Newark’s Club Phred stands the test of time
It’s 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night at the end of a quiet suburban cul-desac near Hockessin, but it’s anything but quiet inside the home of Fred and Louise Dawson – headquarters of local rock band Club Phred.
As Louise Dawson pulls open the front door, she cracks a smile and points to a set of stairs leading down to a finished basement.
“Just follow the music,” she says. “You can’t miss them.”
Down the steps lies Fred Dawson’s man cave, a 1,700-squarefoot space peppered with hightop tables and a pub-style bar in the corner. The walls are adorned with music memorabilia and in front of a black, floor-to-ceiling curtain that serves as the band’s dramatic backdrop stand the musicians themselves: Dawson (Hammond B-3 organ), Mark Sisk (guitar and vocals), Gaetano “Vince” Vinciguerra (sax and vocals), Brian Scott (guitar), Brian Daring (bass), Kathy Layfield (keyboard and vocals) and Jim Palmer (drums). They’re practicing one of their cover songs and it feels like you’ve happened upon a secret, underground rock concert.
Club Phred has come a long way since 2002, when it started just as a Tuesday night hangout in Dawson’s basement. He said he and Sisk knew each other from Newark Morning Rotary Club and told Daring to come by with his bass and amp to jam out. It didn’t take long before they formed a sevenmember band and became what is known today as Club Phred, a name Dawson swears he did not suggest.
As the story goes, former Newark Post publisher Jim Streit – a friend of Dawson’s – used to call the man cave “Club Phred,” and even had a banner made with the name that he hung on the back wall. Dawson said the group was sitting around trying to come up with an official name for their band, when they looked over at the banner and something just clicked. He admitted he was reluctant to name the band after himself, but decided to go along with it.
“Since ‘The Beatles’ were already taken,” he joked.
Club Phred has played more than 300 shows over the past 15 years, including closing night at the Stone Balloon, on a cruise ship from Philadelphia to Bermuda during a nor’easter and for crowds as big as 20,000 during Philadelphia’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s event at Citizens Bank Park. The band has also played several times at Newark’s annual Fourth of July fireworks.
“It’s a blast,” Palmer said, pun intended.
Sisk said his favorite show was at the Stone Balloon on his birthday, when they played the song “Tender Years” from the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers.”
“I remember being on that stage and thinking, ‘Heaven’s going to be anti-climatic,’” he said.
Over the years, Club Phred has played with a handful of famous musicians like Mark Farner, lead guitarist and singer of Grand Funk Railraod; Felix Cavaliere, lead singer of The Rascals; Gary Brooker of Procol Harum; and Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band, best known for being David Letterman’s house band for 33 years.
“We’ve touched greatness many times,” Dawson said.
Members of the World’s Most Dangerous Band once showed up unexpectedly while Club Phred was rehearsing for a gig at Hotel duPont in Wilmington. They whipped out their horns and started playing along, shocking Daring and his bandmates. They quickly practiced a few songs together and then played the gig, which was a moment he said he’ll never forget.
“That was like an all-time, never-get-out-of-your-brain kind of thing,” Daring said.
For Sisk, the best Club Phred memories are when they’re just jamming out together.
“If we never see another celebrity, I’ll be happy doing this, too,” he said.
“I just like seeing people have a good time and if I can be any part of that, I’m all for it,” Scott added.
Club Phred mostly plays covers of songs spanning across decades, from “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison to “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees to “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World and “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman–Turner Overdrive. Although they play a lot of classic songs, Dawson said the band tries to “Phred-ize” them, meaning they tweak the song to make it sound slightly different than the original. He said it’s important for Club Phred to have it’s own unique sound on even the most well-known tracks.
It’s also important for the band to give back, he said. Over the years, Club Phred has played at fundraisers and for different charities that have raised a total of more than $5 million. The band even played at the Downtown Newark Partnership’s fundraiser that raised money to paint the CSX bridge above Capitol Trail in Newark.
“This isn’t our job. We all have real jobs,” Scott said. “This is just for fun.”
“I mean, what the heck? We have a talent, why not use it?” Daring added.
With 15 years in the bag, Dawson said Club Fred is far from over. The plan is to keep the band going for as long as possible, mostly because they’re all having such a great time together they don’t want to stop.
“It’s the most fun we can have with our clothes on,” Dawson said.
Our Town is an occasional series that explores the people, places and traditions that make Newark unique. Send suggestions to email@example.com.
From left to right: Mark Sisk, Fred Dawson, Gaetano “Vince” Vinciguerra, Brian Scott, Brian Daring, Kathy Layfield, and Jim Palmer of Club Phred.