Charlie Gracie, a 75-year-old guitarist and singer, admits he hasn’t worked a day in his life. The South Philadelphia native has played music since his father bought him his first guitar from a pawnshop in 1946, and he’s paid his bills with the instrument ever since. Gracie and his band will perform at Main Street Music in Manayunk this Saturday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m. to promote his most recent rockabilly album “For the Love of Charlie”. The performance will be just a few days short of March – a month that holds special meaning for Gracie, as it was in March 1957 that his single, “Butterfly”, knocked Elvis Presley from the top of the Billboard charts to be the number one song in the U.S. and England. Yet, Gracie possesses a cheerful humility for a man who dethroned Elvis Presley from the pop charts and has been recognized by Paul McCartney and George Harrison of The Beatles.
To Gracie, it’s all about rock and roll, although he remembers a time when rock and roll didn’t exist. “In 1946 there was no rock and roll, and it was tough to play rock,” Gracie says. From 1952 to 1956, Gracie took to the night club circuit. He shared the stage with scores of other performers and watched them to learn about stage presence and personality, which Gracie says helped him evolve into an entertainer. Performers could only rely on their charisma and ingenuity to entertain audiences in the 1950s. The reverb effect on amplifiers and pedals had not even been invented during Gracie’s early years as a performer, let alone the likes of Pro Tools and video projectors.
“I’m not just a musician anymore. I can play whatever the room calls for,” Gracie says. He recalls one recent example when he performed with his guitar for 1,900 people during an outdoor festival at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan as they waited between acts. Gracie’s performance at Main Street Music will be a much smaller venue, along with being closer to his Drexel Hill home. But playing rock and roll still allows him to travel the world. He played a few shows in Bolgone and Venice just over a month ago, and will be touring France and England in the coming months. “The whole world speaks English now, and rock and roll changed that,” Gracie says.