“You had to be there” isn’t a phrase often heard by the Hit Men when it comes to the golden age of rock-and-roll.
Mostly because they were there.
The group is made up of keyboardist Lee Shapiro, lead guitarist Jimmy Ryan, bassist Larry Gates, vocalist Russ Velasquez and drummer Gerry Polci, each with a rock résumé more impressive than the last.
Having worked with music legends including Elton John, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Sting, Barry Manilow, the Ramones and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, just to name a few, the group’s members have certainly contributed more than their fair share to music history.
And that history is something they aim to share with their audience every time they step on stage.
“We feel young, and we impart that and infuse our audience with that — we try to take everybody back in time,” said Shapiro, the group’s founder. “Sending people back to exactly where they were the first time they heard the songs — that’s what we pride ourselves on.”
While the set-list is always changing, some of the quintet’s classics include “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, and “Let’s Hang On,” “Sherry” and “Who Loves You” by the Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.
In addition to that skill of time travel, the Hit Men also hang their hats on being by no means what could be considered a “tribute” or a “cover” band. After all, for most of the songs they play, one of more of them had some kind of hand in its inception.
“What’s very interesting is we don’t have to try to make it sound authentic. If we play it, it is authentic,” Shapiro explained. “Being musicians our whole lives, no one’s ever done anything else, and our own kind of spin just happens to [the song] by virtue of that we’re all doing it together.”
It’s been that way since the group got together in November of 2010 and first played “Oh What a Night,” which Shapiro and Polci had, of course, played many times before.
“We looked at each other, and it was kind of an eerie silence,” Shapiro described of the moments after the song’s last note. “We all said, ‘I guess we kind of have to do this.’”
And they’ve been doing it ever since, touring both nationally and internationally.
The group’s most recent tour began earlier this month in Brookfield, Wis., before a stop in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, last week. With most of the group hailing from New Jersey, they made a stop home after that but will hit the Freeman Stage at Bayside on Saturday, June 18.
“We love playing the Delaware area. The reception has been fantastic in the past,” said Shapiro. “Freeman Stage is a cool open-air venue. It’s not like the usual — everybody can get up dance move around. It’s just a lot of fun.”