Became a state on..... December 7, 1787
Southern Genres..... Folk, Country, Bluegrass, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz, R&B, Southern Rock.
Delaware may be small, but the First State is rich with music history. From indie rock bands out of Newark to jazz and reggae artists from Wilmington, the Small Wonder has churned out many famous musicians over the years that few people know are actually Delawareans. The official state song consist of a poem "Our Delaware" containing three verses in honor of each county of the State, written by George B. Hynson; a fourth verse in praise of the State and pledging the loyalties of its citizens, written by Donn Devine.
Delaware is a state located in the Mid-Atlantic and/or Northeastern regions of the United States. It is bordered to the south and west by Maryland, to the northeast by New Jersey, and to the north by Pennsylvania. The state takes its name from Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, an English nobleman and Virginia's first colonial governor.
Delaware is in the northeastern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula and is the second smallest, the sixth least populous, but the sixth most densely populated of the 50 United States. Delaware is divided into three counties, the lowest number of counties of any state. From north to south, the three counties are New Castle, Kent, and Sussex. While the southern two counties have historically been predominantly agricultural, New Castle County has been more industrialized.
Before its coastline was explored by Europeans in the 16th century, Delaware was inhabited by several groups of Native Americans, including the Lenape in the north and Nanticoke in the south. It was initially colonized by Dutch traders at Zwaanendael, near the present town of Lewes, in 1631. Delaware was one of the 13 colonies participating in the American Revolution. On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, thereby becoming known as The First State.
Delaware is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The Delaware Symphony Orchestra is the largest organization of professional performers in the state, and is more than seventy years old; the orchestra evolved out of the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. The Delaware Music Festival is a prominent music festival. Musical institutions include Opera Delaware, the Music School of Delaware, and the School of Contemporary Music.
Delaware is also home to the Firefly Music Festival and The Big Barrel Country Music Festival annual music festivals held at the Dover International Speedway.
The state song of Delaware is "Our Delaware", with words by George B. Hynson and Donn Devine and music by Will M. S. Brown.
Clifford Brown, also known as “Brownie,” was an American jazz trumpeter and composer from Wilmington. He died in a car accident in Pennsylvania in 1956 at the age of 25, leaving behind just four years’ worth of recordings.
The Sin City Band comes out of the Delaware Valley and has been playing a mix of original songs and classic American tunes for the last 40 years. The band has performed everywhere from the Grand Opera House in Wilmington to backyards and music festivals across the country.
Love Seed Mama Jump is a six-piece rock band from Dewey Beach that has released five CDs and sold more than 100,000 copies independently. Its music has been featured on MTV, ESPN, ABC and Microsoft’s X-Box Project Gotham Racing video game. Its 1994 album, “Drunk at the Stone Balloon,” is a reference to Main Street’s famous bar The Stone Balloon. Over the years, LSMJ has shared the stage with big-name acts like Dave Matthews, The Beach Boys, Beck and Matchbox Twenty.
Indie pop band Mean Lady is a duo centered around vocalist Katie Dill and multi-instrumentalist Sam Nobles, both born and raised in Newark. Formed in 2010, Mean Lady released its debut full-length album, “Love Now,” in 2013 and even took to the stage at last year’s Firefly Music Festival in Dover.
The Stone Balloon opened its doors on Main Street in 1972 and quickly became Delaware’s premier live music venue and a popular drinking spot for local Newarkers and university students. Known to regulars as “The Balloon,” the bar hosted big-name acts like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Allman Brothers, Dave Matthews Band and Metallica, as well as the state’s own George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers. The Stone Balloon was torn down in 2006 and replaced by Washington House Condominiums. However, the legendary bar lives on through the Stone Balloon Ale House, a restaurant on the first floor of The Washington House.
George Thorogood is a musician, singer and songwriter from Wilmington who released more than 20 albums and sold 15 million copies worldwide with this band, the Delaware Destroyers. The group quickly became a staple of 1980’s rock with original hits like “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone.” Thorogood and his band continue to tour and play music around the country.
The Spinto Band is an indie rock group out of Wilmington that originally formed in 1996 by high school students as a recording project. The band continues to release music on its own label, Spintonic Recordings.
This purple, striped and often mischievous feline is a nod to Wonderland Records, who’s mascot is the Cheshire Cat from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
This popular reggae singer, originally born in Jamaica, was a Delawarean for many years and has ties to the Wilmington and Newark area. It is believed that Bob Marley lived in Wilmington off and on from 1965 to 1977 and worked as a lab assistant at DuPont and an assembly-line worker at the Chrysler assembly plant in Newark. Marley’s main job was a night shift forklift operator in a Chrysler warehouse and the rumor is his 1976 song, “Night Shift,” was about his time at Chrysler. Marley died in Florida in 1981 after a long battle with melanoma.
