Club Phred has generated millions for charity while performing with several big names in the music business

hat started 16 years ago as therapy for a bunch of musicians has evolved into a fundraising juggernaut known as Club Phred.

Back in 2003, Fred Dawson, a Wilmington financial advisor, would host jam sessions with his musician friends every Tuesday night in the basement of his Yorklyn home. The sessions evolved into what he calls “musical therapy.” Soon, those who came to listen encouraged Dawson and his buddies to form a band.

A year later, the band was born. But first, it needed a name. Conveniently, it came from the name of Dawson’s basement music room – Club Phred. A sign on the wall naming the room had been professionally painted by a friend years before.

“It wasn’t my idea,” protests Dawson. “The lead guitarist saw the sign and said, ‘That’s the name of the band.’ I tried to dissuade him, but I was overruled by the band.”

As the newly-formed, seven-member group somewhat reluctantly dipped their collective toes into the musical waters, there was one obvious problem: “We had no history or name recognition,” Dawson says. “So I suggested a good start would be to approach non-profit organizations and see if they would like us to play for fundraisers.”

Almost a dozen organizations said yes immediately, and the band began playing weekly at Shaggy’s in Newark to a packed room. Says Dawson: “I was careful to note who the charities were and how much we helped them.”

To Date: $5 Million

And how they helped. To date, Club Phred has been instrumental in raising $5 million for 43 charities.

Good-paying gigs soon followed. “After playing non-profit gigs, we were invited to perform at hotels, private parties, concerts, festivals, beaches and shores – that’s what they say in New Jersey,” says Dawson.

They’ve played at Rusty Rudder, the baby grand and Hockessin Memorial Hall. Today, Club Phred regularly performs at The Reef in Wilmington, Crabby Dick’s in Delaware City, and Waterman’s Crab House in Rock Hall, Maryland.

From Sax to the Hammond B3
Dawson’s musical journey began—and almost ended—at the age of 14. “I was getting ready to close the saxophone case for the last time,” he says, “I was disappointed in what my teachers were trying to get me to play. I thought it was all over, and then my mom handed me a vinyl of Boots Randolph. Never heard of Boots, but when I heard him on tenor saxophone, I burst into flames. My hair was on fire; my ears could not believe what they heard.”

Fast forward 40 years, and Dawson and Randolph became good friends. “We got to perform several times together. I was a financial advisor when I met him, then he became a client. We even toured together. I held his hand as he took his last breath [Randolph died in 2007].”

These days Dawson plays the Hammond B3 electric organ, an instrument he took up when he was 18. “I have always loved the unique sound of the Hammond—but not the weight—500 pounds,” he says. “It’s the favorite of most rock and rollers.”

The executive vice president of Bassett, Dawson & Foy met many of his rock idols at the nine Rock and Roll Fantasy Camps he has attended.

“For the price of a small sports car,” he says, “I got to record in Abbey Road Studios, of Beatles fame. While I was there, Gary Brooker sat down at the ‘Let It Be’ piano and played ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ which is the Hammond B3 song, on the same Hammond organ The Beatles used.”

Upcoming Benefits
In what may be their banner year in 2019, Club Phred will back Mark Farner (formerly of Grand Funk Railroad) and will perform with The Late Show with David Letterman horn section and the keyboardist and musical director for Queen, Spike Edney. Dawson lined up these rock icons to come to Delaware to help raise funds for the Delaware Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation, Great Dames, The Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, March of Dimes, National Blood Clot Alliance, Newark Rotary Club and others.

The Delaware venues include the baby grand, The Grand Opera House, and Hockessin Fire Hall. A farm in nearby West Chester will be the site for Farmapalooza, a kind of Woodstock multi-band September event with Farner as a headliner and Club Phred backing him.

Dawson says much of the band’s repertoire is ‘60s-‘70s classic rock, but they like to keep the set list fresh. In upcoming performances, they’ll be rocking out to songs from the ’50s through the ’90s. “We all feel very blessed and we’re trying to make these fundraisers successful and just a lot of flat. out. fun,” says Dawson, emphatically.

