The Catskill 45sPosted: April 19, 2012
Spring 2009 – current, Phoenicia, NY
Tony Fletcher – keyboards, guitar, vocals
Nancy Lynn Howell – vocals
Josh Roy Brown – lead guitar, vocals
Robert Burke Warren – guitar, vocals
Ric Dragon and Eric Parker – drums (2009)
Lukas Lerner – drums (2010 onwards)
Me – bass, vocals
I moved with my family from New York City to the tiny Catskills town of Phoenicia in the summer of 2005. Among the first and friendliest folks I met were Tony Fletcher, a music writer, and his wife, Posie Strenz. I found Tony through his blog, ijamming (a blog about wine, music, running, and whatever else crosses Tony’s mind), while looking for recommendations of vegetarian places to eat in my new surroundings. Tony and Posie like to throw a good party, and it was at one of those that I met the musician and writer Robert Burke Warren. Coincidentally, I’d worked with Robert’s wife, the writer Holly George-Warren, many years before at Rolling Stone. As the years went by in my new town, my son Lukas took up the drums. His teacher was a local legend named Eric Parker. I started subbing on bass in Robert’s family-music band, Uncle Rock and the Playthings (about which more later), with Eric on drums and a versatile and rootsy guitarist named Josh Roy Brown. Okay, we know most of the players now…
2009 – 45 = 1964
In the spring of 2009, Tony and Posie, who were both turning 45, decided to throw a birthday party for everyone who was turning 45. Which, happily, included me. 45, for those of us old enough to love vinyl, is a magic number. So the idea was to throw together a band for the party to do songs from 45 years ago (1964). Robert and Josh were recruited on guitar. Tony, I learned, had been in a band back in his wayward youth, and was eager to play a lovely Hammond organ that had belonged to Posie’s late father. Drumming duties were to be split between the aforementioned Eric Parker and Ric Dragon, a friend of Tony’s I hadn’t met before. My wife, Nancy Howell, signed on for some vocals. We all prepared our best 1964 outfits. We had one rehearsal. And Eric wasn’t at it!
45 is a magic number, but so is 1964. Our set list had many of the folks you’d expect from a year like that, minus some giants like the Beach Boys (too hard!) and Bob Dylan (too soft!) and for some reason missing out on Motown and soul music entirely. We all sang, except for the drummers. Of note is my insistence on including “World Without Love,” just the sort of cheese I like, which Tony (an Englishman) described as “naff.” I decided it means, “You have superb taste, Mark.” Also on the list was “My Boy Lollipop,” a hit by the teenaged Millie Small that put ska (and Island Records) on the world map. I think some cheating was involved in including “I Can’t Explain,” but Tony, the author of a book about Keith Moon and a diehard Who fan, was the host. We let it slide. At some point, Tony christened us the Catskill 45s. The whole set was ragged but right, except in a few instances where I’m sure it was ragged and wrong. But it was great fun.
You Really Got Me – The Kinks
It’s All Over Now – The Rolling Stones
Gloria – Them
House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
World Without Love – Peter and Gordon
I Can’t Explain – The Who
A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
My Boy Lollipop – Millie Small
Glad All Over – Dave Clark Five
Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen
2010 – 45 = 1965
It seems a tradition was born. When June 2010 rolled around, Robert and Josh (and surely many other folks) were turning 45, so another party was planned. The Catskill 45s were moving ahead one year in our musical march through history. Ric and Eric were unavailable, so my son, Lukas Lerner, was enlisted to play drums. Despite his youth (15 then), he was a fine drummer, and I secretly welcomed the chance to force-feed him a bunch of 1965 music as a supplement to what was then a pretty steady diet of the Descendents, Black Flag, and Bad Brains.
This time around there was more practicing, more discussion of which songs to include, and more hairspray for my wife.
Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds
Buckaroo – Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
King of the Road – Roger Miller
In the Midnight Hour – Wilson Pickett
Stop! In the Name of Love – The Supremes
Over and Over – Dave Clark Five
Day Tripper – The Beatles
The Name Game – Shirley Ellis
I Want Candy – The Strangeloves
Tired of Waiting – The Kinks
Do You Believe in Magic? – The Lovin’ Spoonful
The Tide Is High – The Paragons
The Kids Are Alright – The Who
Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
1965 was quite a year. Bob Dylan was now a rock act, and the Byrds/Dylan cover factory was in full swing. “Buckaroo” gave Josh a chance to use his B-bender and display his excellent country chops. Playing bass on “Day Tripper” added a new level to my appreciation of Paul McCartney’s skills (he sang it at the same time!). Tony once again handled Dave Clark Five and Who vocals, though he was considerably happier about the Who (I think “Over and Over” was deemed “naff”). We were joined by some Supremes (Josh’s wife, Michele, and Robert’s wife, Holly… was there a third?) for “Stop! In the Name of Love.” I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone enjoy singing a song as much Robert seemed to enjoy “Like a Rolling Stone.” And I was indulged my yearly dose of cheese, “The Name Game,” ably conducted by Nancy.
Interlude: Halloween 2010
Our commitment to playing only once a year was tried when we were asked to play a large Halloween/farewell party at the nearby Emerson Resort for the closing of our local newspaper, The Phoenicia Times. We did two sets for a costumed crowd, mixing in 1964 and 1965 songs, and adding “The Monster Mash,” or some semblance thereof.
2011 – 45 = 1966
Looking at the pop charts for the 1960s is odd, and never more so than for 1966. The top 2 songs of the year by most estimations were “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt Barry Sadler and “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band. My campaign to add both of those songs to the 2011 Catskill 45s outing proved unsuccessful. And yet this was the year of Pet Sounds, Love’s “7 and 7 Is”, the first Velvet Underground single, and Aretha’s version of “Respect.” How do you make sense of a year like that?
We were joined by my daughter, Edith, singing “Georgy Girl,” the chords of which nearly broke our brains. Tony’s youngest son, Noel (5 or 6 at the time?), played guitar on “Substitute.”
Taxman – The Beatles
Knock on Wood – Eddie Floyd
Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks
Working In The Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey
Black is Black – Los Bravos
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – The Monkees
These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra
Georgy Girl – The Seekers
Femme Fatale – Velvet Underground
Penetration – The Ventures
Making Time – The Creation
Substitute – The Who
Land Of 1000 Dances – Wilson Pickett
I Fought the Law – Bobby Fuller Four
Get Out of My Life, Woman – Paul Butterfield Blues Band
After the Flood
Hurricane Irene did a particularly nasty job on our area, depriving quite a few friends of their homes. Josh, who lives out on a road that was completely cut off by flooding, had a genuine Mary-grab-the-baby-the-river’s-rising moment. But we all felt the effects of the storm on our community. When an opportunity came along to play a Catskill 45s show at a 100-year-old barn in nearby Woodstock, we took it and managed to raise over $2,500 for flood relief. We had a great sound system, a beautiful venue, and a big dancing crowd. I remember this show very fondly. We did a mix of 1964, 1965, and 1966.
2012 – 45 = 1967 (A New Year)
The Byrdcliffe Guild, who sponsored the flood relief benefit, were so happy with it they asked us to play a New Year’s Eve show in Woodstock. We played a mix of our 3 years’ worth of music, plus the following few from 1967, it being, after all, a new year.
The Letter – The Boxtops
To Sir With Love – Lulu
Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley
Let’s Spend the Night Together – The Rolling Stones
Happy Together – The Turtles
I Think We’re Alone Now – Tommy James and the Shondells
As June approaches, we’re just starting to think about putting together our full 1967 set for the annual party. Sgt. Pepper’s looms large. But so does “Snoopy versus the Red Baron.” We’ll see.
Careful readers of this blog will note that there’s no audio or video with this post. This is because the 45s are truly a you-had-to-be-there sort of band. Or, to put it another way, the videos I saw were sort of scary.
For a lot of musicians, the cover band is a dreaded thing. The goofy concept and (theoretically) once-a-year nature of the Catskill 45s makes it a pleasure to be in, though. We know, deep down, that we’re not up to the task of playing and singing like the Rolling Stones or Lee Dorsey, but once a year we get to pretend. The audience dances, and we’re playing great music with our families, friends, and neighbors. What more can anyone ask for?