Old souls, new ambassadorsDec 21, 2020 08:18AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Richard L. Gaw
On a mid-afternoon in Hockessin in February, Ron Rodeck gathered five other men to the lower-level family room of his home, where he has lived with his family for the past two decades.
Such spaces as this are normally reserved to tell the history of a family in photographs, a comfy couch or two, a large-screen television and perhaps a bar area where a visitor can rustle up a beer or a glass of wine. The Rodeck family room offers all of this, but on this day, it also provides the sound of what happens when six guys of a certain age and decades of combined and diverse musical backgrounds get together and jam.
On this day – as on other days just like it – the room has been transformed into a musical man cave for the band Dri Rain.
For the next hour, Rodeck, a guitarist, joins with keyboardist Rick Cassar, guitarist John Hannum, drummer Chet Emerle, bassist Rich Cosby and saxophonist Pete Scilla. They rip into The Beatles' “Get Back,” follow it up with Gerry Rafferty's “Baker Street,” fire up their version of Al Stewart's “The Year of the Cat,” tear through Jakob Dylan's “One Headlight,” do their take on Santana's “Black Magic Woman” and wrap it up with “Chestnut Hill,” an original written and sung by Hannum.
The rehearsal is for good reason; since their formation, Dri Rain – whose ages are all north of 60 – have become road warrior ambassadors of rock, pop, country and blues, with shows at the Wilmington Waterfront, CCArts in Yorklyn, and at open mic events, private parties and local breweries. At nearly every show, they will pull from their catalog of 50 covers and 15 original songs that have been written by Hannum, Rodeck and Cassar.
The origins of Dri Rain date back to 2018, when all six attended a music appreciation seminar for musicians at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Delaware's Wilmington campus.
“It was a class for people who were in love with rock and roll, and there were about 25 people who signed up – singers, songwriters and guitarists, all of various degrees of ability,” Scilla said. “A few of us broke away a bit and got something going.”
The nucleus of Dri Rain was made up of Rodeck, Emerle, Cassar and Scilla, who performed as part of a community group at the Village of Fox Meadow in Newark, where Cassar lives. Soon, the group was rounded out when Hannum and Cosby joined.
“Our personalities have really jelled,” Rodeck said. “This is a group of men who have lived their full lives and retired for the most part, so can do this because we enjoy it, and not because any of us has to.
It's been a real pleasure to be able to share all of our influences with each other.”
While Dri Rain is still in its early stages, the musical origins of the band, however, date back to their respective childhoods and influences. In fact, Rodeck and Scilla found they shared a unique experience: Both attended the original Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in Bethel, N.Y. in 1969.
Captivated by The Beatles and his brother Jimmy's role as the drummer in Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, Hannum began playing in bands when he was a teenager in Newark. Emerle played in several bands in his native Camden, N.J., and was influenced by drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and the Big Band sound. Cassar, a native of Connecticut, played at weddings and nightclubs during college. For Schilla, his musical roots go back to playing in house bands throughout northern New Jersey, and during high school and college, he played in several wedding, jazz and rock bands.
When he was eight years old, Cosby was given a guitar for Christmas, but later transitioned to bass, when he began hearing everything from gospel to James Brown.
“Music is universal,” Cosby said. “By the time I attended the class at OLLI, I had already played gospel, hip-hop, disco, jazz and smooth jazz, but I was looking to expand into new genres and absorb new influences such as The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and The Beach Boys. I saw Dri Rain as an opportunity to meet and play with new musicians, and blend my influences with theirs.”
A native of Montreal, Rodeck was influenced by the early recordings of The Beatles, and subsequently formed a band with his brothers.
“The band ended in about 1971, and at that point, I had graduated from college, began my career, and began a family, so I like to joke that I put the band on hold for 45 years,” he said. “Joining this group and having to learn my timing again has been a challenge. My musical roots were certainly there, but the last year has served me well in getting me up to speed.”
Mick Jagger used to proclaim that he didn't want to be 60 years old and still singing “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.” In 2020, the seemingly indefatigable Rolling Stones planned a return to North America for a 15-city stadium tour starting May 8 that was postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, when Jagger was 76 years old. He is now 77. Pete Townshend of The Who wrote “My Generation” in 1965, which contained the lyric, “I hope I die before I get old.” Now 75, Townshend performed the song with his long-time band mate Roger Daltrey, now 76, during the band's extensive 2019 tour.
For the members of Dri Rain, their return to music is both a re-submergence into their musical roots, and the act of defying the onset of age through association. In many ways, they've just started. They performed a sold-out show at the Kennett Flash in February, and before the virus wiped out their touring schedule, they had scheduled performances at the Limestone BBQ in Wilmington, the Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square, the CCArts Hot Jam in Yorklyn, as well as a follow-up visit to the Kennett Flash in August.
“We're all at an age when we should have probably stopped a long time ago, but we still play, because it is in our blood,” Hannum said.
“Our ‘Best Before’ date is still somewhere in the future,” Rodeck said. “Music is both physically and mentally stimulating, and to be able to do it in the company of people you enjoy being around, it’s been quite a ride. We haven’t yet started recording our originals, but we look forward to that, because it will harness our talents and take us to a new level.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].