The Critters


The Critters came from New Jersey and had several catchy songs that reached the pop charts in the mid to late 60's.

The group developed when Don Ciccone and Bob Podstawski, longtime friends and classmates at Plainfield High School, joined with the Vibratones from Westfield and Scotchplains/Fanwood High Schools. The Vibratones were an excellent local band and consisted of Jim Ryan-lead guitar, Ken Gorka-bass, Jack Decker-drums, Chris Darway-keyboards and Paul Iovino-rhythm guitar. Iovino left the group and lead singer-guitarist Ciccone and saxophonist Podstawski joined.

The nameless new band began rehearsals in central New Jersey in preparation for their first public appearance. How they came to be called the Critters is explained by group member Jim Ryan: "We went through an endless list of possibilities, and a friend, Tom Brown, blurted out the totally random name Critters. We all looked at him and went....huh? He smiled and said 'you guys are The Critters.' Since Beatles were bugs, and the Animals were animals, we figured Critters was an appropriately trendy animal name and it just stuck." The resourceful Darway designed and built an onstage mascot. This rather large leg with a mop-top haircut and sunglasses also appeared on Critters promo items.

As they began to get noticed as good, local rockers, the band signed with the Kapp Recording label, and, in 1964, spent over 150 studio hours recording their first album. Kapp suggested the Critters first single be the John Sebastian authored Younger Girl previously pressed on a Lovin' Spoonful album. The song was earmarked for their first release.

As this was occurring, Don, Jim and Bob finished high school, and, unbeknownst to each other, had applied to and been accepted at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Once there, they continued to play back home but had a difficult time getting noticed around Villanova due to a very popular local band. Frustrated, the Critters made a deal to perform at a fraternity party and immediately became known as the best band around Villanova.

The album they had been working on was not quite completed by the end of 1965. The group finished the album and Younger Girl was released in the Spring of 1966. Ciccone's outstanding vocal combined with an arrangement by Jimmy Wisner spelled hit. Unfortunately, success was limited to some degree by the overwhelming presence of Strangers In The Night on the pop charts, a song that had been recorded by another New Jersey native, Frank Sinatra.

Most songs on the album were written and arranged by Jim Ryan or Don Ciccone. In fact, the group's top selling hit, Mr. Dieingly Sad, was authored by Don. Mr. Dieingly Sad reached number 17 in the fall of 1966. There is also an excellent cover of Jackie DeShannon's Children and Flowers sung by Ryan on the album. Chris Darway contributed a few songs as well. The group had their final top forty hit with Don't Let The Rain Fall Down On Me in 1967; it was a song Jim Ryan had written in ten minutes in his dorm room at Villanova after getting caught in a rainstorm.

Due to forces not of their making, the original sextet went their separate ways. After leaving college for various reasons, the escalating war in Vietnam resulted in Podstawski, Ciccone and then Decker joining the armed services. Record sales slowed down, and Darway left the group, deciding hed rather be a fine artist than a recording artist; he went back to school and got his degree from Philadelphia College of Art. Ryan and Gorka added Jeff Pelosi on drums and organist Bob Spinella and recorded the album Touch And Go With The Critters but the original, unique sound of the Critters had been altered to a great extent. It was over.

Jim Ryan began recording and touring with Carly Simon, lived in the UK for a while and returned to New York as a much sought after studio guitarist. Ken Gorka managed a 70's club in NYC called "Home", frequented by the likes of Bob Dylan and John and Yoko. He has operated a studio in Canada in recent years. Don Ciccone joined Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, writing music with Bob Gaudio and providing a prominent voice on that group's 1976 number one hit December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). He toured with the Four Seasons for some ten years and later, toured with Tommy James and the Shondells.

In the early twenty-first century, Don Ciccone issued two new CD's and started his own web site at www.donciccone.com. Bob Podstawski owns a NAPA store in North Jersey, Chris Darway is an artist/photographer in New Jersey, and Jim Ryan has written the themes for CNBC and NBC News Channel 4 in New York and written the score for dozens of films and documentaries. Ryan has remained friends with Ken Gorka, who owns the Bitter End in Greenwich Village and is a partner in the Crash Mansion restaurant/club in New York City. Bob Spinella was living in Las Vegas.

The Critters had a legion of fans in the 60's and beyond, many of whom are still out there. Some of the group's best music can be found on the 1984 release The Best of The Critters, while another grouping is compiled on a new CD entitled Critters Anthology.


Most Recent Update: June 7, 2006

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Send email to the author, Tom Simon tsimon@tsimon.com.