The Characters are working on 30th anniversary deluxe edition of debut album

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UNION, NJ — In 1976, Danny Solazzi was just 12 years old when his sister took him to see Paul McCartney and Wings. “It just blew me away,” he said. “The hits, the production … It was an amazing concert.” After the show, he asked his mother for a guitar.

Solazzi began The Characters with friends he knew in grade school and high school, who were all like-minded and all lived in Union. “We’re not the jocks, we’re not the brains; we like ’60s rock groups,” he said. “We were all born 1963, all in the same grade. Same town. Same school.”

The Characters formed in 1982 and began playing out in 1983. The original members were Solazzi on vocals/rhythm guitar, John Grecco on drums, Chris Roselle on lead guitar and Larry Muhlgeier on bass.

They used to go see a very popular ’80s dance band called Strutter. Solazzi became friends with the guitarist, Billy Baker, who then came to see The Characters. “We were only together three months. He loved us,” Solazzi said.

Baker offered The Characters many opportunities to open for Strutter, then eventually The Characters played on their own. “We played around Jersey clubs a couple years, making demos, trying to get a record deal,” Solazzi said.

The Characters had a song called “Maryann,” which made its way to Rodney Bingenheimer, a Los Angeles disc jockey. He began playing the song on the air.

Meanwhile, back on the east coast, The Monkees had their 20th year anniversary in 1986 and they began doing concerts again. They had a Monkees convention in Philadelphia and MTV was now playing The Monkees.

Solazzi asked the people running the convention if they’d be interested in having a band perform and The Characters ended up playing. Later that year, The Monkees had a convention in California, which The Characters also played. Bingenheimer also got The Characters a gig playing with Dramarama. Then, every month, they’d fly out to California to play the Roxy Theatre or the Whisky a Go Go.

Since The Characters were making more headway in their careers, they ended up living in California for a year. When Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna — Jett’s longtime producer, songwriting partner and partner in their label, Blackheart Records — were guests on Bingenheimer’s show, he played “Maryann.”

“Kenny loved the song,” Solazzi said. Laguna ended up managing The Characters and they returned to New Jersey and opened for Joan Jett all over the East Coast.

Then Solazzi started working at the Blackheart record label. At the time, Laguna was managing The Kinks as well and Solazzi was running errands for Ray Davies. Laguna got The Characters a gig with The Kinks in Maine.

The Characters put out their first album in 1994. In 2005, “The Early Characters” was released.

During their career, The Characters played with many famous musicians. “We had Shirley Jones onstage with us,” Solazzi said. “Andy Kim, Ron Dante from The Archies … Julie Newmar got up on stage and danced …” They also opened up for acts such as Micky Dolenz and Three Dog Night.

Nevertheless, they weren’t without challenges but Solazzi believes that having four or five people show up with a common goal kept it all pulled together. “People like a winning team,” he said.

After trying hard being an original band, The Characters returned to doing covers. “People don’t go out and support original music,” Solazzi said. “It’s not as much fun if you don’t know the songs.”

The Characters started out doing covers and Solazzi said, “It’s a good way to learn your craft.” Then they always threw originals into the set.

Going back to their roots, they play the songs they grew up on. “When you see us and we’re doing songs like ‘Cecilia’ or ‘Hey Jude,’ we love those songs,” expressed Solazzi. “We know how to entertain people. We’ve built up a following of people who want to come out and have a good time. It’s a different animal (than playing originals) but at least you’re playing. Quitting your job and going out in a van is a young man’s game. We did that for years. We made no money.”

The Characters are playing all the time and Solazzi is looking into doing some original shows in addition to playing covers. They’re currently working on a 30th anniversary deluxe edition of The Characters debut album, which is planned to be released in the fall.

Solazzi continues to be inspired by The Beatles, Joan Jett, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. But he likes newer music, too. “Grace Potter has unbelievable stuff,” he said.

To learn more about The Characters, visit

Photos by Henry Diltz and Ron Akiyama