Hank Williams fell asleep in the backseat of his Cadillac on New Year’s Day 1953 and never woke up – until Wednesday in Savannah Center.
That’s when Andy Matchett –better known as Johnny Wild – brought old Hank back to life, along with Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly.
The show was called “Roy, Buddy and Hank,” and Johnny Wild and the Delights nearly blew the roof off a packed Savannah Center. This was a rock and roll show for the ages as Wild, his band, backup singers and guests powered their way through a rollicking and rambunctious 90-minute set.
The Wild crew turned in first class versions of Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’;” Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and Holly’s “Oh Boy” that had the joint jumping.
And it wasn’t just hard-pounding rock music that moved the near-sold out crowd. Near the end of the program, Matchett sang a heart-tugging version of the romantic standard, “Unchained Melody.”
People began slow dancing in the aisles and in front of the stage. Villagers Karen and Andy Skolnick were sitting near the end of a row on the side of the stage. Karen uses a cane and has difficulty walking.
But when the band started playing “Unchained Melody,” Andy helped Karen up and they stood by a wall, as she braced herself and danced with her husband.
It was an emotional moment for them both.
“We haven’t danced forever and ever – I can’t remember the last time,” Karen Skolnick said. “But tonight was so special, we wanted to dance again.”
Such is the uplifting power of music.
Johnny Wild and the Delights have become one of the hottest acts in The Villages over the past year. They attract huge crowds to the Town Squares and this was their first show on the big stage at Savannah Center.
It won’t be the last.
Matchett is the spark that ignites this group’s fire. He is a professionally trained actor with a gift for playing guitar and singing.
Matchett doesn’t just imitate famous singers. He makes them come alive on stage. His movements, mannerisms and personality are brimming with the ghosts of rock and roll past.
He opened the show with a Hank Williams’ set. Matchett captured all the anguish and heartbreak in a couple of Williams’ standards: “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Emily Dwyer enhanced Matchett’s vocals with masterful violin accompaniment. She created sweet and aching country fiddle sounds that captured the essence of Williams’ music.
The band was a big part of the show. Abraham Couch, bass; Randy Coole drums; Simon Palombi, guitar/keyboards and Tommy Cooper on steel guitar added punch and power to the music.
Amanda Warren, Megan Matchett and Whitney Abell provided the back-up vocals with energy and glamour.
But it was Andy Matchett who brought the spunky fun to such Williams’ numbers as, “Jambalaya” and “Lovesick Blues.” He saved the best for last, with an uplifting and spirit-filled “I Saw The Light.” The people were standing in their seats clapping and singing along.
Then came a surprise. Thom Mesrobian turned up as a rotund J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The Bopper, wearing a tiger-skin sport coat, grabbed a telephone and started howling, “Chantilly Lace.”
He followed that with a raucous tribute to Big Joe Turner on the R&B version of “Shake Rattle and Roll.”
That set the stage for Roy Orbison.
Orbison is a challenge for any singer. He might have been rock and roll’s version of an opera star. Matchett proved he could hit the high notes on such classics as “Crying,” “In Dreams” and “Only the Lonely.”
But Orbison could also rock and so did Matchett on “Dream Baby” and “Mean Woman Blues.” Near the end of the set, Matchett asked the crowd to stand, sing and dance along to Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” Pretty soon the isles were filled with rocking Villagers.
Then came another surprise.
Whitney Abell and Amanda Warren teamed up for honey-sweet harmony on “Mr. Sandman.” The two had glossy choreography and smiles to sell a lyric that went: “And lots of wavy hair like Liberace.”
Matchett came out for the last segment of the show as Buddy Holly. He wore a white dinner jacket and black bow tie. From the side, Matchett could pass for Buddy’s twin.
Matchett, who was once selected to appear as Holly in a national musical tour, opened the set with rousing, “Not Fade Away.” This was pure, 1950s’ rock and Matchett brought authenticity to the song.
Holly’s tender side was on display on “True Love Ways” and “Words of Love.” Then it was back to explosive early rock with a stomping “Oh Boy.”
But Matchett and the band weren’t finished. Chuck Berry wasn’t on the show’s title, but it didn’t matter. Johnny Wild and the Delights brought Berry’s music back to life as they blasted off on “Johnny B. Goode.”
It was a fitting climax to a concert that showed that rock and roll may grow old but it will never die.