Wee Jams singer takes final bow

WEE JAMS lead singer William Dell, pictured above at front center, took the stage with the North Boroughs band for the last time on New Year’s Eve. Also pictured are band members, standing at back: Tom O'Hara, Dave Billingsley, Gordie Herbst, Phil Seretti; middle: Louis Cioppa,Dan Fera, Hal Weiss Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

After 50 years of fronting the Wee Jams, a rhythm and blues soul band of North Boroughs origin and national popularity, lead singer Bill Dell has decided to call it quits.

While the band may play on, it will be without the voice that sang lead on such songs as "Patti Ann," and "Pretty Young Girls," two of the songs that became signature recordings for the group that has entertained audiences for 50 years in Western Pennsylvania and beyond, South Carolina providing the band's favorite out-of-area fan base.

Dell's New Year's Eve show at the Sharpsburg VFW benefitted the veterans' hospital, and while it wasn't a sell-out performance, it was still a good way for Dell to end his career with the band. Noted for its support of military causes, the band -- founded in the 60s, disbanded in the late 70s -- reunited in 1987 after receiving a call from Soldiers and Sailors Hall that they were raising money for a Vietnam veterans memorial and the Wee Jams were asked to be one of the acts. And they have been playing ever since.

Despite an enthusiastic audience, Dell is standing firm on his decision to quit.

"It was my last show because for 20 years I've been running the group. The business has gotten tougher because of the economy and the fan base is shrinking due to age," Dell said.

And with the stress of the business, it stopped being fun. "When I'm singing, I'm having a ball!" Dell said. "It's all of the other work."

Work that paid off over the years, not necessarily by making band members rich, but by providing a strong sense of accomplishment. "It was never about the money," Dell said. "But to be able to say that you had four number one records in the Carolinas in 2008 made it all worthwhile. And to think -- I was in my 50s when that happened!"

Carolina fans were always among the most loyal for the band, whose sound fit the "beach music" -- also called "shag" -- that is so popular there. One of those songs, "I Love Only You" posted at number 14 on the Beach Music Cash Box Top 40 list.

But quitting the band will not mark the end of Dell's vocals. The group continues to work on a recording due out in late spring. "We've finished six to seven songs, with others at various stages of completion," said Dell, who also will make appearances with the Pittsburgh Doo Wop Big Band, 27 singers with instrumental back-up that periodically perform in the area.

The band also will continue to maintain its Web site, www.weejams.net.

Looking back at a career that provided friendships with many of the greats, dating from the beginning of rhythm and blues and soul music, Dell philosophically observed, "As you know, life is very short. I no longer have time for negatives and negative people. As Lou Gehrig once said, 'I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.' I truly do. Life has been good in spite of myself. I had the greatest family and childhood in history. I wouldn't trade it for anything!"

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