Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns Hang With The SandPaper Between Sets

Getting to Know a Unique Band at the Shore
By LIAM McKENNA | Jul 15, 2015
Photo by: Liam McKenna ‘SHORTY’ ON KEY: Rick Tisch, the title figure in Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns, works poolside Sunday, July 12 at the Sea Shell in Beach Haven.

Shorty Long took to the Sea Shell Resort and Beach Club, as the band does every summer Sunday afternoon in Beach Haven, and gave the crowd something different. Ears will say it’s the instruments, while the eyes say it’s the T-shirt tossing and miniature cars riding around. To honor that style, this article will be something different, too. A fan of old school journalism? Well, this article isn’t that. The inverted pyramid will be nothing more than a pile of sand for the next 1,500 words.

Bassist John Kern grabbed two chairs for an interview beside the indoor stage of the Shell. The band had just finished its first set – to much applause.

“It’s the coolest gig and it’s the nicest people,” Kern said. “I’m blessed, Liam. I can’t tell you how much fun it is.”

Kern focused his high energy and positive attitude straight at the Shell and Long Beach Island to start the interview.

Kern said there are some people who have misconceptions about the Jersey Shore and its culture, alluding to it as a grimy stereotype. Not in Kern’s mind, though. The band plays Key West, Miami, San Diego and more, and Kern puts the Jersey Shore right up there with the best.

Making that claim was not hard for Kern to justify. The Shell is a venue with beautiful hardscaping, accompanied by the backdrop of an ocean – and even palm trees, imported annually from the Southeast.

“This is the pinnacle of Long Beach Island,” Kern said.

The SandPaper was then told by Kern that the band jams in full-blown nightlife atmosphere such as in the Beachcomber Bar and Grill in Seaside Heights. He loves the Shell, though, because it gives the band a chance to play in front of families.

Whether an audience of families or college kids, Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns put on a true show that is right up there with the likes of Garden State Radio. Baritone saxes blaring from the water, dancing, guitarist Paul Baccash soloing the National Anthem, electric-powered miniature cars outfitted with a keyboard: A Shorty Long performance appears to be a true show.

Yet, these dudes still have day jobs. Substitute teaching and working at a music store are among the jobs Kern holds.

But what happens the second Kern goes from his day jobs to hitting the stage?

The moment Kern steps onto the patio, inches from being in the pool, his lone thought is to take the crowd and turn it into “the party it wants to be and needs to be.” Then afterward, as each party person left the Shell, Kern wanted them to walk away thinking that they just had the best experience of their vacation.

“Our job is to give people memories,” Kern said. “We don’t think about it because we’re out partying every night of the week. Some people only get to party one or two nights out of the year.”

Feedback is instant, thanks to social media (@shortylongrocks on Twitter.) However, a crowd’s response can last well beyond a few seconds after a song.

“You really realize the impact you’ve had when, in the middle of winter and there’s a blizzard warning, people are saying, ‘Wow, we really wish we were at the Sea Shell right now,’” Kern said.

Kern put the interview on pause for more members to join the conversation.

Kern, vocalist and pianist Rick “Shorty” Tisch, guitarist (working behind the scenes Sunday) Nick Cilli and trombonist Neal Perkins were now hanging with the SandPaper in between sets. The band on Sunday was also comprised of Baccash on guitar, Bryan Brosen on drums, Carl Stives on percussion, Frank Benjamin on trumpet, Danny Kern on trumpet and Nick Clifford on sax. Regular vocalist Dee Farace had the day off.

They were asked how the band ensures visitors come away with that unforgettable experience.

Kern brought up the biggest challenge with the band.

“I don’t know how much you can put in, but he’s very fragile,” Kern said, referencing Tisch. “He has brittle bone disease which is also called osteogenesis imperfecta. A lot of people, they wouldn’t leave the house with that disease. If you were to shake his hand and squeeze it really tight, you would break his fingers.”

Kern said he is amazed that Tisch can go into the crowd and mingle despite the disease and being in a wheelchair.

Tisch followed up by saying ensuring that those memories are made is accomplished by having the right sound. With the band’s history, they have gotten to the point where they do sets without a set list. Tisch says every couple months, they analyze what works and what flops.

No set lists means the entire band must be synched up damn well. Everyone in the group quickly thanked Perkins.

