Life after Delp
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Rosemary Ford
The Eagle Tribune

Life after Delp: One year after singer's suicide, Beatle Juice has regrouped while carrying on lead singer's legacy

The night, exactly one year ago tonight, started like any other for members of Beatle Juice.

John "Muzz" Muzzy of Woburn, Dave Mitchell of Nashua, Steve Baker of Londonderry and Joe Holaday of Newburyport gathered at Johnny D's Uptown Restaurant and Music Club in Somerville around 4 p.m. for a sound check before a show.

Their singer — legendary Boston frontman Brad Delp — was supposed to be there, too, but hadn't shown up.

Equipment was unloaded. And Holaday, who had been running late, was surprised that the lead singer in their Beatles tribute band wasn't at the club when he arrived.

Delp was never late.

"He was always right there on time," Holaday said. "Brad was the anti-rock star, rock star."

Before long, Muzzy called a halt to the pre-show preparations. Holaday and Baker each recall they knew something wasn't right then.

The show was canceled, and when the group gathered at Muzzy's house, he told them: Brad Delp, 55, had committed suicide in his Atkinson, N.H., home that day.

"We hung out for a few hours in shock," said Baker, who met Delp in the 1980s and found they shared a passion for the Lads from Liverpool.

"Just complete disbelief," he said of what he experienced. "I never thought in a million years. There was no indication of anything like that."

Delp died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Atkinson police officers found him sealed in his bathroom with two charcoal grills in the tub. A note paperclipped to his shirt said, "Mr. Brad Delp ... 'I am a lonely soul,'" in English and French, police said.

Since Delp's death, the band has continued to perform with a rotation of four singers. But adjusting, by all accounts, has not been easy.

Baker said after hearing the news, he quickly began thinking about the family — Delp's fiancée, Pam Sullivan, whom he was supposed to marry last August; as well as Delp's two grown children and his ex-wife, Mickey, to whom he also was close.

Holaday said the news rocked his universe.

"It was like walking sideways," he said. "It takes a few days to filter through what you are feeling. That is a blessing in a way, because you are on automatic. "

Building a band, bonds and fans

Millions knew Brad Delp as the voice of Boston, the multiplatinum rock band with North Shore roots. Though the Danvers native still played and toured with Boston before he died, he referred to Beatle Juice as a labor of love.

"Beatle Juice was a dream of Brad's that he had all his life," said longtime friend and former Boston bass player Fran Sheehan of Swampscott. "It has some of the best musicians in the area."

Beatle Juice formed around 1994. Dedicated to keeping the spirit of the Beatles alive, the band was conceived by Muzzy and Delp, friends of 27 years. They quickly recruited fellow Beatles lovers Baker and Holaday. Mitchell joined the band just three years ago.

"We were envisioning a place like The Grog, playing one Sunday a month and having some fun," Muzzy said.

Their ambitions were outdone, however.

"It just took off," Muzzy said.

From the outset, Beatle Juice wasn't interested in wigs and matching suits. The band only wanted to re-create the music of The Beatles as faithfully as possible. In the beginning, they'd practice in Muzzy's basement. Their first gig in 1994 was in a friend's backyard.

"Brad would have been happy to play in the basement for the rest of his life," Muzzy said.

Delp never wanted to promote his connection to Boston, but the bookings started rolling in anyway. Beatle Juice played fundraisers and small clubs all over the region, sometimes three or four nights a week.

"It became so much bigger than any of us believed," Muzzy said.

Baker said being part of Beatle Juice was a relief for Delp. Touring with Boston involved a grueling schedule of radio interviews, back-to-back shows, and all the other stressors that went along with fronting a multiplatinum powerhouse.

"He loved playing little clubs, people right in your face," Baker said. "He was the friendliest, down-to-Earth, most anti-stereotypcial rock star."

Every now and then, Baker recalled, someone at a Beatle Juice concert would shout out "More Than A Feeling" — a request for the band to play one of Boston's big hits.

Delp's response? "Sorry, it's my night off."

Holaday said the band became a second family for its members over the last decade. They've forged even stronger connections in the wake of Delp's death.

"I can't imagine my life without these guys now really," he said.

Keeping the band alive

The night Brad Delp died, playing music seemed unthinkable for his Beatle Juice bandmates. One night later, some found it therapeutic.

Baker and Holaday played with their side band — Velvet Elvis — at Johnny D's on March 10 last year.

It was supposed to be a Beatle Juice show. Instead they played covers of Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

"I thought 'Geez, I don't know if I can do this,'" Baker remembered.

The staff at Johnny D's, who knew Delp well, looked like zombies that night, Baker said. Flowers and cards with messages for Delp crowded the stage.

"I was OK while I was playing, all of us were OK while we were playing," Baker said.

Still, playing with Velvet Elvis was one thing. Continuing with Beatle Juice was another.

"When we lost Bradley last year it would have been easy to stop," Muzzy said. "It would also have been the hardest thing — for us to stop."

Muzzy started putting together a tribute concert for Delp, where the group could have its last performance. While Beatle Juice took up most of their time, each musician had side projects and plenty of work.

Financially, they could have afforded to break up. Still, they decided to stay together after the tribute concert in Arlington last May.

"We realized how much we enjoyed what we did. And we realized that it would probably be the worst thing if we didn't keep on performing," Muzzy said.

So started Beatle Juice and Friends, featuring a rotation for four local singers who front the band in Delp's stead.

The band currently is auditioning for a permanent replacement for Delp, but so far hasn't settled on one.

"We haven't found anyone who can do it all," Muzzy said. "I never realized the range called upon to do this."

Baker said the band feels like it has one shot to replace Delp.

"We really want to be sure, when we hire that one permanent guy," he said. "Brad was just ridiculous. He could sing like Lennon, he could sing like McCartney, and he would sing 70 songs in a night and not be hoarse. It really takes somebody special to be able to do that."

Keeping Brad alive

Though they play without Delp, his former bandmates have not left thoughts of him behind.

"I will be smiling and having a great time playing and then be like, 'Wow, Brad is not there.' It's still emotional," Baker said.

"We miss him so much. You have to realize, this is music that we have dedicated our lives to. We love to play," Muzzy said. "I miss Brad — how can you not miss Brad?"

Former Atkinson resident Meg Sullivan, the sister of Delp's fiancée, still misses Delp at each Beatle Juice concert.

"I have gone to perhaps a half dozen Beatle Juice shows since last March," she said via e-mail.

"While the band and the singers have done an admirable job filling unfillable shoes, it simply isn't the same. I can't make it through a Beatle Juice show without breaking down, as if Brad died only yesterday."

Holaday said Delp was egoless, caring, respectful to a fault.

"I am not deifying him because he's dead. I know people tend to do that," he said. "I would say theses things to his face and he would get red."

Muzzy said he misses Delp's presence in his life even more than his singing — times like watching the Super Bowl together, or celebrating a birthday.

"How many times have I thought of picking up the phone because something funny happened?" Muzzy said.

And, Baker said, losing Delp was a wake-up call for the band.

"There is a tighter bond, that we have all gone through this together," he said. "When we are leaving each other, when we are going away, you can tell it in our goodbyes."

If you go

What: Beatle Juice and Friends in concert

Where: Johnny D's in Somerville

When: March 14 and 15 at approximately 9:15 p.m.

Admission: Free with dinner. Cover charge at the door, if tickets are available. Reservations recommended. Call 617-776-2004.

Refer to Web:

For more on Brad Delp's life and death, visit www.eagletribune.com
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
©1999 - 2018 thirdstage.ca