I'm trying to pin Chris Noth down on some dates, and he's not helping.

"The older you get," he said, "the years just start running together."

In fairness, it's not merely age. The topic of our interview is Natty Scratch, the band Noth co-founded that will be celebrating 43 years of existence this weekend with a pair of shows featuring all the group's original members - and people who've joined over the years.

The band's current lineup includes founding members Noth (guitar and vocals), Tommy Langford (bass and vocals), and Steve Cooley (percussion and vocals). Keyboardist Rick Stoneking joined in the early 1980s to replace Noth (who joined several touring bands), and drummer/vocalist Richie Reeves has only been with Natty Scratch for about a decade.

For this weekend's concerts, the group will also feature original drummer D.L. Blackman (who cut back on performing, making way for Reeves) and - returning from Alaska - guitarist/singer/co-founder Pat Ryan. (Noth said he's not sure when Ryan left the Quad Cities, except that it was before his own return in 1991.)

Although Natty Scratch is primarily a cover band - and the Reader typically doesn't feature acts that don't focus on original material - four decades is a significant accomplishment.

"Quite frankly, the band is better than ever right now," Noth said. "Everybody's game is up." He attributed that partly to better gear, but mostly to "a lot of experience. Playing a million gigs. And knowing each other."

Noth was about 15 when Natty Scratch started, and he told the story of how he began playing with Ryan, then a next-door neighbor six years his senior.

Noth had been taking guitar and mandolin lessons for several years, he recalled. "My teacher was like 80 years, and I was 10. And she actually told me the Beatles were bad. ... One day she was sick, and the next day she was dead. And my mom wanted me to continue with lessons. ...

"I started playing and hanging out with Pat, and that's when sparks started flying. Because I'd already had all this formal training, and now I got Pat Ryan, who's a sea of information - Yardbirds, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly. And he knew all the songs."

And there you have it. In addition to those three touchstones, the band played (and plays) Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, the Beatles, the Stones ... . Over the years, the repertoire has been expanded to include Johnny and Edgar Winter, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty ... . The newest song Natty Scratch plays, Noth said, is Kid Rock's 2008 hit "All Summer Long."

Noth listed dozens of venues where the band has played, including every (or nearly every) high school and loads of long-closed bars: "Every goofy club in town, we played," he said. "I mean, every dive there is in town. ... One of these days I've got to sit down and write all the names of these clubs."

Ryan only returns to the Quad Cities every few years, Noth said, but the band is still playing roughly once a month. And regardless of the lineup, he said, every rehearsal is a trip down memory lane.

"When we do get together, everybody has a story. 'Don't you remember when Chis drove the car down the steps?' ... Everybody's got 100 stories. Every time we get together and rehearse, all of a sudden it becomes story hour."

I can't pass up the opportunity. Let's hear about Chris driving the car down the steps.

The band was in Dubuque, Noth said, and he was going to unload gear from his parents' car. He was backing down what he thought was a slight incline on the lawn - and it wasn't. "I managed to lodge the car on this staircase," he said. "And I went inside and I told the guys, 'I have a small problem,' because the car was basically ... hanging on this staircase. They've razzed me about that ever since."

This happened, he said, in the 1970s. So that's a lot of razzing.

Natty Scratch will perform at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, April 3, at the Rusty Nail (2606 West Locust Street, Davenport) and at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, at The Main Event (3819 State Street, Bettendorf).

For more information on the band, visit NattyScratch.com.

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