HARRINGTON — It will be a full-circle moment when Fred Dawson’s band, Club Phred, plays as part of a free concert Thursday night to kick off the Delaware State Fair.
As a 14-year-old student at Christiana High School, Mr. Dawson, now 71, was thinking of ending his time as a saxophone player.
“I was sick and tired of the garbage that they were making me play. I shut my case for what I thought was the last time. And my mother brought home the Boots Randolph album, ‘Yakety Sax!’ And she says, ‘Here, go listen to that.’ So I went into my bedroom, shut the door. I came out, and I could not believe my ears,” he said.
Cut to 1971. Mr. Randolph was playing at the state fair with pianist Floyd Cramer. Mr. Dawson made the drive down to Harrington as soon as he heard Mr. Randolph was going to perform.
“After the show, I jumped the fence, and I saw where he went into his dressing room, and I stood by the RV until he came out,” Mr. Dawson remembered.
“And even as we speak this very instant, I’m looking at the picture that he and I took together that very first day.“It wasn’t until many, many, many years later that I told him what a profound person he was to me at the age of 14. Because if it hadn’t been for him, who knows? I would be a mechanic somewhere. I don’t know. I would not be doing what I’m doing now.”
A professional musician since he was 16, Mr. Dawson went on to play with Mr. Randolph about 20 times, and they became very close friends. Mr. Dawson was his financial adviser and held his hand when he died July 3, 2007, at Nashville General Hospital.
Their longtime friendship stemmed from that encounter at the Delaware State Fair all those years ago.
Ever since then, Mr. Dawson has wanted to play the fair. Thursday night, he gets that chance when Club Phred shares the stage with local favorites, The Funsters and Kristen and the Noise.
Club Phred, consisting of mostly members from Delaware and one from New Jersey, plays music from the 1960s and 1970s and occasionally mixes in tunes from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Formed in 2002, they have played with such luminaries as Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Felix Cavaliere from The Rascals and Gary Brooker of Procol Harum.
In fact, Mr. Dawson once played Procol Harum’s biggest hit, “Whiter Shade of Pale,” with Mr. Brooker at Abbey Road Studios in London on the same Hammond organ on which The Beatles recorded “Let it Be.”
Speaking of which, Club Phred has opened for “The Fifth Beatle” Pete Best, along with The Marshall Tucker Band, Disney recording artist Sarah Buxton, country artist Katie Armiger and Smyrna native Chuck Wicks.
Club Phred is also sometimes joined in performance by the horn section of the former house band for “Late Night With David Letterman.”
The band’s members range from their late 20s to 83 years old. They still practice every Tuesday night in Mr. Dawson’s music room in his Hockessin home, where they originally got together back in 2002 for a show that drew about 150 people.
“We just started practicing, and more people would show up, and people would say, ‘You have to do something with this. You just can’t keep it in the basement.’ So I said, ‘Well, maybe the best place to start would be to do a bunch of charitable gigs,’” said Mr. Dawson, who plays the Hammond B3 organ and adds vocals for the band.
“There was one of our church members who was having some experimental surgery. So we decided to do a concert for him. And in one night, we raised five grand.”
Club Phred, named after the music room in his previous house, has gone on to help raise $5 million for 45 area charities.
Mr. Dawson said he and his bandmates feel fortunate to be able to help people and make music at the same time.
“Music to me is a lot like malaria. It goes away for a time. But when it returns, it returns with a vengeance. Anyone who’s a musician, they have this innate need to perform because music makes people happy, and right now, it’s our job to make people happy,” he said.
“Because when we make them happy, they make us happy, and the adrenaline goes up by factors of about two or three or four or 500 times by the reaction of the audience.”
Although he’s looking forward to the this week’s show, it will be bittersweet for Club Phred.
The man who helped them book the show, Kent County resident Alvin Jarrell, died Sunday.
“He made a couple of phone calls for us. He really wanted us there, and now, he won’t be able to see our performance. I’m sure we’ll have a few words to say in the beginning of our show,” Mr. Dawson said.
Club Phred will kick off Thursday night’s free show at 7:30 in the fair’s M&T Grandstand, followed by The Funsters and then Kristen and the Noise.
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