Chasing his dream down the Shore
By Amy S. Rosenberg
WILDWOOD, N.J. - Not even 15 minutes into his set, Philly Cuzz has the ladies at
the Greater Wildwood Elks club singing into their straws and cigarette lighters
as the guys are throwing down $1.50 beers.
Philip "Philly Cuzz" Battaglia entertains the crowd at the Greater Wildwood Elks club with favorites such as "On the Way to Cape May," which is also the title of his CD. (Tom Gralish / Inquirer)
On the way to Cape May,
Sure, in a couple of days, all but the locals would be on their way home from Cape May (County) for the last time this summer. But no matter.
Philip "Philly Cuzz" Battaglia - a South Philly crooner who regularly headlines at 100 area nursing homes; a just-turned-50 guy whose self-produced and mom-distributed CD, On the Way to Cape May, has been a hot seller in the hardware and five-and-dime stores of the Jersey Shore; the guy who wrote a jingle for Geno's, no less - was giving the Elks of North Wildwood the ultimate singing-shoobie sendoff.
Weekend traffic's in delay
Maybe that one - an original composition titled "A Shoobie Family at the Seashore," one of seven he wrote on his CD - is a few seashells short of a classic. This has still been a breakthrough summer for Battaglia, as his recording of Maurice "Buddy" Nugent's locally famous anthem, "On the Way to Cape May," has gotten national radio airplay on the syndicated doo-wop show of Cool Bobby B.
And Battaglia says his CD is the "No. 1 selling CD by an independent recording artist in the Delaware Valley."
For much of this, he has the unrelenting nudging of his 78-year-old mother to thank.
Vicki Battaglia is now into her second summer casing the five-and-dimes of the Shore with her inimitable sales technique. ("I don't, for instance, say that he's my son," she says, citing a rule she breaks all the time.)
Late last week, she was prowling Stone Harbor's business strip, 96th Street, checking how stores were positioning her son's CD. At Hoy's, she was dismayed at the store manager's placement, and let supervisor Joe Rodriguez know it.
"How come he's not pushing it?" she asked. "I saw it under the counter."
A closer inspection through her rose-colored sunglasses revealed that the Avalon String Band had struck again.
"The Avalon String Band comes in, and they push ours to the back," she said, tossing Avalon's CD aside and rescuing Philly Cuzz and the Shoobies from down by the boxes of boat parade lights.
"Tell Pat [the manager] I love him, but put my kid's thing on the counter," she said before marching off to the Ace Hardware across the street to see if it needed more CDs. (It didn't.)
Vicki Battaglia had her own breakthrough this summer as a CD promoter, breaking out of the hardware-store niche and talking the CD into real music stores, such as the Wall, Sam Goody and Tower Records.
Her son, having conquered the nursing-home circuit - "I'm their Rick Springfield," he says - is hoping the Philly Cuzz and the Shoobies act will take his career in a new direction. His original lyrics draw on a lifetime of summers in Wildwood, where hero Bobby "Wildwood Days" Rydell was once a next-door neighbor.
Then an airplane flies above as a young girl falls in love,
That's more from "Shoobie Family." His other original songs include "Let's Talk About Chicks," "The Beach Club Band," and "Sunday With You."
The CD also includes the "Wildwood Honky Tonk" for piano and seagulls, with a backdrop of authentic Wildwood sounds including the starting bell for the race-the-stuffed-animals-up-the-pole-with-water-pistols game, an ice cream man hawking "fudge wudgie wudgies," and, of course, the ubiquitous "Watch the tram car, please."
Maybe Bruce Springsteen got there first (Greetings From Asbury Park), but Battaglia says he wants to target what he calls the new generation of shoobies, the starting-to-gray ones with families of their own.
Shoobie, for the uninitiated, is what locals call Jersey Shore visitors, dating to the days when Philly folks came for the day by train, bringing their lunch in a shoebox.
"What I call the shoobies, they're from Villanova, South Philly, Cherry Hill, but their hearts are really down the Shore," Battaglia says. "No matter how hard they try, they always come back to Jersey because their parents did. I wanted music for three generations cruising down the Shore in a minivan or SUV."
Battaglia, who until six years ago was "a tortured soul selling real estate," already has a second CD in the works, with more authentic Jersey Shore songs, including "The Summer Kids From Ireland."
As for his mother, the piano-teacher-turned-CD-promoter says she and her husband, Tony, 80, will be ready for Round 2.
"It's rejuvenated me," she says. "As long as I got my support hose on, I'm all right."
Friday night in North Wildwood, meanwhile, there is a lot of rejuvenation going on as Philly Cuzz, a man chasing his own dreams on his way to Cape May and back, does his best to ease everyone out of summer.
By September locals want us no more
At the Elks, where South Philly is considered just a very northern part of North Wildwood, nobody would admit to being a shoobie.
Amy S. Rosenberg's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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