Jersey’s Secret Service Band Has Got It Covered

Thirty years after their first gig, cover band maestros Dominic Albanese and Craig Phillips are still bringing the party to the Ocean Drive club, night after Jersey Shore night.

New Jersey's Secret Service Band plays a gig at the Ocean Drive.

Years before a group of randy agents in their namesake organization made the word “Cartagena” synonymous with rollicking good times, the two-man New Jersey-based entity known as the Secret Service Band developed an operational philosophy that can be summed up in three phrases they’ve recited many times:

You gotta fight
For your right
To parrrrrr-tay


Though they’ve promulgated this philosophy all around the Philadelphia region and in places as far-flung as Florida and Las Vegas, the real spiritual home for their particular fun-based gestalt (which, of course, is German for “This is how we do it now”) is a low-ceilinged room containing a few well-stocked bars, just a stroll from the sands of Sea Isle City—a club called the Ocean Drive. Whether for convenience or to add more sinister implication, a lot of people call the place simply “the O.D.”

Here, since the mid-’80s, Dominic Albanese and Craig Phillips, two South Jersey natives now pushing 60, have labored, armed with nothing more threatening than a Reverend guitar and a Fender bass, toward one goal: to whip the Shore’s supple and sunburned youth (and often folks who are old enough to be their parents, and sometimes actually are their parents) into a delirium that would rival some of the better parties thrown by the Emperor Tiberius.

“It’s a riot,” says Dom, who does about half the singing and almost all the talking for the duo. “We’re old guys. We’re not God’s gift to music by any means. The audience mainly goes from 21-year-olds who can barely get into the bar up to 30. And it’s pandemonium.”

Ralph Pasceri, one of the O.D.’s owners, who started working at the club years ago as a teenager, says of Secret Service, “Nothing I’ve ever seen is quite like it. They’re the perfect storm.”

The constituent elements creating this formidable entertainment hurricane are unremarkable. Albanese, 56, is of medium height and fairly fit, with short graying hair, and wouldn’t look out of place flipping dough in a pizza parlor. Phillips is 58 and blond, taller, and carries both more bulk and some extra flesh in his midsection. His rightful place in the music world could easily seem to be a public-school classroom, and he does in fact teach kids how to play the violin and such. Except for a couple original songs like “The O.D. Stomp,” which owes a large debt to that old chestnut “The Alley Cat” and has morphed over the years into a routine that includes both crowd and bartender choreography, the pair exclusively play music written and recorded by other performers. They’re a cover band.

In the iconography of the Jersey Shore, the bar band stands somewhere between Lucy the Elephant and the Wildwood amusement piers. It’s a ritual as established and enduring as wolfing down a Boardwalk slice. The quintessential sound of summer isn’t just the squawk of seagulls, but that valiant and always slightly sad attempt by no-name performers to re-create the magic of stars from Sinatra to Springsteen. They may never quite capture fame, but they become an indelible soundtrack in our nostalgic reveries of youth.

“I don’t think Secret Service gets the true credit they deserve,” says their friend Big Daddy Graham, himself a grizzled vet of the Shore club circuit. “They’ve never had a hit record or appeared on Jimmy Fallon. They’re just a cover band to a lot of people. But there’s only a handful of great cover bands, and only a smaller handful out there that have had the career that Secret Service has.”

So what’s the secret? “They never throw it away,” Big Daddy says. “It might just be another Wednesday, or another ‘No Shower Happy Hour.’ When you’re in the car driving to those gigs, they blend into one another. And it’s so easy to just throw a night like that away. But to the people in the club, it’s their vacation. They’re not there every Wednesday. Dom and Craig understand that. They don’t throw a night away. Those guys don’t throw a set away. They don’t throw a song away.”

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  • http://facebook colleen

    way to go dom and craig u are the best and have an jen and lyn and bonnie have always had a great time with u guys keep doing what your doing

  • ny chris

    No matter what dictionary of words was referenced for this article; clearly the writer is missing the pure joy and fun of a truly great entertainment duo. Comments on age; weight and grey hair clearly shows his novice. Simply people want to have a good time and Craig and Dom know how to do it! I know I am ready for another 30 years!

  • Krissy B.

    Secret Service is the best band around. I’ve been a groupie since the first year I worked with them at the OD back in the late 80s as a waitress. They are great guys who always have smiles on their faces and put smiles on the faces of everyone in the crowd. Please don’t stop playing!! We love you!!! Krissy

  • Suburbdog

    These guys are horrible. Anyone who has them play their wedding is a low-life. A radio set to static is more talented than these tools.

  • Floey Drae

    I love Secret Service, and my daughter does also :)

  • Pablo

    These guys are phonies, and they really suck!

    A Karaoke machine, a drum machine, and over-the-top vocal enhancement is what they’re all about.
    No talent.
    They just rip-off all of the pop songs, garnish them with some wizz-bang electronics, and *poof!* there’s your Secret Service ‘band.’

    Do yourself a favor, pick another bar and another REAL band for your listening pleasure.

    They play at Curran’s shit-hole in Tacony. They seem to fit right in with the drunken slobs from the ‘hood.’

    All hype, no talent.

    I remember when the OD had REAL bands, playing REAL music. Looks like the OD went right down the crapper with these posers.