Cab Calloway was a popular American jazz singer and bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Rochester, N.Y., he lived most of his life in the Big Apple until he moved to a retirement community in Hockessin, where he died in 1994 at the age of 86. The Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington was dedicated in his name. The album shown here, “Are You Hep to the Jive,” is a compilation that brings together 22 of Calloway’s tracks recorded between 1939 and 1947.
Jack of Diamonds made a stab at stardom during the late 1970s and early 80s, playing up and down the Atlantic coast. The band featured rhythm guitarist Dave Derr, bassist Andy King, drummer Ed Shockley and lead guitarist Dave Siebert and was a popular beach attraction for many years. The band released their album “Dodge City” in 1981.
Mad Sweet Pangs is a four-member folk and jam band from Newark. The band re-emerged as an indie rock and electronica trio called Badmobile last year and continue to tour as both bands around the state.
Newark-born Fiance is an experimental pop and shoegaze band that includes Andrew Fusca, Brian Bruce, Tyler Yoder, Jeff Marvel and Sam Nobles, who is also a member of Mean Lady. Fiance performs at local bars like Kelly’s Logan House in Trolley Square and Home Grown Cafe on Main Street, but also takes its music to the big stage at Firefly Music Festival.
“Live at the Grange” is a reference to The Harmony Grange, a small music venue in Wilmington that hosts local rock bands.
Bill Haley lived in nearby Chester Pennsylvania where most of his early 1950s recordings were made. Early in 1954 he signed with Decca records. His first hit record with them was “Rock Around the Clock. “ It was a record that almost didn’t get made. The Chester ferry ran aground and the Comets showed up late for their recording date in New York City. “Rock Around the Clock” was recorded in only two takes.
History was made when “Rock Around the Clock” was used as the theme for the movie Blackboard Jungle in 1955. Rock n’ Roll burst upon the American cultural scene like gangbusters. Haley provided some of his first explanations of this new kind of music to alarmed parents of teenagers live on Cousin Lee’s Show on local radio station WDEL. He said rock n’ roll was a combination of rhythm & blues and country music.
Almost immediately rock n’ roll fever caught on in the Wilmington area. Nationally, much of the new music was proliferated by a plethora of independent music labels, like Sun Records where Elvis got his start, Specialty which recorded Little Richard, and Chess which recorded Chuck Berry. According to local rock n’ roll record collector Michael Ace, in Wilmington at least two new labels were founded. One was ABS Records, which recorded a couple 45 rpm’s that are highly valued by collectors today. One of those was “Little Boy Bop” by Ralph Prescott, and “Miss Mary” by Bobby Lee. Another local independent label was Dandy, which a little later in the 50s recorded a couple of Buddy Holly cover tunes by Pat Patterson, who later went on to be a popular disc jockey on Wilmington radio station WAMS. Another local label, Ritchie, was founded in 1959 by Vinnie Rago. It’s earliest recording was with a band called Frankie and the C-Notes. Ritchie Records would have a number of close calls and near misses with national notoriety in the 1960s.
Only one recording artist from Delaware had a nationally charted hit in the 1950s, and that was Billy Graves with a tune called “The Shag (is Totally Cool).” It was a hit in early 1959 on the Monument label. Other than having once appeared on Jimmy Dean’s television show, Billy Graves’ whereabouts is unknown.
Wilmington teenage fans also contributed to rock n’ roll history. The new music’s first group dance, the Stroll, was invented in Wilmington by the kids who danced on local radio and television personality Mitch Thomas’s Saturday afternoon dance show on WVUE channel 12.
According to Lonnie T. Edwards, who was among the show’s original participants, the Stroll was actually invented during the Friday night dances called “the center” at Wilmington’s St. Matthew’s church at 7th & Walnut streets. “A bus would come pick us up at the Walnut Street Y,” Lonnie commented about Mitch’s Saturday afternoon show, “and take us to the television studios.”
The Stroll was first danced to Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk.” Later Chuck Willis’ “C. C. Rider” provided the music. After the kids on American Bandstand started doing the Stroll on national television, the Diamonds had a big hit with the song, “The Stroll,” and Dick Clark did the right thing by publicly crediting the kids on Mitch Thomas’ dance show in Wilmington for coming up with the dance.
Another local connection to American Bandstand was Bob Clayton, then a student at P.S. duPont High School. Every day, right after classes, he’d hop in his car and high tail it to Philadelphia to dance with regular Justine Carrelli. The couple were a big hit with national fans, got write-ups in national teen magazines, and even had a national fan club. But when Bob & Justine recorded their own record in the late 50s, “Drive In Movie,” they got kicked off Bandstand. Except for some spins on local radio, the record failed and both eventually left to lead separate lives.
