Charlie and Zeppy Cole bring live music to Formica Bros. Bakery every weekend in Northfield and A.C.
Before their faithful fans started showing up en masse -- or as en masse as the new, compact Formica Brothers Bakery Café in Northfield can accommodate -- Charlie and Zeppy Cole joked with the dozen or so patrons who got there early for their 7-10pm gig.
"Anybody here from Horseshoe, Nevada?" asks Zeppy, before he and his brother launched into their tweaked version of the Abbott and Costello skit "Who's On First?", substituting rock bands Yes, the Who and the Guess Who for baseball players.
As familiar as the name Formica Brothers is in the Atlantic City area for the finest baked goods you can buy, the Cole Brothers are famous for the rock 'n' roll/country sounds they've been cranking out since the genres themselves were in their seminal stages. They perform every Friday night at Northfield Formica's along with guitarist Bob Mower and various guest musicians, and Saturday from 7-10pm at the original Formica's on Arctic Avenue in A.C.
"They're both in their 60s and have been playing together since they were teenagers, so it's been the better part of five decades," says Frank Formica, owner of both stores and a longtime musician himself.
The sons of a horn player, Zeppy (real name Steve) began on clarinet and Charlie was a trumpet player before the likes of Elvis, the Everly Brothers and later the Beatles prompted them to trade in their horns for the instruments of the time.
"We loved the Everly Brothers, the Mills Brothers, Creedence, the Beatles, Tom & Jerry -- all the old stuff," says Charlie, who played electric keyboard Friday night with Zeppy on an old Fender Telecaster, Mower on a Paul McCartney-style violin bass, and John Dooley playing conga drums. Formica took over on bass during the second set as Mower switched to guitar.
"I'm really a frustrated, long-haired rock guitarist," says Formica, 57, who played in rock bands with Mower since the two were teens, "but I didn't build the place for me to be a performer."
His offspring may have surpassed his own musical ability, as his son, Frank L. (the father's Frank D.), plays acoustic double bass for the Delaware County Symphony Orchestra, and his daughter, Marie Formica, is a professional singer.
Like the Coles, Formica remembers an era when Atlantic City abounded with clubs and bars that offered a variety of music. He's doing his best to try to revive it, intending to expand the range of styles and nights there and eventually looking to buy a liquor license and start a jazz café.
"There used to be no less than 40 or 50 little clubs scattered throughout the area," says Formica. Part of the original N.J. Casino Control Act required all casinos to have at least one lounge with perpetual live music, says Formica. When that law was rescinded it caused a lot of local live-music venues to dry up, he says, and he'd like to see some of them return.
"Frank's kind of a fascinating guy," says Mower. "He's very involved in the community and he's doing a lot to try to revive live music in the area, which we're grateful for."
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