As the 50th anniversary of the historic Who concert at Union Catholic High School has been approaching, it was widely conjectured what if anything would be done to mark the occasion. Perhaps the school would contact The Who to appear in some form or another? Instead The Decoys, the band that opened for The Who on November 29, 1967, stepped up to the plate and arranged a concert/charity event at the gymnasium at Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, New Jersey, on Saturday night, November 18, 1967. The program, the brain child of Ed Cadmus, Decoys’ longtime manager consisted of three segments. The first and last act was music. The opening act was the band Interior Steel. The Decoys closed the show. Between their acts Michael Rosenbloom, author of When Stars Were in Reach gave a Power Point presentation about The Decoys’ career with a special emphasis on the Union Catholic High School show, when The Decoys opened for The Who.
The five Decoys who stayed together all through high school and college and who opened for The Who in November of 1967 consist of Mike Mazzarisi on drums, Jim McClurken on lead guitar, Michael Testa on rhythm guitar and harmonica, Jon Kenseth on lead vocals and Bob Gilligan on bass guitar. For the show, Mike Mazzarisi’s brother Ernie Mazzarisi filled out the band on keyboards. All of The Decoys except Jon Kenseth grew up in New Providence. Jon Kenseth grew up in nearby Chatham Township. Bob Gilligan went to high school at Union Catholic in Scotch Plains. Jon Kenseth went to Chatham High School. The other three Decoys graduated from New Providence High School.
The Decoys were in a buoyant mood on stage, rejuvenated to discover that they still sounded great. They found their groove from the start and wowed the audience with a set of mostly ‘60s covers and two Decoys’ original tunes from the early 1970s. They were also quite ambitious in their song selection, tackling such numbers as “Crossroads,” the Robert Johnson blues number made famous by Cream, “Mr. Soul” the Buffalo Springfield classic and “Red House” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jim McClurken, who in his youth was known as the best guitarist around the New Providence area appears not have lost a step, excelling on a host of guitars he brought to the show.
As this concert was a reunion celebrating the show at Union Catholic High School when The Decoys opened for The Who, The Decoys played two Who songs – “Substitute” and “Summertime Blues.” Jon Kenseth was the sole Decoy who did not continue singing or appearing with other bands after the demise of The Decoys in the early 1970s. That said, his voice was in fine shape and did not he disappoint although Mike Testa and Jim McClurken took over lead vocals on a few of the songs .
Jon Kenseth made the trip from Boston and Bob Gilligan from Arizona. The band practiced several times before the show and sent each other MP3s of songs they were intending to play at the show. This way, The Decoys could practice songs from remote locations before reuniting for the few practices they did hold prior to the show.
I learned a few new factoids at the concert. One is that about 15 years ago, Jim McClurken spent a period of time at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in Liverpool, England studying under Paul McCartney. Jim had to win a songwriting competition in order to be awarded this position. This was related to me by Barbara McClurken, Jim’s wife.
The second fact I learned was related to me by Chris Salman (pronounced Salemin). He told me that the snare drum that Mike Mazzarisi used at the concert at Union Catholic was not Mike’s snare drum. It was Chris’ snare drum. This may explain further, the reluctance on Mike’s part to let Keith Moon use his snare drum when Keith busted his own snare drum at the show.
A wonderful time was had by all. There were in excess of 300 people packed into the gym. There was a dance area in front of the stage which some in the audience used. Behind the dance area was about 10 rows of concert seating. Behind the concert seats were about 30 round tables spread round the gym where friends and family could sit as a group and enjoy the show. The show was not just a reunion for The Decoys. It was evident that the show served to reunite a host of people who hadn’t seen each other for years. That plus the fact that the proceeds of the event went towards two charities and that The Decoys were local lads who came back to give something back to the community in which they grew up enhanced the good vibes felt throughout the gym.