“Every Song was a Hit!” The Hit Men LIVE! at the Grunin Center
Music lovers are streaming into Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts this Friday, April 8, 2022 evening for a live concert by The Hit Men, a group of talented musicians who have performed with a who’s who of legendary artists including members of Foreigner, Journey, Cheap Trick, Cream, Grand Funk, and The Who. The group was founded in 2010 by Lee Shapiro, former musical director/keyboardist for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
In 2019, members of The Hit Men were recognized by the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville with the organization’s first-ever “Road Warriors Award,” given to honor “their years of dedication to the music and the countless miles they have traveled in delivering so many hits throughout the world.”
The current members of The Hit Men are drummer Steve Murphy, guitarist Mark Newman, bassist Greg Smith, guitarist/keyboardist Tommy Williams, and keyboardist Mike DiMeo.
Drummer Steve Murphy has worked as a singer, musician, producer, and engineer for artists including The Alan Parsons Project, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron, Todd Rundgren, Mickey Dolenz, Gary Puckett, and Mitch Ryder.
Guitarist Mark Newman has performed with Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, John Oates of Hall and Oates, Jim McCarty of The Yardbirds, and Bobby Whitlock of Derek and the Dominos.
Bassist Greg Smith has worked with such artists as Billy Joel, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Turtles, and Glen Frey of the Eagles.
Guitarist/keyboardist Tommy Williams served as musical director for Debbie Gibson, directing three of her best-selling albums. Williams has also performed with Tommy Shaw of Styx, Steely Dan, Denny Laine of Paul McCartney and Wings, and The Hooters.
Keyboardist Mike DiMeo has performed with Tommy James and the Shondells, in addition to Deep Purple, Johnny Winter, Bonnie Tyler, and many more.
Inside the Grunin Center, the members of The Hit Men take their places behind their instruments as a video introducing the musicians plays on a large screen at the rear of the stage.
Drummer Steve Murphy announces the group’s opening number and gets the crowd clapping along to Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.” As he sings, “It feels like the first time/It feels like the very first time,” Murphy’s powerful lead vocals are supported by energetic three-part vocal harmonies. Guitars wail and keys fill on this dynamic opening number that ends with cheers and applause.
“How are we doin’ Jersey Shore?” asks Murphy as he comes down from his drums to sing center stage with a mic. Launching into Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” his voice cries out, “Just a small town girl/Livin’ in a lonely world.” Keys and guitars swirl as Murphy retakes his place behind the drums and rocks out on percussion as the song builds. Heads in the audience bop and music lovers sing along with Murphy on the well-known “Don’t stop believin’/Hold on to this feelin’” chorus.
Guitarist Mark Newman handles the lead vocals on a nostalgic rendition of The Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” All five singers harmonize together on the familiar “I — I — I — I — I’m not your steppin’ stone” chorus, before guitars duel to avid cheers and applause.
Murphy explains to the crowd that all the songs The Hit Men play come from artists which the band members have either “performed with live” or “played with on their recordings.” As such, he explains that the next selection comes from The Hit Men’s association with Denny Laine, a member of Paul McCartney and Wings. On this number, “Jet,” Murphy energetically sings lead as Greg Smith and Tommy Newman duel on bass and guitar.
Smith talks about his years working as a member of Tommy James and the Shondells. Smith’s youthful voice effortlessly handles the lead on “Draggin’ the Line” before Tommy Williams shines on a guitar solo.
Next, The Hit Men segue into Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now,” where Smith invites the audience to sing along as they dance in their seats.
Following cheers and applause, Murphy recognizes The Hit Men’s founding member, Lee Shapiro, who is seated offstage, and fans in the audience cheer for him. Calling the next selection “one of the most beautiful songs ever written,” synthesized strings swell as Murphy sings lead on Toto’s 1983 ballad, “I Won’t Hold You Back.” Singing downstage — his full baritone serenading the audience — Murphy returns to the drums to kick in on the song’s powerful “You know I won’t hold you back now” chorus. As he continues to sing and play, rich background vocals and grand keyboard chords compliment his emotional lead.
Tommy Williams sings low and Greg Smith sings the high counter part on The Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky.” Then, all five singers harmonize together while rocking out on The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love.”
Murphy talks about doing a session with Elton John before launching into two songs from the artist’s 1971 album, Madman Across the Water. Williams starts off “Levon” on keyboards as Murphy sings downstage. Then, Murphy returns to the drums and the musicians segue into “Tiny Dancer.” The rich, full sound of the band echoes throughout the auditorium as an on-screen ballerina dances to a flourish of rolling drums and low funky tremolo piano.
