Las Vegas entertainer still making it big on the Harbor

Johnny “The Capo” Gargano has played music for nearly 60 years and he loves it so much.

His passion becomes clear when he busts out an original guitar solo that puts a special rock element into Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.”

“I have a unique version of it every time I play the song and everybody’s smiling,” said Gargano, who seems to have been born to entertain.

Before Gargano moved to Ocean Shores, he spent about 30 years traveling from casino to casino and lounge to lounge under the bright lights in Las Vegas. He entertained thousands, met celebrities and danced with a few on stage.

One of the stories Gargano shared was about meeting “The King.”

“One of my favorite stories was bumping into Elvis Presley at the Aladdin Hotel in 1968,” Gargano said. “Elvis used to drive from Memphis to Hollywood during the years he was making movies. He would always stop in Vegas on the way to Hollywood and then stop in Vegas on the way back to Memphis.”

One of the times Presley was on his way back from Hollywood, Gargano ran into him at the Aladdin Hotel. He said he remembers shaking his hand at the ripe-old age of 17. He also said he met him again later.

And then there was the famous Chuck Berry who Gargano didn’t just meet, but Gargano’s band opened for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist and singer at the old MGM Grand. The memory seemed to bring a sparkle to Gargano’s voice as he recalled that night.

“That was pretty magical,” Gargano said. “That was about 1975-ish. Chuck Berry came into Vegas and the management team that brought him in was one of my booking agents. They asked me to open up for Chuck and we did.”

Elvis and Berry weren’t the only celebrities Gargano met. He met more stars after he started working in Vegas, in 1973, when he was 21. Along with those music superstars, he met TV stars, like the actor who played “Uncle Jesse” in the sitcom, “Full House.”

“John Stamos jumped on stage with me and my band, I was working at a local night club in Vegas,” Gargano said. “I had an actress, Barbara McNair, she was an actress-singer from the 60s. She jumped on stage with me at a casino lounge, so did Freddy Fender. Just a host of lots and lots of other entertainers.”

When Gargano started his band in Vegas, the name of it was “Johnny and the Bad Boys.” He didn’t add “The Capo,” until later. Gargano explained the nickname.

“Capo means boss in Italian,” said Gargano, who’s Italian. “I’m a tough looking guy and it’s just a show business image. Like Bruce Springsteen is called ‘The Boss,’ I’m ‘The Capo.’ I created the name for myself.”

Despite the glamour on the stages of those casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard, such as the old MGM before Vegas changed in the 1980s to a more commercial-friendly town, it wasn’t always that way for Gargano. While he played hard to make it musically, he also worked his tail off as a casino dealer and casino pit boss.

“I worked as a room-service waiter, worked as a catering manager,” Gargano said. “At 21 I went to the casinos to start working as a Craps dealer. Then I became a casino pit boss. All during that time I was working during the day time as a casino worker, and then at night-time I started performing with my band. I did that for about 30 years.”

Gargano worked about five nights a week — 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. — as a dealer or a pit boss. And then five nights a week — from 9 p.m. or so — he was on-stage “somewhere” working at a casino lounge or a local night club performing with his band.

He recalled that former chapter of his life with exuberance.

“It was a great lifestyle, I loved every minute of it,” Gargano said. “I have a lot of great stories.”

Now, Gargano lives in Ocean Shores with his wife Maureen. Filling many different hats, from the boss of Vegas Nites — Gargano’s entertainment company — he also works as the executive director for North Beach Independent Media, a 501(c)3 for KOSW radio.

“I’m producing concerts and I’m co-producing the New Year’s Eve show at the (Ocean Shores) Convention Center starring Leah Justine, Janis (Lives — A Tribute to Janis Joplin) and of course my band, Johnny and the Bad Boys,” he said.

Gargano, who loves to stay busy, is also on the board of Channel 68 North Beach Community TV. Last year, he produced “Ocean Shores Got Talent,” at the Ocean Shores Lions Club. He also produced Celebrate Summer Jam on May 13 at Ocean Shores Convention Center.

“I love every minute of it,” Gargano said about the many projects in which he takes part. “I’m used to being busy. When I was in Vegas, I worked all day in the casino and I worked all night in the lounges, so I’m just doing the same thing now but at a less stressful pace.”

While Gargano left Las Vegas and became a Pacific Northwest guy in 2000, Vegas hasn’t left him. Gargano still entertains and doesn’t plan on stopping, even if it’s at a smaller scale than the biggest party city America has to offer.

Here, he runs the karaoke nights on Friday and Saturday nights at Porthole Pub — 893 Point Brown Ave. NW, in Ocean Shores. When he’s not hustling as a worker, he’s entertaining with his trio, starring Michael Johnson on bass and keyboard, and Jacob Wikan on drums and guitar. Sometimes he plays with a four-piece, which stars Adam Axford on drums.

And for Gargano, the guy who started playing a Silverline guitar at 14, he doesn’t see himself slowing down any time soon.

“I’m playing now and I’ll play until I can’t stand up anymore,” Gargano said with a laugh.

Live music events this weekend:

Friday, Sept. 8

7 p.m. — Ms. Maki & Co. — Ashley’s Pub Haus — 710 J St., in Hoquiam

3 to 9 p.m. — Rullen Neifert — Mount Olympus Brewing — 105 W. Heron St., in Aberdeen

9 p.m. to midnight — Dogger — Parkway Tavern — 417 N. Park St., in Aberdeen

10 p.m. — Black Shepherd — Ashley’s Pub Haus, 710 J St., in Hoquiam

Saturday, Sept. 9

11 a.m. — Anniversary Party for Mount Olympus Brewing (MOB) — Mount Olympus Brewing — 105 W. Heron St., in Aberdeen

Noon to 3 p.m. — Paws of Grays Harbor Presents Dog Days of Summer — Hoquiam Brewing Company — 526 8th St., in Hoquiam

Noon to 9 p.m. — Chris Eakes, Kyle & Darrin Band, Geoff Hirschfeld, Rented Mule, The Jazzeman, Law of Seven — Ashley’s Pub Haus — 710 J St., in Hoquiam

9 p.m. — The Six — Hoquiam Elks Lodge — 624 K St., in Hoquiam

Sunday, Sept. 10

9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — Monteverse, Lisa Ramsauer, Ken and Christine, Clinton “Dogger” Mullins, Justin Kautzman — Lake Sylvia State Park — 1813 Lake Sylvia Road, in Montesano

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at