“He joined us 10 years ago, maybe more, and we couldn’t afford to pay him. We gave him 25 bucks because that’s all the band was getting paid at the time,” Tisch said. “We didn’t have horns or anything.”

Perkins said it’s a joy and a thrill to not know what’s coming up next.

Perkins was asked how important it is to bring a different sound to stand out from cover bands that basically seem to outnumber visitors on the Jersey Shore. Perkins feels that while having horns to diversify Shorty Long’s sound is important, simply having the vision to incorporate horns into the band was huge. Horns were added in 2004. There’s no music stands; the horn players know the songs and bring their own vibe to the tunes. For setup, he passed the praise along to Tisch.

“He had a vision that I didn’t even see,” Perkins said. “He’s the hardest working man in show business.”

“We aren’t in Madison Square Garden or nothing, but we play like we are,” Perkins said.

Kern chimed in to say that the vision was also helped tremendously by Cilli. Though he was not jamming along with everyone else, Cilli got the band together back in 1995. Kern said cover bands at the time had a sort of “boy band quality” regarding their appearance. Kern said if he was to join one of those groups, he would have been the “ugliest of the bunch.”

Cilli, Tisch and Kern were working in a music store. Tisch apparently wanted to start a band. After some time, Cilli finally convinced Kern to meet Tisch. At first, all Tisch did was make jokes about Kern’s mother, at least according to Kern.

“We became ‘the Fill Ins’ because no one could come up with a name, and every gig we got was because we were filling in for someone,” Cilli said.

After a three-year hiatus, the group got back together as Shorty Long, attempting to build it to survive.

“Bands are a lot like marriages,” Kern said.

“Just with a lot more wives,” Cilli countered.

“Yeah, we’ve been through 90 wives,” Tisch joked.

In order to have the band survive its marriage, Perkins has seen a lot of evolution with the group. He said at first, the band was really centered on Tisch. Audiences appreciated seeing someone not constricted because of a wheelchair. Then, things changed and the band’s pure talent took light. This could be applied to Perkins himself.

“I don’t see Shorty as being handicapped. I know he is, but I hear his voice and I see his talents. And I’m like, ‘Wow, he brings it life,’” Perkins said.

Cilli quickly chimed in that Tisch is the only band member who doesn’t complain. Perkins appreciates the fact that Tisch can keep things purely business. Well, there’s that and that Tisch allows the horns to rock, according to Perkins. Perkins finished his commentary by saying many bands don’t have a leader like Tisch.

Kern quickly added that Tisch can provide inspiration to folks in the crowd.

With Kern and Perkins chatting about Tisch’s condition, asking Tisch to give his take was necessary.

“You know what? I don’t try to inspire people, honestly,” Tisch said.

Tisch doesn’t believe handicapped people should be considered exceptional because of their handicap.

“I’m exceptional because I worked since I was 4 years old and learned how to play the piano, and I went through a lot of **** – we all did – to get where we are,” Tisch said. “I don’t care what your handicap is; everyone can do something.” Then he added, “There’s a few exceptions, where people really can’t do anything. Then, I understand that. But too many people complain.”

Tisch went on to make his point: When handicapped people are treated as though they are special purely because of their handicap, then the handicapped tend to not expect anything of themselves.

“Just because somebody’s handicapped doesn’t make them special,” Tisch said. “You have to do something to make yourself special. That’s my goal.”

Kern changed topics to say that everyone has obstacles to overcome. He cited the owners of the Sea Shell being able to reopen after Superstorm Sandy, digging out and rebuilding in time for Memorial Day 2013.

Asked how he got into music, Kern said he picked up the bass guitar after concussions forced him out of football.

“Those concussions weren’t from football,” he pointed out. “They were from stupid things.”

“He kept running into walls,” Tisch quipped.

Kern took his competitive nature from football and applied it to music.

Perkins got into music thanks to participation in his school marching band. His approach to music was to first conquer the more difficult aspects of playing, and then tackle the simple things.

Tisch, as stated earlier, was on the keys from a young age. Around age 10, he picked up blues. At 14, he began “stealing” from everyone who taught him, according to Kern.

Eventually, Tisch grabbed the mic.

So, conversation continued for a few more minutes until the group had to disperse for the second set.

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Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns Hang Out at the Sea Shell
(Video by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
(Photo by: Liam McKenna)
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