Ten years ago, John Kern harbored reservations about starting a party band with Ricky “Shorty Long” Tisch.
Kern enjoyed jamming with Tisch, but the fragile, wheelchair-bound keyboardist, who was born with a severe spinal condition and brittle bone disease, did not fit Kern’s idea of a crazy rock-and-roller.
“I wanted to be in a chick magnet band, though I probably would have been the ugliest guy in the band,” the amiable bassist-vocalist said in a recent interview.
“But we started joking around and never stopped and we formed the band and named it after him," said Kern of Tisch, a 1995 graduate of Brick Memorial High School.
A decade later, Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns have entertained thousands of club-goers in Ocean County and beyond, winning over a legion of fans with dynamic, high-energy performances featuring the band’s inspirational, 3-foot-tall namesake.
The band still calls the Shore area its home base, with weekly shows in Seaside Heights and regular performances in many nearby communities.
From the outset, Kern said that rather than worry about his disability, Tisch and the band embraced it. Known as the Jersey Horns’ “Party Master,” Tisch has played keyboards dressed as Santa Claus, a leprechaun and Rocky, making his grand entrance onstage using various power-wheeled vehicles and modified wheelchairs.
The result, Kern said, is a band that gives club patrons a full entertainment experience to remember, as opposed to being faceless musicians simply providing background music.
“Shorty sings and raps. He works the stage and works the crowd,” Kern said. “We want to give the fans the best entertainment experience and win the crowd over so that everybody who comes to see this band walks away wanting to see us again.”
Kern said Tisch has served as an inspiration to band and fans alike. He was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the bones of the spine do not form properly. Tisch also suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, which leaves bones extremely fragile.
The disease stunted Tisch’s growth and weakened his body, but not his spirit, Kern said.
“He really is one of the most courageous and talented people I’ve ever met,” he said. “You’ve got to hear him on the keyboards.
While Tisch’s showmanship has played a large part in the band’s success, Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns is not a novelty act. They are a group of seasoned musicians who can play anything from current pop hits by Carly Rae Jepsen to classics by The Commodores and Prince, to Van Halen and Metallica. The band also has a stockpile of about 30 original songs and plays three to four in each set.
For example, a comedic tribute to Atlantic City, "The Jitney Hit Me," is a crowd favorite.
The current lineup, together since 2007, is rounded out by singer Dee Farace, guitarist Mario Frasca, trumpeter/saxophonist Frank Benjamin, trombonist Neal Perkins, drummer John Hawes and percussionist Carl Stives.
“Playing with this band is the most fun I’ve ever had,” Farace said. “The band members are amazing, good-hearted guys. The audiences pick up on the vibe and are the same way, and everyone’s inspired by Shorty.”
In addition to playing shore hotspots, the band also performs at casinos, corporate events, weddings, fundraisers, birthday parties, and bar and bat mitzvahs.
“We’ll play any event, anytime, anywhere,” Kern said. “We promise it will be unforgettable. We like to say that people won’t remember the rubber chicken, they’ll remember Shorty Long, and that the event was epic.”
For more information: www.shortylongrocks.com
If You Go:
Aug. 17: Surf City Hotel, 800 Long Beach Boulevard, Surf City, $10, 609-494-7281 or http://surfcityhotel.com. 10 p.m.
Aug. 23: The Beachcomber, Boardwalk, Seaside Heights, 10 p.m.