(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.)
1989 – present, New York City and Ulster County, NY
Mark Donato – vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, songwriting, (sometimes drums on records)
Mark Lerner – bass, backing vocals, etc, off and on 1989 – present
Pete Erchick – bass from 1994-ish to 1996?
Stephen Lewis – electric guitar, 1989-1991
Dan Fassett – electric guitar, for a few months in 1991-1992
G. Doug Pierson – electric guitar from 1994-ish to to 2006-ish
Dave Wilkes – drums for a few months of 1990
Allison Horn – drums, 1990-1991
Seth Warnock – drums, 1991 – 2006-ish
Eric Parker – drums, 2008 – present
Diane Stockwell – violin, 1991? to 1994?
Rebecca Weiner Tompkins – violin, 1994
Rob Meador – mandolin from 1996-ish to 2006-ish
John Burdick and Dean Jones – (guitar and piano) working on our new record even as we speak
And various other guests on recordings, including Jim Barbaro (guitar), Al Houghton (guitar and organ), Mike Ralff and Scott McKuen (acoustic bass), Bob Hofnar and Jonathan Gregg (pedal steel), Robin Goldwasser (vocals), and Philippa Thompson (accordion and vocals).
I’ve played music with this Donato fellow for 25 years. There’s a strong temptation when writing these things, to pitch the music to you, dear reader. That is, to select the very best stuff and to order the post so as to take maximum advantage of your understandably short attention span, and leave you thinking, “Whoa, that band was great! Mark is cool!” Nowhere is this temptation stronger than in writing about Mark Donato, whose singular talents as a songwriter and singer have gone, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated, at least insofar as appreciation can be measured by album sales and crowds at gigs. (Though there have been plenty of both at times.)
But my job here (I guess I’m my own boss) is not to promote music. As a musician, I have to spend far too much time doing that anyway; my task here is more narrative in nature. So this will be a typical Every Band story: embarrassing videos, clip-art xeroxed flyers, wobbly demos, and faulty memories. Readers unfamiliar with Mark Donato’s music will of course find some here; I encourage you to seek out more.
Canoeful of Strangers
Mark Donato was the first drummer for the Oswalds, but from the day we met him, he was also playing guitar and singing his own songs. I was a big fan immediately, and throughout 1988 and 1989, Mark would often come over to my apartment and record his songs. The tapes are a testament to Donato’s patience. I was always trying to do something weird with my small home recording setup, so the recordings have all kinds of backwards reverb and phase-shifted dulcimer and whatever other nonsense I could conjure. Watching Donato record his vocals became a sort of spectator sport for my roommate Bill Fink and my neighbor Frank Randall (Donato with headphones on, eyes closed, hands writhing in a gentle spastic dance, Keith Jarrett-like vocalizations emerging unbidden between lines). Mark would also sometimes open Oswalds shows with a set of his own songs, especially after he left the band to work more on his own music.