By the 1960s local rock n’ roll enthusiasts were building a little momentum, thanks largely to success from Vinnie Rago’s Ritchie label and its companion, Universal. Ritchie mainly accommodated the doo wop side of the rock n’ roll sub-genre, while Universal recorded flat-out rock n’ roll or rockabilly, like the Recorders’ “Rock Around the Rosie”, which was written by Rago. Another Universal recordings was “Office Girl” by Ronnie Worth, whose day job was as an accountant in Wilmington. Andy & the Gigolos recorded a song for a new dance called “The Bug” on Universal. Rago’s greatest success was with a doo wop group called Teddy and the Continentals, who had a national hit –– on the Bubbling Under chart –– with “Ev’rybody Pony,” which hit #101 in September 1961, but the flip side “Tick Tick Tock” is the side most aficionados prefer.
Teddy Henry, the lead singer of the Continentals was a student at Conrad High School at the time, and recorded two more records with the Continentals, but by 1964 the Continentals broke up and he recorded a final solo record on Ritchie in 1965 as Teddy Continental. Like a number of other local recording artists to follow, his records are still valued by collectors and have garnered cult status in unlikely places.
Another near national success was a band called the Adapters with lead singer and songwriter Ed Sterling. In 1965 they recorded a tune on the Ritchie label, “Believe Me,” which charted high on the local WAMS list of hits. The Adapters achieved some national fame. According to local rock n’ roll historian Hangnail Phillips in the recent book, Histories of Newark, 1758 - 2008, the Adapters toured the east coast concert circuit with such known acts as Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Freddie & the Dreamers and the Soul Survivors. Also, according to the same Hangnail Phillips article, another local band flirted with national notoriety. The band was the Fabulous Pharaohs and they got good enough to make a national appearance on the Pat Boone Show.
The most tantalizing story to come out of the 60s may have been a near miss of epic proportions, or it could have actually happened as some contend. The story involves reggae great Bob Marley. In 1965 Bob Marley lived in Wilmington because his mother was working and living in Wilmington near 23rd and Tatnall streets. While Marley lived in Delaware he worked at Newark’s Chrysler Assembly Plant, which inspired his song “Night Shift.” The year 1965 was also the year that Bob Dylan got married.
Bob Dylan married a Wilmington woman whose name was Shirley Noznitsky when she lived here and later attended the University of Delaware. After her short stint at the University, Shirley ventured to New York City where she was a Playboy bunny then a photographers’ model. Her first husband was Hans Lowndes, who asked her to change her first name to Sara. After the Lowndes’ had a daughter, Sara met Bob Dylan, became the inspiration for his song “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” and the rest is history. The tantalizing part of the story is the possibility that in 1965, while in Wilmington meeting his new in-laws, Bob Dylan may have visited with Bob Marley, especially considering that Marley’s mother and Bob Dylan’s new in-laws lived in the same general section of Wilmington. It could have happened and in spite of the nagging persistence of the story, no one’s talking.
Rock artists from Delaware were boosted by the reinvigorating musical strides made within the genre in the late 1960s. This was largely reflected in the founding of the local band, Snakegrinder and the Shredded Field Mice. Formed in an almost ad hoc fashion in 1969 from a couple of smaller bands –– notably Primordial Slime and the Joint Chiefs –– the band didn’t get around to recording its first and only album until 1977. According to Steve Roberts, one of Snakegrinder’s founding members, even bootlegged copies of the album can fetch more than $200 from almost any corner of the world. A recent reviewer on Lysergia.com said the band’s sound “is rich and n-dimensional with an impressive group-mind synchronization going, creating a vintage Bay area vibe pretty much any time they zoom off into jams.” The band was the first to perform at Newark’s famous Stone Balloon. Their implicit message to local musicians to follow was that local artists were quite capable of producing music that could rival the best around.
A number of local recording artists who made a national name for themselves in the 1970s and beyond, actually learned their chops in the 1960s. One whose beginnings actually go back to the late 1950s was “Papa” Dee Allen. Papa Dee was originally a member of local jazz great Lem Winchester’s Modernists. After Winchester died prematurely in 1961, the Modernist tried to continue, but without their stellar front man they soon fell apart. Papa Dee continued for a while performing at Wilmington’s early 60s folk music clubs playing bongos and other assorted percussion instruments, but when that proved fruitless he gravitated to the west coast and joined the rock fusion band WAR. He remained with them and was the percussionist on all their recordings including the ones with ex-Animals singer Eric Burdon.
