Sometimes it seems like the Hamptons has more than its fair share of quirky institutions. Things like Dan’s Papers; wonderful, long-lived products of the peculiar Hamptons economy—things that have been around for so long that people might forget how unusual it is to have them around for so long.
Hot Wax fits right into this category. If
you’ve never heard of them, Hot Wax is a great Hamptons party band. And, believe it or not, they’ve been playing together since 1978. Remarkably,
given the way musical groups tend to splinter apart, the band’s personnel has remained more or less the same for the last 35 years: Bruce McCarthy on guitar, Bucky Silipo on bass, Jimmy Surless on sax, and Bruce Beyer on drums. Other players have
come and gone, but the core membership has stayed about the same.
But the thing that really qualifies Hot Wax as a quirky Hamptons institution is the band’s long-standing summer gig at the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett. Since Devon is a private club, not many people would know this, but Hot Wax has been playing there every Thursday, every summer, since 1978. The summer of 2013 is their 36th as house band! This has got to be some kind of a record.
Drummer Bruce Beyer just marvels at the sheer passage of time. “Some of the teenagers we saw out on the dance floor back in 1978 now have grandkids, and those grandkids are now the ones out on the dance floor.”
And the kids love to dance to Hot Wax. Whatever changes have come and gone in pop music since 1978, Hot Wax has pretty much stuck to the good-old rock and roll they started with: Little Richard, early Beatles, the Rascals—it’s a long list, heavy on the ’50s and ’60s. But it doesn’t seem to matter how old the songs are, the kids go wild.
“I think it’s just the joy that we get from playing that people pick up on, and the energy we kick into it,” says Beyer. He recalls hot summer nights (the Devon isn’t air-conditioned) with the dance floor literally packed with hundreds of people, young and old.
Naturally, places like the Devon Yacht Club have their traditions. Men and boys wear jacket and tie, even the toddlers. (The band dresses more casually, a concession to rock and roll, and the lack of air conditioning!) Silence is kept while everyone stands at attention as the flag is ceremoniously lowered at sunset. Then there’s the traditional “Devon Dance.” Somewhere, the signal goes out that it’s time to do the “Devon Dance.” The children line up on the dance floor. Then, while Hot Wax plays the song “California Sun,” the children do their group dance. The whole thing was devised by some youth counselors back in the ’90s, and it’s been a part of Thursday nights ever since.
In the ’70s and ’80s, Hot Wax played a lot of
events besides their steady gig at the Devon Yacht Club, but that was when there were lots of places to play. Regular gigs at The Salty Dog in Noyac and
The Sandbar in Sag Harbor, Polish Hall in Southampton, plus shows in the city and private parties: Hot Wax was everywhere. Now, not only have changing economics (and the raised drinking age) crippled the nightclub scene, but also the players in the band have dispersed geographically to some extent. So, oddly enough, it’s really only the members of the Devon Yacht Club who get to hear them these days.
When asked what strikes him most about the long-running gig, bassist Bucky Silipo comes back to the generations of people who have grown up with Hot Wax. “There’s that magical time on Thursday nights when all of those generations are out there together, and for me, as a musician, that’s just very fulfilling.”
As the 36th summer approaches, no big changes are planned, nor are they needed. Come Thursday night, Hot Wax will set up their gear, start with a couple of low-key numbers, gradually amp it up, play the perennial favorites (there’s always a request for Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and Bucky sings a mean “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”), and wrap it up with “Goodnight, Sweetheart.”