Smith plays his bass low and funky and Williams comes down into the audience to get the audience clapping along on Grand Funk Railroad’s “Some Kind of Wonderful.” As Murphy sings, Williams encourages the crowd to “Keep it up!” and they clap with their hands over their heads to the irrisistable beat. A group of women in the rear of the auditorium stand and dance to the mesmerizing groove before the song ends with a cool and funky Steve Murphy drum solo.
Smith’s voice pleads as it cries out, “I want you to want me/I need you to need me/I’d love you to love me/I’m beggin’ you to beg me,” on Cheap Trick’s 1977 hit, “I Want You to Want Me.”
Audience members stand and dance to the driving beat before the group performs a tribute to the recently departed Foo Fighters’ drummer, Taylor Hawkins, with a performance of “Times Like These” which features Murphy on lead vocals and Williams on vocals and keyboards.
Smith talks about playing with Billy Joel at a Hurricane Sandy relief concert before the group launches into “Big Shot.” Tommy Williams’ vocal rocks on this number as he accompanies himself on keys and the band grooves together in the spotlight. Mark Newman is featured on a skillful guitar solo before the number concludes with enthusiastic audience cheers and applause.
Newman, who played with John Oates, tells pianist Mike DiMeo to “Take them to church!” as DiMeo plays a bluesy keyboard solo which has audience members clapping along to Daryl Hall and John Oates’ “Rich Girl.”
Murphy reveals that in 1987 he worked in a New York City recording studio with Sting on a song called “They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo).” Band members leave the stage as Murphy sings the mournful ballad accompanied solely by DiMeo on keyboards. The group soon returns to play a dynamic rendition of Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” to whistles and cheers.
The Hit Men follow up with a medley of songs by Badfinger including “Day After Day,” on which Mark Newman plays a nifty tremolo slide guitar solo, and “No Matter What,” which has Smith energetically singing lead on this upbeat pop tune.
The band’s sparkling interpretation of The Who’s “Who Are You” has the audience clapping and singing along on the “Who are you/Who who, who who” refrain. After learning that Smith will spend four weeks playing on the upcoming 2022 Happy Together Tour, the audience joyfully sings along with Williams on the well-known “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you” chorus of The Turtles’ “Happy Together.”
Following avid cheers, Murphy thanks the crowd for “coming out tonight and supporting live music.” He dedicates the group’s final number to “everyone we lost during the pandemic” before The Hit Men perform a knock-your-socks-off rendition of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” featuring Mark Newson on vocals and slide guitar.
A wall of sound explodes from the stage as keyboards and guitars wail. Newman makes his guitar sing before the number transitions into the song’s ethereal second movement and an “In Memorium” presentation rolls on-screen showing the names and images of beloved musicians and others from the entertainment industry who have passed over the course of the last two years.
The crowd stands and cheers for this heartfelt tribute as Murphy dons a New York Rangers jersey and all five members of The Hit Men take their places downstage for a well-deserved bow.
As audience members make their way out of the Grunin Center auditorium, we chat with several in the crowd who share their opinions of The Hit Men’s performance tonight. Whereas Grace from Aberdeen declares, “They’re one bunch of talented musicians!” Gene from Aberdeen calls The Hit Men, “Amazing,” explaining, ‘They were excellent, and the show was a lot of fun.” Paula from Howell concurs, adding, “It was a great show — there was so much energy on that stage!”
Jeffrey from Toms River calls tonight’s show, “Awesome!” Acknowledging, “I knew all the songs,” Jeffrey reveals, “We were dancing in our seats,” before concluding, “I will definitely see them again.” Ellen from Toms River, agrees, adding, “It was really great seeing them here at the Grunin Center. We’ve never been here before, and it’s a nice venue where you can see and hear everything perfectly from any seat.”
Whereas Carolyn from Toms River contends, “The Hit Men had so much energy, and their songs brought back so many memories,” Kim from Wycoff calls The Hit Men, “Excellent — and very talented! ” Lastly, we chat with Annamaria from Wycoff who exclaims, “The Hit Men are fabulous!” before concluding with a smile, “Every song was a hit!”
To learn more about The Hit Men, please go to thehitmenlive.com. For further information on upcoming performances at the Grunin Center — including Shawn Colvin on April 30, NYC3 on June 3, and The Bronx Wanderers on June 26 — please go to grunincenter.org.