By MARTIN DeANGELIS form the Atlantic City Press
Bob Ansell came out of a different time in the Wildwoods, and in music – a time when kids hanging out on the corner would sing to people, not scare them.
His corner was called P & O – or Pacific and Oak avenues, if you weren’t as cool as his crowd. In their minds, 50-plus years later, his guys are still the P & O Boys, and they lost another P & O brother when Ansell died of cancer last month, at 67.
He wasn’t an original P & O Boy. He grew up in Philadelphia and spent summers in North Wildwood, but his family moved down for good when Bob was 16, says his wife of 30 years, Jackie – yes, they met on the corner.
The P & O Boys got started in about 1959. George Anderson, one of the founders, says their corner was a Wildwood hot spot that, as a bonus, had a soda fountain – Jackson’s Drug Store got there first.
And one thing most P & O Boys liked to do on the corner was sing. So when Bob Ansell showed up, he fit right in with his natural bass/baritone voice.
“He was a hell of a musician, a good singer,” says Anderson, who’s now back living in North Wildwood after 30 years in Michigan. “He liked to sing backup, do harmony. There were four or five of us who were really tight together. … We knew we weren’t going anywhere, but the girls liked it. And when you’re 18 or 19, and you have girls watching – it was, ‘Let’s do another one.'”
The standard corner music was doo-wop, the harmony-heavy ’50s style that now lends its name to the Wildwoods’ signature architecture. Some of the guys also played rock ‘n’ roll, but on the corner, their only instruments were their voices.
And even though he couldn’t make music a living, Ansell did sing professionally for a while. He was in a rock band, The Empires, then joined an early version of a tribute band, singing Danny and the Juniors’ hits on a few long, cold winter tours of the Midwest and New England.
He came home for a job at a local hardware store, then worked for the town of Wildwood Crest for years, maintaining public-safety equipment. In the warm months, he also tended bar at night at Wildwood Country Club. He and Jackie moved over to the Middle Township mainland in 1992, and Bob retired from the day job a few years ago.
But he never lost his corner cool – or that voice. It was so deep, friends used to call him a cross between Fonzie and Rocky.
He would still sing sometimes – not in the shower and not for a crowd, Jackie says, but just around the house or out driving.
“He enjoyed music, listened all the time,” she says. “He liked anything that had a nice harmony to it – even the pop stuff today, as long as it had that harmony.”
Once a P & O Boy, always a P & O Boy – even a half-century later.