Don’t call it a comeback – Doo Wop is alive and well! Mike “The Master” Mastellone, lead vocalist in the popular doo wop quartet The Whiptones, sat down with us to discuss his work in the Doo-Wop scene, his love for the genre, and his participation in PBS’ Doo Wop Generations.
By Andrea Wolanin and Hannah Casey
“Thrilling, Moving and Timeless.” Mike Mastellone says. We’ve just asked him to name the top three words he would use to describe Doo-Wop, the genre he and his fellow Whiptones – Matt Korze, Derek and Brad Ritschel – have spent their teens and twenties performing. The young musicians are a leading part of doo wop’s “new generation,” a legion of contemporary groups bringing the genre forward into the 21st century.
The Whiptones formed in 2011 while still in high school, in their hometown of Whippany, New Jersey. But this wasn’t just any after-school garage band – they found great success performing together, and began to score gigs like singing the national anthem for the New York Mets, winning a New Jersey-wide anti-drug jingle competition with their original song “Doing Drugs Ain’t Dope,” and staging a viral “prom-posal” video.
Doo Wop may have become popular in the 1950s – but the style of four-part harmony singing dates back to the 1930s. “The history and nostalgic context of the music is important,” Mastellone tells us. “But the pure sound itself is what makes this music so special and is what will keep it strong through the decades to come.”
He’s not exaggerating – the sound of Doo Wop today hasn’t strayed far from its origins. Mastellone says that the new generation of doo wop musicians has much more in common with the originals than not: “There is a certain youthfulness of this music that unites us. Our generation is singing music in our youth, while the old guard is singing the music from theirs.”
But how did a teen in New Jersey get into a genre that tends to associated with older generations? Mike’s father introduced him to the oldies from a young age, raising his son on the songs of crooners like Elvis and Roy Orbison. From there, it was only a hop, skip and a jump to Doo Wop. “[I] got more into Doo Wop vocal harmony by watching clips of PBS “My Music” specials on YouTube.” Add to that his hometown’s AM Doo Wop Drive radio show on Friday nights, and Mike was sold. And you can be too - for people not already into the genre, he recommends giving a listen to Johnny Maestro & the Crests, or easing into the style through another favorite genre of his - big band jazz. Think Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, or Dean Martin.
Today, outside of the Whiptones, Mike also sings in a larger group with the Boston College Heightsmen, a twelve-man a capella group. His favorite song to perform with them is a quintessential Doo Wop song: “Sh-Boom,” by The Chords. “Sh-Boom is probably the single most timeless song from the entire genre, loved equally by people young and old.”
But with the Whiptones, he goes for a slightly different sound: Who’s that Knockin’ by the Genies, which he calls “the essence of four-part harmony.” And Solo?
“I love singing Jimmy Clanton’s Venus In Blue Jeans, which has an angelic sound like no other,” he grins.
The Whiptones have remained together through high school, college, and now are on the cusp of graduating and beginning their careers. Mastellone intends to head to NYC to work in investment banking – but that doesn’t mean the music’s over. “I will continue to perform wherever and whenever I can,” he promises. “My dream is to have a recurring gig performing doo wop music and big band vocal standards on the weekends in the city.”
We hope to see him there!
WGBH will be broadcasting Doo Wop Generations on Saturday, March 10, 2018 at 8pm, Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 8:30pm, and Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 11:30am. And you can catch Mike singing with the Compaq Big Band at Ryles Jazz Club on Thursday, April 5th, 2018.
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The original legends of Doo Wop unite for an emotion-packed night of nostalgia and music, where the elder statesmen of Doo Wop pass the torch to a younger, new generation of singers.
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