Uncle Rock and the PlaythingsPosted: October 9, 2013
(Adventures in the Kindie Trade, part 1)
Phoenicia, NY, 2008-ish – present
Robert Burke Warren aka Uncle Rock – guitar, vocals
Josh Roy Brown – lead guitar
Eric Parker – drums
Katie Legnini – vocals
Martin Keith – bass
Jack Warren, Lucia Legnini – backing vocals, until they grew up
Lukas Lerner – drums (subbing for Eric)
Mark Lerner – bass (subbing for Martin)
My kids never listened to a lot of children’s music. We got them some, and some was given to them as presents, but not much of it really stuck. Raffi’s Baby Beluga album got a lot of play, but I think that was mostly because my wife liked it. They Might Be Giants first kids album, “No,” was a hit with my daughter, but not my son. I remember a really bad reggae kids music cassette and some Sesame Street thing with Aerosmith doing Oscar the Grouch’s “I Love Trash,” both of which pretty much got ignored. A David Grisman and Jerry Garcia kids record was much more of a hit with me than my children.
We certainly never went out to see kids music. That was unthinkable back then. But then the TMBG kids albums happened, and Dan Zanes happened, and soon (too late for my kids) there was a whole “kindie rock” movement, which persists to this day. People take their kids out to see rock and roll, live. I think it’s mostly a good thing.
A Temporary Plaything
My friend Robert Burke Warren has worn a lot of hats (and still does): bassist (with the Fleshtones and RuPaul, among others), actor, songwriter, teacher, writer. But right around the time I moved to Phoenicia, NY (where he lives), he started writing and playing kids music as Uncle Rock (and the Playthings, whenever the venue size and paycheck would support a full band). His regular bass player, Martin Keith, is a busy guy, so eventually I got a call to come sub for him. The band members are all friends and neighbors of mine, and I play in various other groups with them. And, most fun of all for me, my son Lukas has frequently subbed for the drummer, so we’ve gotten to play gigs together. (I’ve also designed two Uncle ROCK CDs and a DVD.)
Kids gigs are different. For one thing, they’re incredibly early in the day. Everyone is sober. The gigs usually pay well. The house lights are usually on (if it’s even in a normal venue; lots of gigs are at farms and zoos and libraries).
Children will often come right up on stage and sing along or just stand there sucking on their shirt. They call out weird things in between songs. They dance (which doesn’t happen so often at my grownup gigs anymore). Robert’s really good at this. He’s a great frontman and isn’t fazed by whatever craziness a crowd throws at him. He also enjoys it, and the kids (and their caregivers) pick up on his enthusiasm. Musically, everyone in the Playthings is pretty damn good, and there’s surprisingly little “oh well, it’s good enough for kids” attitude.
Woodstock, NY (about 20 minutes from where I live) has an annual elaborate Christmas Eve celebration. The main street is shut to traffic, everyone shows up, and Santa arrives in some exotic way. One year he was fired out of a cannon, one year he arrived on a giant skateboard. In recent years, perhaps due to a fear that Santa might die in one of his stunts, the arrival has been toned down a bit. At any rate, in 2008 Uncle Rock was asked to be the musical accompaniment for the parade, and Martin was busy so I got the call. We Playthings all piled into a flatbed truck and played to a huge happy crowd that braved rain and ice. Here’s some video (not too thrilling visually, but you get some sense of the scene).
Later that year, Robert was talking about wanting to do an Uncle Rock holiday record fast and cheap, and he wondered if we could record some of it at my house. (I’d been recording music with my family on a digital 8-track with two microphones, and Robert liked the sound I’d gotten.) So for a few days we roped in the whole family: Lukas played drums, and my wife, Nancy, and daughter, Edith, sang backups and did handclaps. I even contributed the somewhat perverse album title.
Here are 2 from that very homemade EP. A bizarro Gene Autry Christmas song, “Santa’s Coming in a Whirlybird,” with Lukas slamming the Bo Diddley beat; and me duetting with Uncle Rock on “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” with me playing mandolin and dulcimer as well.
Full-band Uncle Rock gigs have been a bit thin on the ground lately as Robert’s been busy with other stuff, but I think he may be gearing up for a busier 2014. If you have kids or know any kids, you should check out his CDs.
Much to my surprise, the last few years have found me playing quite a few kids music gigs, so there will be further Adventures in the Kindie Trade in this blog in the days and weeks to come.