Another local artist to find national success is Johnny Neel. Neel cut his first records in Wilmington on Vinnie Rago’s Ritchie label in 1966 with his band Internal Calm. Two of his earliest recordings, “The Truth” and “Where Will We Go From Here?” were co-written with Rago. After his initial local success, Neel became a bit of a journeyman artist which took him to recording sessions with a number of top stars like John Mayall, Irma Thomas, Ann Peebles, Marie Osmond and the Oak Ridge Boys. From 1989 to 1990 he toured and cut an album with the Allman Brothers Band and co-wrote their 1990 hit “Good Clean Fun.” He also wrote the hit, “Rock Bottom” for Allman Brothers band member Dickie Betts.
A major local contribution to national rock history in the mid to late 1970s came from a number of youngsters who attended local high schools in the late 60s. One was Richard Meyers, who went to Sanford Academy, another was Tom Miller who attended McKean High School and a third was Billy Ficca who went to A.I. duPont. As Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, they and Billy Ficca took off to New York City and became pioneers in the New York punk rock music scene. Performing at CBGBs in lower Manhattan with bands like the Ramones, Blondie and artists like Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, their band Television helped forged a new genre of American rock n’ roll music. Other punk bands with which the three would perform were the Neon Boys and the Voidoids. Richard Hell also appeared in motion pictures, most notably Desperately Seeking Susan, which stared Madonna.
The biggest success story for a local rock musician is George Thorogood. Thorogood attended Brandywine High School and began his career locally doing gigs at local night spots. For a while, in the mid 1970s he performed at a regular New Year’s Eve bash at Newark’s Deer Park Tavern. In 1978 he signed with Rounder Records, which produced his first hit album, Move It On Over in 1978, and in late 1979 MCA Records released an album of songs Thorogood recorded in 1974 entitled Better Than The Rest. In 1982 he recorded Bad To The Bone on EMI America vinyl. Super Stardom was next!
By the mid 1970s Snakegrinder spawned a couple of spin-offs. One of the new bands was Amazing Space. Aiming to explore the reggae sound, the band was staffed by George Wolkind, Snakegrinder’s lead singer, along with John DiGiovanni, the band’s drummer, and new mates John Southard on piano and Dan Toomey on bass. At the time of Amazing Space’s formation, Bob and Rita Marley were avoiding a dangerous political situation in Jamaica and living in Wilmington. George Wolkind, who knew the Marleys, asked Rita to join Amazing Space for one of their gigs. Even though Rita agreed to join the band for that single engagement, Bob vetoed the idea, which created an awkward position for him with George. “I was selling him all his pot,” George confessed.
Another Snakegrinder spin-off was Dick Uranus, which went off into a more arty and punkish direction. Made up of Snakegrinder bassist Steve Roberts, keyboard player Dave Bennett, the band included newcomers Dana Smith, George Christie, Joe Pinzarone and drummer Jim Ficca, whose brother Billy played drums for Television. Dick Uranus’ most successful tune was “Vice Squad Dick,” which in 1994 was covered by J. G. Thirlwell. Thirlwell is a post punk music producer, whose hardcore 1984 album Hole is a post punk masterpiece. Recording under the name “Foetus,” Thirlwell did not only record “Vice Squad Dick” for his 1994 album of the same name, but the tune, “Little Johnny Jewel,” penned by Tom Verlaine and previously recorded by Television.
Most recently, Tom Verlaine took on a good chunk of the music production for the recent Bob Dylan “bio-pic” motion picture, I’m Not There.
Delaware rockers continue to probe the soft underbelly of our national rock n’ roll paradigm. In spite of the close calls, near misses and a few genuine success stories the beat does goes on!
The story of recordings by early Wilmington rock & rollers is sketchy, but some tantalizing bits of information have surfaced, particularly with regards to local record producers. Currently we know nothing about ABS Records, but Dandy was owned, reportedly along with an uncle, by Andy Ercole of Andy & the Gigolos.
We've already learned some things about Vinnie Rago. He began his involvement in producing and recording local rock & roll artists in the late 1950s on the Universal label, but found greater success with the Ritchie label. Beginning in the early 1960s, Rago produced records by Teddy & the Continentals, the Adapters, and various incarnations of groups led by Johnny Neel. Another successful group to find their way onto the Ritchie label was the Enfields. Chiefly from northern Wilmington, the Enfields had several hits on Wilmington radio station WAMS' Top 30, as had Teddy & the Continentals, the Adapters and several other local rock & roll acts.
Two other local record producers in Wilmington were Effers Bethea and James Chavis. Bethea's greatest success was the Dynamic Concepts, which was a combination of two previous local groups; the instrumental group, The Dynamics, with the vocal group, The Concepts. Their biggest hit was "The Funky Chicken." Bethea also produced a local label called Hip City. One of the groups that recorded on Hip City was the Overtones with their tune "The Gleam in Your Eye."
Into the 1970s: Two Major Successes from the Wilmington Vicinity
Two of the 1970s most successful rock artists were George Thorogood and Television. The latter took part in that first wave of American punk rock acts that initially performed at CBGBs in New York City.