Story of Shorty: Shorty Long Makes Silver Screen Debut

By SARAH HODGSON | Jun 12, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Beach Haven — Friday evening, the Bird & Betty’s dance floor in Beach Haven was magically transformed from a ’70s-inspired discotheque to a makeshift theater. Rows of white folding chairs stretched below the buttery beams of a spinning disco ball. An expansive projector screen enveloped the stage. Lighthouse International Film Festival ticket holders settled into their seats, chilled wine glasses and canned IPAs in hand. By the time a “viewer discretion” message illuminated the screen at 10 p.m., an empty seat was a rare sight to behold. The beloved Jersey Shore cover band Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns was about to make their silver screen debut in “To Make a Long Story Short.”

Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns is a household name in the LBI music scene. No other local cover band has a horn section, a setlist catalog nearing 5,000 songs, a weekly residency at the Sea Shell hotel and a fleet of electric toy cars at the ready for mid-show stunts. No other cover band has Ricky “Shorty Long” Tisch.

Tisch is the 3-foot tall, highly-charismatic frontman of Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, Tisch has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. Despite his disability, he taught himself the keyboard at just 5 years old and kicked off his first band as a teenager. Not surprisingly, filmmakers Sal Del Giudice and Jeff Sternberger saw a story to be told in the resilient Tisch and his bandmates, and thus the cleverly named, short documentary “To Make a Long Story Short” was born.

Del Giudice, founder of Tangerine Films, has a sister with cerebral palsy and felt an immediate connection to Tisch. “The first time I saw and met Shorty and the band was on St. Patrick’s Day 2018 at Calloway’s in West Creek. I was completely blown away. I understand and fully appreciate how difficult it is to play any musical instrument, but to see Ricky perform at such a high level completely caught me by surprise.”

The documentary is a wonderfully knit patchwork of live performances and on-camera interviews with band members, bar owners and talent managers. Tisch’s colorful persona is flawlessly portrayed on screen. Through a mosaic of clips, he’s depicted as a nonchalant, comedic, kind rockstar. In one interview, Tisch is coolly pulling a cigarette from a pack of Marlboro golds while pondering his lengthy musical career. In another scene, he’s dressed as the pope and zipping around a bar in a toy car. In yet another, he’s pretending to read a book on his sofa at home: “I’m not actually reading any of the words, but I look damn smart.”

As viewers, we are granted a peek into the life of a young “Shorty Long.” From photos, we see a very debonaire lad, poised behind his keyboard at a flea market music store in a white button down and a bow tie. The shot was taken back when he realized he could make a career of music.

“I always liked playing and I always liked money,” joked Tisch.

In mapping out the story of Shorty, Del Giudice and Sternberger felt it was important to demonstrate the road bumps the band endured along their 20-year-and-counting journey. At the start of their career with Tisch at the helm, a number of managers they encountered didn’t appreciate the band’s unique makeup. The group of talented musicians faced constant rejection on their road to success.

“This story was even bigger than I originally thought. The band’s journey and their willingness to keep it together despite all the negative feedback they received from different managers and booking agents would have torn apart most bands,” said Del Giudice. “What I unearthed with Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns is a deep, mutual love and respect for each other, and along the way they inspired me.”

Del Giudice wants viewers to gather encouragement from the film.“I hope the audience looks at this as an inspiring story. More importantly, I’d love people living with a handicap to see this film and realize you can overcome anything and follow your dreams.”

When the applause faded and the lights came on, the subsequent transformation of the space from theater to nightclub was quick. In a tizzy of movement, yellow-shirted LIFF volunteers expertly folded the chairs and whisked them away. The wooden dance floor was cleared and cleaned, the projector raised, the stage set, the instruments tuned. The 10-minute intermission felt like mere seconds, and before long, Ronnie Brooks of Shorty Long & The Jersey Horns was kicking off their set with “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The evening’s lineup included Brooks, Kern, Dee Farace on vocals, guitarist Paul J Baccash, drummer Tommy Karrick, Danny Kern on the trumpet, Alec Conigliaro on sax, Neal “Perkolator” Perkins on trombone, and more if you can believe it. Their ska-punk rendition of “Come on Eileen” was particularly fun. The hit’s string section was replaced with the Jersey Horns and a heavy, fast, offbeat guitar rhythm. Vocalist Dee Farace lent her Gwen Stefani (No Doubt-era) vocals while Tisch took the backseat on keyboard.

The band was a looping jukebox, playing anything from The Killers to Janis Joplin. Tisch improvised skillful riffs on the keyboard while the horn section, percussionists and guitarists filled the room with an energetic, symphonic clamor. Limbs flailed, drinks were poured, lyrics were shouted back to the stage in eager harmony.

“And the crowd went wild” was the understatement of the night. The short film’s end was met with a juggernaut of applause, whistles, hoots and hollers. The performance afterward was greeted with no less. The people had been given what they wanted: an inspirational, heartwarming, humorous story of their favorite frontman and his talented bandmates. The evening was capped, in true Shorty fashion, by a rowdy dance party.

For more information about the band and their upcoming shows, visit shortylongrocks.com.

Setlist Snippet:

  • “The Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key
  • “Come On Eileen,” Dexy’s Midnight Runners
  • “Mr. Brightside,” The Killers
  • “Friends in Low Places,” Garth Brooks
  • “Sweet Caroline,” Neil Diamond
  • “Mercedes Benz,” Janis Joplin
  • “Another One Bites the Dust,” Queen
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” John Denver
  • “Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

 

 

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