Brad Delp, lead singer for band Boston and Merrimack Valley resident, dies

By Jessica Benson
Eagle-Tribune

ATKINSON, N.H. - The official Web site for the 1970s rock band Boston said it all.

Everything else on the site was taken down, and replaced with a simple, one-line message: "We just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll."

The site was referring to the band's lead singer, Brad Delp, who was found dead in his Atkinson, N.H., home yesterday afternoon at the age of 55. The cause of death was unclear last night, though police said it did not appear suspicious.

Delp had been scheduled to play in Boston last night with his Beatles cover band, BeatleJuice. He had also been planning to tour with Boston and marry his longtime girlfriend this summer.

Though best known for lending his vocals to songs like "More Than a Feeling," "Rock and Roll Band" and "Amanda," Delp led a low-key life in the Merrimack Valley. In recent years, he spent more time playing local charity events with his cover band than he did acting like a big-time rock star.

People who lived on his quiet, wooded New Hampshire street knew him as a down-to-earth, friendly person who would go to neighborhood yard sales and help his neighbors shovel their driveways.

"I don't have a bad thing to say about the guy," said Ken Silva, who lives across the street. "Brad was just a regular guy. You wouldn't know Brad was a famous pop star."

Danvers, Mass. native

That Delp grew up to become the lead singer of a rock band was not a surprise to those who knew him as a child growing up in Danvers. Before he even graduated from high school, he had been a singer for two bands, the Monks and the Iguanas.

Delp claimed he became a musician because he was inspired by the Beatles, saying the Fab Four "started it for me." He was enthralled as a 13-year-old watching the group's debut on the "Ed Sullivan Show," and felt like he had lost a family member years later when John Lennon was shot.

The inscription under his picture in his Danvers High School yearbook reads: "Have you heard the latest Beatles record?"

His love for the Beatles would later manifest itself with the cover band he fronted, "BeatleJuice." It started as a running joke at a weekly movie night for local musicians, which went on for several years before the group played their first gig at the former Bleachers bar in Salem, Mass.

The band stayed together for 14 years, longer than the Beatles themselves. Many of their concerts were held to benefit charities in the community, such as one for the Atkinson library, and others for the Methuen High School Ranger Band.

Delp had said he enjoyed the smaller venues after doing big shows with Boston, where crowds got up to 80,000 people.

True New Englander

When Delp first met his Boston bandmates, he was earning his living by making parts for Mr. Coffee machines at Hot-Watt in Danvers.

The group was discovered by a record promotions executive who heard the song "More Than a Feeling" through the walls of his office, and rushed next door to learn more about it. A cousin of the band's guitarist had been playing the tape.

Before long, the group had a deal with Epic records, and recounted their rags-to-riches story in their hit song, "Rock and Roll Band."

People in his hometown are still proud of a local boy who made good.

"Anybody who grew up in Danvers knew who he was," Danvers teacher Lisa Dean recently said. "When he hit it big in '76 and ended up being the lead singer of Boston, of course everybody in the world knew who he was."

Boston's first album, released in 1976, remains the No. 1 selling debut album ever in the United States. The band still gets major airtime on classic rock radio stations.

But Delp's time in the upper echelons of the rock music business wasn't enough to get him to stray from his New England roots. One friend called him the "anti-rock star" because he'd spend so much time playing for charities and signing autographs for fans.

Several years ago Delp bought his home in the small New Hampshire town of Atkinson, just over the state line from Haverhill.

No one answered the door at his home last night.

Neighbors said he lived there with his fiance, Pam Sullivan, whom he had proposed to over Christmas and planned to marry this summer. He had two children from a previous marriage, including a teenage son who lives in California and who neighbors sometimes saw during summertime visits.

Good neighbor

Neighbors described Delp as friendly and kind, often helping his neighbors shovel snow or dropping by to say "hello" if he saw them out on their front lawns.

Across the street from the Delp home, 14-year-old Amanda Harty has pictures of her and Delp from one of the many Beatlejuice shows she has attended, the last one at the Portsmouth Music Hall just three weeks ago. But Harty also enjoyed Boston's music, especially since her name is the same as one of their most famous songs.

Harty said she was impressed with how normal Delp was. And how kind - he had once taken the time to write her a note, saying "Hope you feel better," when she was sick.

"You'd think a lead singer from a big band would be snobby," Harty said. "He was just all around a good person."

Alma Harty, Amanda's grandmother, got teary-eyed while talking about Delp.

"A sweet, sweet guy," she said. "He was so kind."

Next door, Ken Silva said he was equally upset about losing such a good neighbor.

"I'm devastated," he said. "He was a great guy."

Neighbors said Delp was in "great shape," and gave them no indication of having any problems which might have led to his death. He didn't smoke and had been a vegetarian for nearly four decades.

Delp's body was found by his fiance. Police received the call for help at 1:20 p.m.

Atkinson Police Lt. William Baldwin said in a statement the death was "untimely," but that there was no indication of foul play.

The cause of his death remained under investigation by the Atkinson police and the New Hampshire medical examiner's office. Police said an incident report will not be available until Monday.

Delp apparently was alone at the time of his death, Baldwin said.

Delp's charitable works

Here's a sampling of some of the events Brad Delp lent his voice to, many of them to benefit local charities:

* At Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., to raise money for the Jayme's Fund for Social Justice, named for Jayme Lipkin-Moore, a Derry girl who had an interest in advancing human rights before dying at the age of 17.

* At the Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H., a benefit concert for Sexual Assault Support Services Education Programs.

* In February, at Danvers High School to help out the school's baseball team.

* Played at Rogers Center at Merrimack College in North Andover last fall.

* In 2004 did a benefit concert in Peabody City Hall for the Roger Trask Adult Day Health Center at the senior center. The center helps elderly people with Alzheimer's.

* Had played Newburyport's annual summertime festival, Yankee Homecoming, five times, including last year.

* Did a benefit for the Methuen Ranger Band Scholarship Fund at the Tenney School in Methuen.

* Played at the Timberlane Performing Arts Center to raise money for a new Kimball Library in his own town of Atkinson, N.H.

* Held a concert to raise money to help finance the repairs after $25,000 in flood damage at St. Stephens Methodist Church in Marblehead last October.

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