol Stomp” by The Dovells.
It’s a robust 2-minute, 18-second workout. The catchy, stick-in-your-head tune was recorded and released in 1961 when Bonnie was 15. She’s a grandmother now, but the retired special education teacher is still known as “Bristol Stompin’ Bonnie.”
Two of the original members of The Dovells – Jerry Gross and Mark Stevens – continue to entertain and tour, keeping their patented doo-wop sound alive.
Now in their “upper 70s,” they pace themselves. On cue, Bonnie makes a cameo appearance on stage to demonstrate the “Bristol Stomp” dance moves.
She was one of the kids who were “sharp as a pistol” and danced on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” television show about 40 times in the early 1960s.
Today, Bonnie serves as president of the The Dovells’ fan club.
Carl LaVO of the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times said music history was made inside the Goodwill Hose Company #3 in Bristol, Pa. It’s the fire house where the dance originated...and inspired the song. “The ‘Bristol Stomp’ is our anthem,” he wrote.
In 1961, teenagers in Bristol, located about 20 miles up the Delaware River from Philadelphia, would gather for Friday night dances at the fire station. They invented the “stomp,” while dancing to “Every Day of the Week” by The Students, a group from Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, Bernie Lowe, a record company executive, had just signed a local Philadelphia band that he decided to name “The Deauvilles,” after a new, swanky Miami Beach resort hotel.
The band members balked...and the parties settled on The Dovells, to capitalize on the “el” sound as in the names of other popular doo-wop groups of the period – The Shirelles and The Chantels.
Billy Harper, an aide to Lowe, witnessed the stomping beat at the fire hall and dutifully reported back. He said the stomp was a budding dance craze that could reel in millions of dollars for the Cameo-Parkway studio. Songwriters Kal Mann and Dave Appell put a song together in two days.
In a tribute, The Dovells performed the song “to a packed house in Bristol at the Goodwill fire hall,” LaVO wrote.
“It was deafening,” Jerry Gross said of the heels of the dancers smacking the floor in perfect timing with the opening guitar riff. “The sound they made shook the building. Incredible.”
Al Barnes, of Levittown, Pa., was there, trying to act cool “and to meet new girls.” He told LaVO, “I thought the floor would cave in.”
“I’ve seen every incarnation of the dance you can imagine, completely crazy versions,” said Gross. “But only the kids in Bristol knew how to do it right.”
The “Bristol Stomp” soared to reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart but was unable to bump “Runaround Sue” by Dion DiMucci from the top of the heap in the fall of 1961.
The Dovells are in good company, said music blogger Rob O’Connor who researched No. 2-song artists. Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) holds the record for the most singles (five) to reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart without ever scoring a No. 1 single.
The five CCR songs – all recorded in 1969 and 1970 – were: “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Green River,” “Travelin’ Band” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.”