By Mike Morsch, Executive editor
Bronx native Yo Vinny and his boys are going to be in East Windsor this weekend.
That’s what he’s called — “Yo Vinny.” And he got that moniker from a rock and roll legend.
Several years ago, singer Vinny Adinolfi was on the same bill at an oldies show as his musical hero, Dion DiMucci, he of “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” fame. Although a generation separates them, Vinny and Dion had grown up in the same Bronx neighborhood, also the home to actors Chazz Palminteri and Danny Aiello.
But the public address announcer at the oldies show couldn’t pronounce Vinny’s last name correctly, and it came out “Andolfini,” possibly because the hottest TV series at the time was “The Sopranos,” starring the late James Gandolfini.
For the next show, Vinny decided to make it easier on the announcer and just use his middle name, becoming Vinny John. Instead, he was introduced as “Vinny Johnson.”
Dion had heard enough.
“Yo man, why don’t we just call you Yo Vinny?” Mr. Adinolfi recalled Mr. DeMucci saying to him. “I was like, yeah, I guess that’s it.”
Yo Vinny would go on to become the patriarch of a family band called The Bronx Wanderers, who will appear at 6 p.m. Sunday, July 17, as part of the township’s free summer events at Etra Lake Park.
The band, which also features Mr. Adinolfi’s sons — Vinny “The Kid” and Nicky “Stix” and a few of their friends — is described as one part oldies and two parts rock and roll. Covers of songs from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s — including tunes by Dion and by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — are included in the show.
“If you saw the motion picture ‘A Bronx Tale’ and if you know the Broadway play ‘Jersey Boys,’ then we like to say that we are the ‘Jersey Boys’ meets ‘A Bronx Tale,’” said Mr. Adinolfi.
It will be a return engagement for the band in East Windsor. The mayor and Township Council members decide on the artists who they would like to schedule for the annual summer concert series. Recreation Department directors and members of the Recreation Commission — appointed by the Township Council — provide a list of different ideas and groups, with background information and web links, for consideration. Council members also suggest additional groups and the township welcomes public feedback or suggestions as well.
“The Bronx Wanderers were included as part of the 2015 summer program, based on their musical offering and positive information and reviews, and we try to identify groups which might have broad appeal,”said Mayor Janice Mironov. “The group was a tremendous hit last summer, bringing out one of the town’s largest audiences at Etra Lake Park, outside of Independence Day. Everyone seemed to have a super time and we received great public reaction. As a result, we decided to have them back for the 2016 season.”
The band plays between 200 and 250 shows a year. It takes classic songs and puts its own spin on them while trying to stay as close to the original recordings as possible.
“When people tell me we sound just like the original record, I smile and think ‘mission accomplished,’ ” he said.
Family is a big part of The Bronx Wanderers. Mr. Adinolfi and his sons have been performing together for the past 14 years, getting their start as a trio playing Italian restaurants in the Bronx.
“The boys were nervous wrecks at the time because they were only 14 and 11. And I told them, why don’t we make like we’re in our living room,” said Mr. Adinolfi. “I’d say, ‘Don’t look at the tables of people staring at you.’ I would stand in the middle with my guitar and they would look at me.”
Now the boys have grown into young men and as the band has evolved, so has their stage presence.
“Now it’s at point where they’re like rock stars and it’s ‘Dad, get out of the way.’ They take the stage over and they’ve really grown to where, and I joke around, but it’s really true, they don’t need me anymore,” said Mr. Adinolfi. “It’s the whole natural progression thing. It gets to a point where we’re on a meet and greet line and all these women are walking over to me going, ‘Is your son around?’ It’s then I realize that it’s not about me anymore.”
Although the patriarch likes seeing his sons step out front, he has no intention of retiring from the band anytime soon.
“My idols, Dion and Frankie Valli, those guys are 20 to 25 years older than me and they are still out touring. So I like to still think that deep down, I could do this another 10 or 20 years,” said Mr. Adinolfi. “But realistically, I’m looking at my sons and telling them that they need to step out and take control. Be more of ‘the guy’ instead of letting me be the guy.”
Mr. Adinolfi said the band enjoys playing the summer outdoor shows because of the exposure that they give the group and because of the friendly faces in the crowd.
“In some towns we’re in front of 400 or 500 people, in other towns it’s 2,000 people. The summer shows are a tremendous way to get in front of a lot of people,” he said. “We’ve been doing the parks for well more than 10 years. We’ve seen these people through the years. They’ve seen the boys grow up. When you see people you remember their faces. It really is gratifying.”
But there’s an even bigger gig on the horizon for The Bronx Wanderers. Starting the third week in September, the band will have a regular showroom spot at Bally’s in Las Vegas, performing six nights a week, sharing the venue with Wayne Newton.
“I never made it a secret that I never wanted to be an arena act. I loved the Vegas guys, I was a big Dean Martin fan. I loved Frank, Sammy, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck, Paul Anka, Wayne Newton and those guys,” said Mr. Adinolfi. “Just to be part of the whole Vegas thing and to have our own showroom where we really can do a lot of neat things, it gives us credibility with our own room and our own production show with money behind us, which we’ve never really had.”
The band was out in Las Vegas just a few weeks ago to iron out the final details and look at the venue. Right outside the casino there is a giant billboard featuring a picture of Wayne Newton. A picture of The Bronx Wanderers will go right under the picture of Mr. Newton.
“For me that’s like a dream come true. We’re going to be out there six nights a week full-time. Hopefully it starts the next chapter for where we’re headed,” said Mr. Adinolfi.
By Mike Morsch, Executive editor