Club Phred and The Late Show with David Letterman horn section in the midst of the Blues Brothers set. Photo courtesy of Club Phred

Rock ‘N’ Roll Icons Join The Set
Club Phred has performed with Farner more than a dozen times and it never gets old, Dawson says, calling Farner “a remarkable showman, musician, and guitarist. He does a wonderful performance and still has his pipes and hits the high notes without breaking a sweat. I’m amazed at how the audience reacts to Mark it’s a beautiful thing to witness.”

Dawson says the band has played with the Letterman horn section about 15 times. “Tom ‘Bones’ Malone is on the trombone, Frank Greene plays the trumpet and Aaron Heick on sax. They’re incredible musicians and really nice people. Malone helped invent the Blues Brothers, so we do a set in full Blues Brothers attire and attitude. The horns are a real crowd pleaser and the energy is incredible.”

“Brand new to Club Phred this year is Spike Edney from a small band called Queen,” Dawson jokes. He first met Edney at the rock and roll camp in Abbey Road Studios; Edney was his camp counselor.

“He was incredible,” Dawson says. “Spike was so adamant about us learning our parts just so, it was the only time I ever won the battle of the bands at one of these camps. We got first place in Abbey Road Studios.” Laughing, he adds, “No pressure when the judges are rock stars,”

Dawson and his bandmates are thankful and proud to have these rock idols on board. “Many musicians won’t play without their own bands,” says Dawson, “but Club Phred isn’t made up of a bunch of hacks; we’re a pretty good band and they don’t mind coming to perform with us. We have time to rehearse and work with the special nuances to their songs, so they feel like they’re playing with their full-time bands. I played their music in basically a garage band and many years later I actually get to play their songs with them. It’s just a hoot.”

Giving Back
Much of the band’s charitable work hits close to home. “Four out of seven members of Club Phred had cancer,” Dawson says. Thankfully, he reports, all are okay now and nobody has had a recurrence.

“Alzheimer’s research is important to us, too, because the parents of some band members had Alzheimer’s.” One of the band’s largest concerts was in November 2015 for a crowd of 15,000 in Philadelphia to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research.

“Club Phred has performed at several of our fundraising events, like Casino Night and the Wilmington and Philadelphia Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” says Kathryn DiSalvo, the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter’s senior director of special events. “They brought their signature sounds of the ’60s and ‘70s to the Riverfront and Citizens Bank Park to entertain thousands of participants who were walking to raise dollars for Alzheimer’s research, care and support.”

DiSalvo describes Club Phred as “a band that has consistently given back. The band members are a dream to work with and they are musicians with a capital M! All of us at the Alzheimer’s Association truly appreciate the efforts they continue to make to support us and our mission. We have a permanent soft spot in our hearts for Club Phred.

Staying active in their community plays a large part in the band members’ lives. Both Dawson and Club Phred singer and guitarist Mark Sisk are Newark Morning Rotary Club members, making a difference in Delaware neighborhoods. Says Dawson: “A phenomenal local guitarist, Alan Teel, died suddenly of a blood clot, so we do an annual benefit for National Blood Clot Alliance at the Newark Country Club in his honor.”

Club Phred has been a major supporter of the Great Dames community by performing at events to generate membership and funding for programs to empower women and girls. Says Sharon Kelly Hake, founder of Great Dames: “We’re thrilled that Club Phred has invited Mark Farner to perform with them at Great Dames’ 10th anniversary fundraiser on April 24. It promises to be ‘the party of the decade.’  That’s the magic that Club Phred creates in our community.”

Besides Dawson and Sisk, other band members are Brian Daring, Kathy Layfield, Vince Vinciguerra, Brian Scott and Jim Palmer. They continue to get together for jam sessions every Tuesday evening in Dawson’s music room, which is more like an actual club now. It seats 80 people at cocktail tables and comes complete with a stage floor, sound system and a carved mahogany bar Dawson found in Atlanta.    

“Music is our therapy,” Dawson says, “and we get to give back to our community. I don’t know that life gets better than that.”

For more information about Club Phred’s full 2019 lineup, check the website: Rock out with the band on Saturday, April 6, at The Reef in Wilmington.

Club Phred backs Mark Farner on Wednesday, April 24, at Hockessin Memorial Hall, and the band performs with the horn section on Sunday, May 5, at The Baby Grand and at Separation Day in Historic New Castle on June 8.