Just when you think you’ve heard it all, right about at the point when it seems that the United States could not get any more odd, a story like the one I’m about to relate rears it’s head from the annals of the Internet reminding you about how completely insane this entire thing we all call the “American Experience” can be and has always been. This, readers, is the story of Edward Elmer Solly, a convicted fugitive child killer who, after escaping from jail in 1974 and hiding in plain sight, went on to make a living for himself by impersonating and claiming to be deceased Sha Na Na guitar player, Vinnie Taylor.
As many of you already know, Sha Na Na formed in 1968 as an intentionally retro act imitating doo-wop groups from the 1950’s, slicking back their hair and dressing like what could have been Elvis’ personal, gold lame donning entourage. Famously, they played Woodstock, had a syndicated T.V. show that ran from 1977 to 1981 and appeared in the movie Grease in 1978. Vinnie Taylor (born Chris Donald) was not in the group at the time of the Woodstock performance, joining the band as lead guitarist in 1971. Sadly, Taylor died of an accidental heroin overdose in 1974, so he wasn’t part of the group during the Grease period, either, but he left an indelible mark on the band of anachronistic performers.
The real Vinnie Taylor, 1973
Fast forward to May of 2001 when a guy by the name of Edward Elmer Solly gets arrested while, according to a New York Times report on the incident, “fishing for snook from a pier in St. Petersburg, Florida.” But Solly wasn’t being arrested for fishing without a license. His capture was in fact the result of years of searching. You see, in 1969, Solly was convicted for killing the 2-year-old son of his then-girlfriend, Linda Welsh, in Runnemede, New Jersey in what was allegedly a drunken rampage. He was sent to jail, but escaped in June of 1974 while, according to the New York Times article, “on furlough to visit a dying sister.”
Sha Na Na circa 1972
Amazingly, somewhere in the mean time between his 1974 escape and his 2001 capture, Solly made the seemingly insane choice for a wanted man of turning himself into somewhat of a public figure by impersonating Vinnie Taylor in a variety of doo-wop acts in Florida. Solly told people that he had changed his stage name to “Danny C” from Vinnie Taylor, who Solly claimed had faked his death in 1974 for personal reasons.
In a 2004 CBS News article about Solly, Rebecca Leung reported that:
In Florida, doo-wop bands have always been a hit in bars and clubs along the beach. That’s where Tommy Mara’s group, The Saints, and Joe Locicero’s group, The Mello Kings, became two of Florida’s top local groups.
Both men remember being thrilled that living legend and former Sha Na Na singer Vinny Taylor had moved to town.
“You know, he had the talk,” says Mara. “He talked the talk and he walked the walk.”
The former bad boy of Sha Na Na said he had a new stage name: Danny C. And he even had his own Web site, where fans could log on and see all the rock ‘n’ roll legends he performed with over his career.
Locicero and Mara couldn’t believe their luck when Danny C asked their groups to back him up on stage.
“We featured Tommy and The Saints, and then we featured Danny C from Sha Na Na,” says Mara. “Sold it out.”
People from Sha Na Na eventually got wind of Solly’s act (he had a website for crying out loud, and a minivan with the web address printed prominently on the side) and, not knowing that he was on the run from the law, long-time Sha Na Na member, Peter Erlendson even sent Solly a cease-and-desist email asking him to stop performing as Taylor. According to a 2001 article on Philly.com, Solly actually responded to the email and even tried to convince Erlendson that he was in fact Vinnie Taylor and that Taylor had faked his death. According to the article, Erlendson said “I can assure you Vinnie is dead. He was a friend.” Sha Na Na threatened a lawsuit, but allegedly didn’t follow through because they didn’t want to give Solly any more undue attention.
Apparently, according to a piece about Solly on the website Oddee.com, after being incarcerated in 2001, Solly was released for good behavior in 2003 and died in 2007.
Here’s footage of Sha Na Na performing on German T.V. in 1973 and featuring the real Vinnie Taylor on lead guitar. It’s great. Taylor is the guy closest to the drums on the far right of the screen. He seems to almost only show up when he’s playing a lead.