By Michael Heller
Montauk resident Joe Delia–known for his band, Joe Delia and Thieves – has been a musician for most his life, having studied and performed music ever since he was 12. He was one of 12 children in an Italian family in Rockland County, New York, and at age 15 he and his siblings gained notoriety as they hit the charts in the mid-1960s with a family act called The Brothers.
“We were signed to RCA records,” he says, “Sid Bernstein was my manager when I was 15 years old, so I had a lot going on professionally as a child.” Not long after, because of his proximity to New York City, he met studio musicians in Rockland County who helped him get his foot in the door in the so-called “closed shop” of the New York City clique of studio musicians.
MH: So how did all of this lead you out to the East End?
JD: While I was working in the city, I studied arrangement and film scoring with Don Sebeski, who was just a great orchestrator and great educator, and that was really a good part of my training professionally. Sebeski was a real key to my professional work; I worked as an arranger and a pianist in studios. Then I met director Abel Ferrera [“King of New York,” “Bad Lieutenant”] in the late ’70s, early ’80s and scored films for him for 20 years, and that’s what really got me into the business.
In ’92 Abel was out here for a week or two, staying in Hither Hills. I came out and said, “I just want to live here,” and a year or two later bought the property and built a house. I had the house for a few years, then met PJ [his wife], ended up getting married and moving upstate. Sold the house here, and life took on another path. It’s been almost 20 years now; we had a son, Jake, and it became a whole new thing.
After not having the house in Hither Hills, the headquarters became the house in Rockland County, and as PJ and I were getting on with our lives we would come out and rent and spend basically a week or two. But we were out a lot, and maybe five years ago this rental came up for us, and so we said, “We’ve got to do it.” So we’re basically in and out of town commuting to Montauk.
MH: So what keeps you here, and why do you keep coming back, even though it might be considered by some to be a detriment to your career?
JD: It’s a great question. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve had a long career that was New York City and L.A.—mostly New York City—but was really an international career; all of the films I’ve made have played all over the world and I’ve made records, etc. I’ve had a mainstream career in that sense, so that this is another chapter. It’s not a matter of trying to break into the mainstream, obviously, it’s not about coming out here and getting a major record deal and advancing my career in that sense. I think it’s … well, not a “postscript” to my career, but another chapter.
MH: How would you describe that chapter?
JD: It’s wonderful. I would characterize it as doing something that I haven’t done a lot of for 20 or 25 years, which is writing songs and performing them. I’ve been writing themes and background scenes for years and years in the studio. I’ve done some interesting touring over that period—I was with David Johansson and Buster Poindexter for five or six years, and in between I toured with Dave Edmunds—I toured the United States and Japan with them, and so that was great—So I’ve been around, but it’s been in and out of my basic career as a musician writing themes and film music. So I characterize it as really something new; writing songs and performing them. It’s thrilling, and it keeps me coming back. And I think the fact that there’s been a certain amount of acceptance and that people seem to like what we’re doing and that there are songs that people know is really wonderful too. To play, and have people out there who know the songs is really cool.
MH: So what keeps you going? What drives you now, to keep writing and doing this?
JD: It’s that feeling of when it does connect. I’m a terrible golfer, but I think the metaphor is the same: you can be a terrible golfer, but if you hit one good one, you get out on the golf course the next day. And I think that it’s a little bit the same with doing this: If you have a really good show and get that input back that you get from the audience. It’s really about the audience; if there’s an audience, it will really get me there. And Montauk’s a great audience. There’s really a nice, vibrant music community out here, a lot of great musicians and wonderful people.