When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Norman Seldin was 16 years old and already a working musician. He was also, in fact, promoting his own shows. And on that November night, he had booked a “Cavalcade of Stars” show at the Shore nightclub, Val Ernie’s Sea Girt Inn. Johnny Thunder — who had had what was destined to be his biggest hit, “Loop de Loop,” earlier that year — was headlining, with many other acts on the bill as well. Seldin, a pianist, would lead the 14-piece house band.
Seldin found out via television that afternoon that Kennedy had been killed, he writes in his new autobiography, “You Don’t Know Me” (Classic Urban Harmony Press, 264 pp., $39.99). But the show went on as scheduled.
“Johnny Thunder pulled up in a great looking car,” the Red Bank native remembers in “You Don’t Know Me.” “He looked at me and said, ‘How old are you? How did you even get here?’ I said, ‘Well, my mother dropped me off.’ I had all his money for him so he didn’t mind my age. Johnny Thunder did the show and he was phenomenal, just off the charts. We’re still friends to this day.”
Seldin — who is still performing, almost 60 years later, under the name Stormin’ Norman Seldin — was part of the Asbury Park music scene before it became the Asbury Park rock scene, and his name is permanently enshrined, right under Bruce Springsteen and E Streeter Garry Tallent, on the “Creators of SOAP (The Sound of Asbury Park)” plaque that stands near the Boardwalk. Utilizing some of his downtime during the pandemic, he wrote “You Don’t Know Me” with the help of music historian Charlie Horner, and fills it with photos, flyers, newspaper ads and more from all phases of his career. It should be considered required reading for anyone interested in Shore music history.
At one point in the book, he zeroes in on the moment when Beatlemania struck and rock bands began to proliferate on the Shore music scene. He shares memories of legendary Shore bands of that era: The Castiles (featuring Springsteen), The Motifs, The Rogues, The Jaywalkers and his own Norman Seldin & the Joyful Noyze, who featured Clarence Clemons, pre-E Street Band, on saxophone.
The book includes a fair amount of content on Clemons — and the racism that Seldin encountered, as the leader of a biracial band. (Seldin also writes about the anti-Semitism his experienced himself, growing up Jewish in Monmouth County). And it touches on Seldin’s history with Springsteen and other E Street Band members, particularly Tallent, Max Weinberg, Danny Federici and Vini Lopez. But Seldin doesn’t overemphasize these connections, as some authors might, in order to try to get attention from Springsteen fanatics: He tells his stories in a straightforward, unembellished way, starting with childhood and ending in the present.
Along the way, he writes briefly or at length about many other revered musicians, including Roy Orbison, The Young Rascals, Tiny Tim, Roy Buchanan, Link Wray, Tony Orlando, Gene Krupa, Harry Chapin, Tom Rush, Freddie King and 38 Special. Plus Muhammad Ali and comedian Myron Cohen!
And it’s not all about New Jersey. Seldin writes about working all kinds of gigs in Greenwich Village, and upstate New York, and Maryland, and Mississippi, and Florida. He has worked as a bandleader, a solo artist, a manager, a concert promoter, a record company executive, a bikini contest emcee, and an educator. In the ’70s, he even traveled around the country giving clinics on the then-hot new keyboard instrument, the mellotron.
Seldin is honest about indulging in drugs at one point in his life, and coming close to death via a massive heart attack in another. He writes about his personal life but mainly focuses on his work, which has kept him plenty busy over the decades. (If there is any persistent vice in his life, it just may be workaholism.)
“It’s been an incredible journey,” he writes, in a typically matter-of-fact manner, toward the end of the book.
“I guess I’ve experienced the good and the bad that this world has to offer. Through it all, I’ve made a lot of great friends and played with some incredible musicians. If my music and that of musicians I’ve influenced has brought some joy into this world, I’m happy. And after reading this book, I hope you can now say you know me.”
For more on Seldin, and to order the book, visit storminnormanseldin.com.
As part of the 2022 Light of Day WinterFest, Seldin will headline the Jan. 15 “Asbury Blues” show at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, which will feature about a dozen other acts as well and begin at noon. Visit ticketmaster.com or lightofday.org.
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