by David Galassie
Some careers of 1960s rock and roll artists were cut short or stifled by
the draft and the Vietnam War. Many famous examples litter the rock
landscape- Gary Lewis and Archie Bell come to mind. Then there's the case
of Don Ciccone, lead singer, guitarist, songwriter of The Critters.
While his initial foray into rock immortality was encumbered by a stint
in the Air Force, he rebounded in an even bigger way and built even more
solid credentials as time wore on.
The genesis of The Critters begins in 1964 as Don Ciccone auditioned for
a successful local band called The Vibratones in Plainfield, New Jersey,
which was seeking a rhythm guitarist who could also sing. Don's friend,
Bob Podstawski (who would later become the saxophonist for The Critters)
introduced him to the Vibratones' leader, Jim Ryan.
It didn't hurt that Podstawski touted Don's songwriting abilities at the audition and soon
Don was a part of the group which consisted of Don, Jim Ryan on lead
guitar, Kenny Gorha on bass, Chris Darway on organ, and Jack Decker on
drums. Paul Iovino, who played rhythm guitar, soon left the group and
Podstawski then joined.
Through the efforts of Don Ciccone, the group eventually landed a
recording contract with Kapp Records. Their management team suggested the
band use "Younger Girl," a number written by
The Lovin' Spoonful's John
Sebastian, as their debut single. But during the recording, one of Kapp's
producers heard Don rehearsing a song he'd recently written called "Mr.
Dieingly Sad." He was so overwhelmed by the song that he stopped the
"Younger Girl" recording session and insisted the group immediately
record this new song.
"Younger Girl" was nevertheless released as the group's first single and
did very well, rising to number 42 on the Billboard chart in May 1966.
"Mr. Dieingly Sad" eclipsed the previous single's success, reaching
number 17 in August of the same year. But before the album was even
completed, Don Ciccone was drafted and he entered the Air Force. Soon
after, Podstawski and Decker entered the military, too. Needless to say
they didn't have the time anymore to bask in the attention the group was
As Don Ciccone stated in one interview," In the first several months of
being in the service, I received a package...and in that package was The
Critters' first album...I was drafted into the military before the album
was completed." It must have been strange and utterly frustrating to have
earned that notoriety but being unable to build upon it.
The group went on without three of its vital members and Jeff Pelosi
(drums) and Bob Spinelli (keyboards) joined the group in late 1967.
Despite further releases, the group failed to recapture the success of
the original lineup and the band dissolved in 1968. But one member of The
Critters wasn't done with the music business just yet.
Upon his discharge from the Air Force, Don took meetings with various
record companies but their "what have you done for me lately" attitude
got him nowhere. It was an eyeopener. The successes of 1966 meant nothing
to the record execs in 1968.
But Don persevered, keeping his hand in the business by opening his own
lead sheet company. Lead sheets are a type of condensed musical notation
which is preferred by some musicians; it can be easier to read than
conventional sheet music. Don had done lead sheets for a songwriter named
Tony Lordi, a big fan of The Critters.
After Lordi had lunch one day with Frankie Valli, Ciccone received a
phone call later inviting him to join
The Four Seasons. He played bass
and lead guitar for 10 years and even did lead vocals on "Who Loves You"
and "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)."
Today, Bob Podstawski owns a NAPA store in New Jersey, Chris Darway is an
artist and photographer, and Jim Ryan has written many recognizable
themes for films and documentaries.
Kenny Gorka owns the Bitter End in
Greenwich Village and as for Don Ciccone, he is a solo artist and his
most recent CD contains new versions of "Younger Girl" and "Mr. Dieingly
Sad." Coming full circle, for a band once touted as The Lovin' Spoonful,
Jr., The Critters' music lives on even today.
Your article on The Critters was
recently brought to my attention. There are a few corrections of note.
I was in the Vibratones before Don as he and I had a falling out from his
previous group "Don and the Chevelles".
When the group decided to upgrade from Iovino, I mentioned Don and the
audition ensued. It was our manager Jerry Davis that got us the Kapp gig.
Artie Ripp produced us and we recorded Younger Girl first simply because
he said so.
Dieingly Sad was done
AFTER Girl was completed and recorded as part of our first album effort.
I was in fact drafted first, then Don then Jack Decker.
Go to Rewind the Fifties Home
Ryan is more well known in the business. He played base and toured
with Carly Simon before she hooked up with Taylor. Stayed in
England and recorded with many groups there. Today he is the primo
session guitarist in NYC. Nobody reads a sheet like Jimmie!
As an update, Chris Darway is a University art professor, The
Bitter End is gone and Kenny is living the good life, I am a
retired real estate executive, Jimmy is still rippin' solos
in NY studios and Don is in Florida, now part of a group called
Now you know what we know!! Thanks,