Myrtle Beach-area band keeps spirit of classic rock alive, gives back to community

Ken Auerbach - Sick Stooges

For more than a decade, local classic rockers Sick Stooges have blanketed the Grand Strand with hard-hitting covers from every star in the classic rock constellation, including the greats you would expect to hear on any classic rock station across the country – The Doors, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix – but the band is also known for trotting out a few surprises along the way.

Got a hankering for “On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band or “Soul Man” from Sam & Dave? Chances are good that you’ll also hear these and more at a Stooges show.

From the early days at the bygone Cowboys Nightlife in North Myrtle Beach and the Carolina Amphitheater in Marion, to Bike Week events and opening slots on the main stage at House of Blues Myrtle Beach – and their current schedule of shows at OD Arcade and Lounge, Star Tavern and Captain Archie’s [formerly Ian’s Waterway Grill] Sick Stooges have developed a growing and loyal following over the years.

Early on, the band became involved with community outreach, including a multi-year stint as the kickoff band for classic rock station WAVE 104.1’s Marathon for Meals when program director and radio personality Scott Mann hunkered down in a camper at Broadway at the Beach while gathering donations for Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach and the Community Kitchen
of Myrtle Beach.

2018 will mark year six for the annual Striking Out Cancer Bowling Tournament at Little River Lanes, a Relay for Life fundraising event hosted by the band and organized by Stooge Sisters, a group of wives, significant others and friends of the band, which is also a Relay for Life team for the American Cancer Society. In 2017, the event raised nearly $6,200.

The next Striking Out Cancer Bowling Tournament is planned for February. Sick Stooges have long been the go-to band for local veterans’ organizations, having played many events and fundraisers for multiple years for fundraisers through Veterans Café & Grille to benefit organizations like the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River and many more – in partnership with The American Legion, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and Rolling Thunder.

Sick Stooges members come from various points on the map, bringing together the perfect marriage of experience and influences, and although the lineup has changed since its inception, the intent is the same – to keep the spirit of classic rock alive.

Ken Auerbach [guitar and vocals] grew up in New Jersey and was given his first guitar by his mom when he was 9. His first real gig was serenading tables in a restaurant when he was 15. He sang in the church choir, which he said helped him with his harmonies and made him comfortable singing in front of people.

He played coffee houses and parties for a time, and said he and a friend later started a band called The Crystal Ship – a Doors tribute band – formed in 1973 in the Patterson/Passaic, N.J. area.

“I grew up going to sleep with the radio on – and the Beatles, the Stones and all of those guys sort of influenced me,” he said.

Auerbach, a longtime Calabash, N.C. resident, moved to the area in the early 80s, falling in love with the locale shortly after his parents relocated here. He and wife Tonya Auerbach own and operate A+Graphix, a custom t-shirt screen-printing company that has been in business for 23 years.

The seed was planted for what became Sick Stooges when Auerbach’s longtime friend Barry Allen got himself a drum set, and the pair started jamming in Allen’s garage. Eventually, other friends started coming over to play. They originally called this group Off Duty.

When six musicians committed to taking a stab at playing out, the band almost became The Six Stooges – but Auerbach suggested Sick Stooges. In retrospect, this was a good decision. If you say it fast, Sick Stooges sounds like Six Stooges – but over the years, the band was whittled down to four members, and the quirky name stuck.

Auerbach is quick to point out the difference between a tribute band and Sick Stooges.

“We’re emulating the times when the music was being played,” he said. “The instruments were not all miked-up – and there were raw amplifiers and a Hammond B3 [organ] with a Leslie [rotating speaker]. The only microphones were for the vocals – so that’s basically what we do.”

Auerbach said the Stooges still try to get that raw, analog sound across. “We’re having fun too. We play some of the songs we played ten years ago and some of the same places – and nobody’s getting tired of it. We always get a crowd,” he said.

Somebody told Auerbach that going to a Sick Stooges show is like riding in a car with the classic rock station turned on. “It’s the songs that people like to hear, and we also do songs that other bands don’t do.”

He said that the love of music keeps him going, along with the high he gets when he sees others enjoying the music.

“I’ll tell you what, it makes me feel like I’m 20 years old again.”

For Auerbach, giving back to the community is a priority, evidenced by the annual Bowling Tournament and past efforts with Marathon for Meals –  and when it comes to veterans, Sick Stooges are all-in.

“To me, it’s really not that much, but it’s giving back something where they don’t have to pay for a band – and they want live music too. I tell them that if they ever need us and we’re available, we will play.”

For Allen [Drums/Vocals], playing drums was always on his bucket list.

