In a pandemic year of uncertainties, The Oxfords found certainty that dreams can truly come true — eventually — as the 1960s group was reborn at the top of the Pop Oldies chart on Amazon. After an over 50-year break up the band found themselves reunited and at the top spot 55 years since their very first success.
“A Classic Philly 60’s Band” remained in the number one spot for four consecutive weeks. The new CD has been exciting original fans and finding a new generation of fandom.
The Oxfords Prove Dreams Can Come True
Their story began when a group of six local Philly high school-aged kids came together to form a band in 1964. Steve (Bell) Silver, Steve (Fontz) Gelfand, Ivan (Van) Taub, Gary (Crainers) Stanley, Joel (Thumper) Naselow, and Byron (Fingers) Blau began as a cover band.
Bell notes about their inspiration to form a band:
It seemed like every kid in America saw the Ed Sullivan show that Sunday night in February when four guys from Liverpool changed the world. We certainly did and the Oxfords were formed shortly thereafter. We were only 16-ish but our passion for the music was palpable. Although we were a cover band, Ivan and Gary started writing original material almost immediately.
After just a few months together the boys recorded some songs proving talent worthy of success. They triumphed regionally with records including “It Serves You Right” and a cover of Ben E. King’s “Don’t Play That Song” (on the indie-label Grand Records). These were followed by their cover of the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me” (ABC-Paramount). Soon the Oxfords were playing on all the local TV music programs.
We played ‘live’ at the myriad of clubs, functions, and parties in the tri-state area, culminating with the designation of house band at the nationally known Hullabaloo Club (a string of teen clubs across the country associated with the Hullabaloo TV show) We had a full-page article written about us in the National Hullabaloo Magazine and were mentioned in a Newsweek article about the club.
The Oxfords Journey from Jersey to Reality
Summertime means those in Philly move to hang on the Jersey Shore. The Oxfords achieved the honor of landing the sought-after job playing at Tony Marts, in Somers Point N.J. In the 60s the club was recognized as one of the largest on the East Coast. The venue had three stages and three bands playing continuous music.
Tony Marts provided apartments on top of the club for band members to live in. Although the Oxfords were not old enough to drink in the bar they sure could party away in their new-found unsupervised living quarters. “It was a wild and crazy time, and, yet, one of the most memorable summers of our lives,” notes Gelfand.
Summer ended and life changed as the teens saw the end of high school and the beginning of adulthood that college brings. In 1968 the Oxfords disbanded. Life took the members in different directions and they fell out of touch with each other.
The Oxfords Reborn in 2020
A phone call in August 2020 brought the guys back together over 50 years since the band played their last gig. It was Taub who Gear-Fab Records contacted. The record company was interested in releasing a compiled collectible CD of the Oxfords old music.
Taub tracked down his former bandmates and they all were thrilled — the songs had never before been released together on an album. In pandemic form, the Oxfords reunion took place virtually through a 6-way Zoom meeting — that continued weekly.
Naselow fortunately, had kept all the studios’ master tapes copies to provide enough tracks for a complete album for the new CD. On Oct 16, 2020, Gear-Fab released the 14-song CD. Within two weeks the Oxfords album shot to the number one spot on Amazon’s Pop Oldies chart.
Now, buoyed by terrific reviews, media, and a fan-base that seems to be growing day-by-day, the group is now entertaining some possible new recordings. Says Taub:
We’ve had several inquiries and we’re trying to figure out the logistics to see how much we could accomplish in a COVID-world. Technology brought us back together, so technology may well dictate how best to proceed.
Jodi Ritzen, a social media specialist and influencer, and daughter of the band’s talented keyboard man Byron Blau, assisted the band with their new release. A national social-media campaign was begun under her guidance. Breaking records, the Oxfords “ A Classic Philly 60’s Band “ brought the highest pre-order sales for Gear-Fab in their history.
Sadly, the band’s newfound happiness was shattered with the news that the elder Blau had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jodi’s father chose not to release his illness initially to his old mates so they would all just treat him as “one of the guys.” He wanted it to be about focusing on the Oxfords music and joyous times.
Jodi was forced to tell her father’s bandmates the sad news — and he would unlikely live to see the CD released. Blau passed away a month before the October release. The Oxfords quickly decided to give Jodi the status of being the 7th Oxford and share equally in any new-found success.
The newly appointed female of the group confided to Gelfand that the reunion and the soon to be released CD had lifted her father’s spirits. She stated how she found a new closeness with her dad with him confiding to her his story in the Oxfords during the frenzied years of 1964 to 1968.
During a year of perseverance, of hope, of not giving up — even during the toughest of situations — the Oxfords prove that fortitude can certainly achieve expectations. Even dreams long forgotten are always possible. The 1960s live a renewed awakening in 2020, not only in the fight for equality but, also with the Oxfords music.
Originally published at https://nynj.com on December 28, 2020.
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