Shore Lore: Those Were the Vibes

Music at the Shore is as much a part of summer as sand, surf, sunburn, and saltwater taffy. But unlike those perennial ingredients, the music changes with each generation.

Wally Kaye has mastered most of it, starting with the standards—“my own favorites,” he calls them. He’s one of the few Shore musicians who still plays the electric organ, that marvelous machine of pitched pipes and electronics that once defined a night out at your favorite beach bar.

Kaye also plays other keyboards, including the accordion, his first instrument. “My father, Shorty Kaye, played that, but it was a lot of work, pushing and pulling that big box in and out.” Shorty Kaye also sold organs, and one year he brought one home. “It was beautiful, but what I loved was its sound,” Kaye says. “It was so big.”

Young Wally also played drums, sitting in with his father’s group for gigs at Rac’s Hut and the Alligator Inn (now the Moose Lodge) in his hometown of Jackson—“mostly country-western, but also some of our heritage—Italian, Irish, Polish, Spanish,” Kaye says. In 1967 his father’s band began a long-running gig at Murphy’s Sea Bay Inn in Normandy Beach, and two years later Kaye the younger, just out of high school, joined them. After the band moved on in 1974, he played at Murphy’s for four more years. “It was a fabulous entertainment bar, the last of vaudeville, and we packed ’em in three- to five-deep at the bar,” Kaye says. “There’s no way to tell you how much I got out of it.”

In 1984 Kaye started performing at spots on Long Beach Island, where he would become a regular for more than two decades. He played at the old Port o’ Call (now Tucker’s) in Beach Haven and aboard the Black Whale, a fishing boat refitted for sunset cruises and gambling junkets to Atlantic City. Then he settled in at Wida’s in Brant Beach for a stand that lasted fifteen years.

The most requested tunes, particularly at Wida’s, included those written by Billy Joel, a favorite of Kaye, and Neil Diamond. Some groupies even wore T-shirts proclaiming themselves Wally’s Bunch. But Wida’s was sold last year, and the new owners haven’t asked Kaye to return. “We’re a vanishing breed,” he says. “But we had a lot of fun.”

Kaye’s kids also have musical careers. His daughter, Tina, was the Trenton State College orchestra concertmaster, and his son, Stephen, teaches piano, guitar, and drums. Even Shorty Kaye, who turns 80 in August, still performs. As for Wally, these days he performs with his wife, Adele, at Runway 34 in Wall and Italy’s Best in Lakehurst, singing under the name Bittersweet. Wally’s Bunch, he says, has followed him there.

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