Resurrecting Rock: How one student folk band almost made it

phaedra van

Between 1968 and 1972, Swarthmore’s folk rock scene blossomed. The five Swatties who made up Phaedra recently had their lost albums “rediscovered” for the first time ever in 2014. Will Daly, nephew of band bassist, Dick Daly, made this rediscovery possible through his love of discovering old music. ”In 2012, I asked my uncle about his old rock band. He said he had recordings on reel to reel tape in the back of his garage,”  notes Daly. “He hadn’t played them in more than 40 years.”  He worked with the original band members for a year and a half, retrieving and converting 30 reels (24 hours) of recordings into two albums. The project also got help from the Friends Historical Library and WSRN.  With remastered sound, original artwork and an official website, listeners can now immerse themselves in the life and melodies of Swat in the era of counterculture.

Phaedra consisted of five Swatties attending the college between 1968 and 1972: Bill Barton (Guitar and vocals), Patty O’Connor (vocals), David Hicks (keyboard), Dick Daly (bass), and Huntington Hobbs (drums). Their psychedelic and progressive hard rock draws inspirations from renowned groups such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. As noted on their official website, “the band recorded their performances on reel-to-reel tapes in concerts, rehearsals, and a couple of studio sessions. Four decades later, the band has compiled selections from these tapes to document and share their music.” Phaedra Music released the albums “Around the Sun” and “Time to Arrive” on March 4 and February 26 respectively. Both albums are available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and emusic.

Phaedra started out as Dick Daly and the Chicago Pigs. This 1968 “prototype” had Dick Daly on bass, David Hicks on keyboard, Peter Colin on guitar and Tom Stephenson on drums. After bringing Huntington Hobbs to play the drums, Don Mizell to sing lead and Bill Barton to play guitar, the group prepared their first original song, “Now that Mother is Sleeping” (featured on “Time To Arrive”). Female vocalist Patty O’Connor arrived on the scene while performing at the freshman talent show. With her audition performance of “White Rabbit,” she instantly took the lead singer spot. From that point forward, Phaedra’s ascension to the top of the east-coast folk-rock genre took off.

Notable venues in Phaedra’s career history include the Swarthmore Rock Festival, The Second Fret, Fillmore East and Independence Hall.  Phaedra opened up for BB King in addition to sharing the stage with acts like the Velvet Underground and the Allman Brothers Band. The socio-cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s deeply influenced the progressive social activism reflected in their sound.  Keyboardist David Hicks recalled the energy of a memorable Peace Rally performance at Independence Hall on May 2, 1970, “However many people saw us perform, it felt like 16,000 or 100,000. Our sound check was ‘one, two, three, four. We don’t want your fucking war.’”

What kept the band motivated to rock for so much of their Swarthmore experience? Their undeniable passion for the music. “Tom and Dick and I listened to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring over and over. Peter Colin brought over Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” remembers Hicks. “Those were ear-openers. Our ability to assimilate diverse music was limited; but our desire to embrace it all was genuine.”

Phaedra parted ways in 1972. Flautist and vocalist Kitty Brazelton and drummer Tom Stephenson (both featured on “Around the Sun”) formed their own group, Musica Orbis, from 1972 to 1979. Bill Barton, Patty O’Connor and John Foster went on to play in band called Footloose (1973) based in Michigan. David Hicks went on to get a Music Ph.D in Vienna. O’Connor still sings in a big band, the II-V-I orchestra.

Although they never released any recordings in their short time together, the band remains a bright moment in the college’s legacy. Will Daly has no doubt that Phaedra would have made it big. “I felt the band was definitely good enough that they could have made it, had things gone a little differently,” he says. ”They turned down a record deal with Columbia.”




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