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The Critters




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 getting.

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.
 
CORRECTIONS:
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.




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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.

Through the efforts of Don Ciccone, the group eventually landed a recording contract with Kapp Records.

Frankly, Jim 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 SKEEZIX.

Now you know what we know!! Thanks,
Bob Podstawski

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