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.

IT’S A FRIDAY  night just before the start of the summer season, inching toward midnight, and Secret Service has taken the stage at the O.D. It’s merely a platform inside the main bar, a perch from which they could feasibly not only make musical mayhem, but also pour drinks and rinse glasses. From the first jaggly, distorted guitar chord and heavy drum backbeat, it’s clear that tonight the only way these guys are going to be throwing a song is high, hard and inside.

Tell me do you think it’d be all right
If I could just crash here tonight …

The song is called “Hey Jealousy,” by the four-man group Gin Blossoms, originally recorded 20 years ago—roughly the time, from the looks of things, that a lot of the women here were being born. The partiers around the main bar scooch up on their high stools in order to pound their hands on the low tin ceiling, creating a whole-house percussion element to supplement the two musicians.

So how did two exceptionally ordinary Joes, with nothing more than a synthesized drum machine, establish themselves as an act that could rock the house?

“When we started out, we were going to be a nice easy-listening guitar-and-bass duo,” Dom recalls. “But we really weren’t cut out to do that. Craig did Yes and Zeppelin. I was a banging drummer who made a lot of noise.”

To simulate a banging drummer who made at least some noise, they bought something called the TR-606, one of the first drum machines, which would become the background sound for a lot of early rap music. “Frankly,” Dom says, “it sounded like static.” He can still do a pretty good impersonation of the machine, which has long since been replaced by more sophisticated digital devices. By making the beat of a different, inhuman drummer the pounding heart of the Secret Service sound, the guys anticipated what would become the standard for pop music: multiple layers of insistent percussion that no live drummer could ever duplicate.

“The cream of the crop is here tonight!” Dom yells into his cordless microphone. “Let’s drink to the best summer of our lives!” And with that, the music jumps to “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” the Barry White anthem that by this point might be responsible for more hookups than the entire Comcast cable system. The dance floor fills, and the grinding begins. In the corner, a girl shaped like a mailbox, wearing a rather unfortunate string-bikini top, runs her hands over the buff boy with his hands on her hips, as if she’s slathering suntan lotion through his clothes. Dom starts to stalk around the room. If someone were to write an analysis of stage struts, Dom Albanese would occupy a unique position, having developed a style that can only be described as the unholy bastard spawn of Mick Jagger and Phil Donahue.

Sing it, girl!” he shouts, shoving the mic toward a young woman who appears to split her disposable income evenly between tattoo parlors and tanning beds. She lunges across the bar toward him, screeches a lyric, drops back into her bar stool to sip her cocktail. Dom moves on down the line, jabbing the mic at people, and “Can’t Get Enough” becomes, in essence, serial karaoke. This is a signature of the Secret Service Band: the songbook as sing-along.

Craig and Dom discerned fairly early in their partnership a principle stated most famously by the noted positivist philosopher Cyndi Lauper: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Girls—especially girls at the Shore wearing cutoffs measured in millimeters—don’t want to sit and listen to the music. They want to participate in the music. They want to dance and sing all the words and scream “WOOOOOOO” at a pitch and volume that, combined, could affect the weather. Producing a show that gives girls that kind of fun creates a specific intended side effect: Lots of guys show up, too.

During what has become their most popular O.D. appearance, the Sunday-afternoon jam, which begins as a No Shower Happy Hour at 5 p.m. and runs to 10, Secret Service usually draws a crowd that club owner Ralph Pasceri will only admit reaches “maximum capacity.” Don’t even ask him about the days when the band got the whole place so sloshed and sloppy that people were setting up empty beer bottles as tenpins and sliding across the drink-slicked floor as sunburned human bowling balls.

“It gets so crowded sometimes that I don’t go in,” says Gail Hughes, who recently became a year-round Sea Isle resident (she owns an ice-cream shop in town) and has been following the band for more than 25 years. She introduced her three daughters to Secret Service. “Some people may say that Dom and Craig are glorified karaoke,” Hughes says. (In fact, the band works using prerecorded background tracks to 800-plus songs that range alphabetically from the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” to Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3X.” Sort of the soundtrack of your life, if your life were measured in Jell-O shots.) “People can think what they want,” Hughes adds. “The O.D. is packed, and they get the crowd going no matter what. It just gets crazier and crazier.”