“My brother played drums a bit when I was a kid, and it always interested me,” he said, adding that he saw a drum set on Craigslist, bought it, and brought it home.

He set it up the way he saw it, but said he couldn’t do anything with it. The issue was that Allen is left-handed. Auerbach told him to turn everything around, and that changed everything.

Allen did not expect things to morph into a working band. He just wanted a drum set – but after a one-off gig at a store opening in Longs, the band was approached by Frank Cilla, then-owner of Cowboys Nightlife, to play multiple gigs at that venue. The band hasn’t looked back.

“I have made some totally awesome friends and met some wonderful people – and I have come out of my shell a bit,” Allen said. “It’s fun at the end of the night and have somebody say, ‘well you guys sounded really great – you’re the best band I ever heard.’ We hear that a lot.”

His father served in the Navy during World War II. Allen is originally from Massachusetts, but moved to the area 28 years ago. He is the owner of Carolina Custom Upholstery in Sunset Beach.

Carl McClain [bass/vocals], originally from Rock Hill and living on the Grand Strand for 18 years, joined the band seven years ago. He played with hard-rockers Chronic for seven years and came to Sick Stooges directly after playing with now-disbanded local rock outfit One I Open.

“During my tenure with One I Open, I discovered Sick Stooges and started filling in for [a former Stooges bass player] Tim Hoback when he had gigs elsewhere,” he said. “It was a good fit – as I discovered a kindred spirit and fast friend in a certain ivory-tickler. I got along with the rest of the guys also. Playing with the Stooges is a lot of fun, unlike some of the other bands where it was more like work.”

McClain said he is proud to be a part of a band that does so much for the veterans and for the American Cancer Society.

“Sick Stooges, along with our better halves, Stooge Sisters, have been very active in organizing fundraising events for Relay for Life. The Stooges also participated in Marathon for Meals for several years,” he said.

Rocco Cefalo [keyboards/vocals] has been with Sick Stooges for two years. He has been an Information Technology professional for 37 years and now lives in Calabash – having moved here from Concord, N.C.

He started out playing music with his high school band in New Jersey, and continued to play in  clubs there as an adult. When he moved to Pittsburgh,  his band, The Iced Blues Band, opened for the likes of Frankie Valli, Flo and Eddie, Mary Wilson from the Supremes and more.

In Charlotte, he became keyboardist for the Band of Gold [BOG], which played festivals and fairs in the Charlotte area and elsewhere – opening for or backing up many national acts along  the way, including Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Chairmen of the Board, Percy Sledge and more.

He said he joined Sick Stooges first and foremost for the music.

“All of the bands I have performed with since high school and my early 20s have been variety bands. To be able to get back to the music I grew up with, classic rock, was an inviting idea,” he said. “I was not all that sure I would enjoy playing clubs again, but because of the great fans we have, it has been  nothing but a great experience. And we make new fans at every gig.”

His father, like Allen’s, also served in the Navy in World War II. His oldest brother was an Army medic in Vietnam and later trained Saudi army troops on the TOW missile system during Desert Storm.

“I did not serve in the military. Although it is just a tiny thing that we do, I like to think I am giving back in some small way,” he said.

Sick Stooges have played numerous fundraisers hosted by Veterans Café & Grille in Myrtle Beach, and benefitting various veterans’ organizations. Veterans Café owner Lou Mascherino met the band for the first time at House of Blues Myrtle Beach with wife and co-owner Rhonda Mascherino, at an event called All About Vets, a benefit for the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center.

“We all became friends and whenever we would put together a benefit for veterans, Sick Stooges would always volunteer their time to help us raise the money,” he said.

Mascherino said the band was a good fit because the personality and performance they put on kept the people entertained and happy.

He said Veterans Café has helped to raise money for all veterans’ organizations on the Grand Strand.

“They have always volunteered to perform at no cost to us, and with the help of Sick Stooges, we have been able to raise $67,000 over six years.”
Kris Tourtellotte, former director of the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center recalled seeing Sick Stooges for the first time at a venue in Calabash.

“That was the first time I ever heard them, and I said, ‘man, these guys are good. They play my kind of music,” he said. He met the band again at the All About Vets benefit.

“Sick Stooges were one of the first ones to jump on the bandwagon to help the Center,” he said. “Every time we have asked them to support the veterans, they have been there with bells on, with no pay – and just did a bang-up job.”

As for the entertainment value of Sick Stooges, Tourtellotte said it is always fun to watch and listen to them.

“They are always cracking you up. I mean, wait until Kenny [Auerbach] gets into the third set – and then you are going to have a show.”

NOTE: Roger Yale was the original keyboard player for Sick Stooges.

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