Almost as often as his last name is mispronounced, Joe Delia (Da-lee-ah), leader of the band Joe Delia and Thieves, is mistaken for Mick Jagger by fans who follow him around the East End trying to take his picture. The resemblance is uncanny, from facial features to body type, and his overall cool, rock-star vibe. Those who have experienced firsthand his style and talent, those of a true rock ’n’ roll artist, understand the case of mistaken identity completely.
But Mr. Delia does not try to be anyone but himself. His music career is one of celebrity caliber in its own right, having composed scores for over 30 feature films, and with two gold and one platinum record under his belt . . . “so far,” added P.J. Delia, his wife of 15 years, who is his publicist, booking manager, and background singer. Mr. Delia, who sings and plays piano/organ and bass with his new band, does as bang-up a job on a classic rock ’n’ roll cover as on his original songs, delivering it all with a charisma that seems to mesmerize many in his audiences.
Music always was, and always will be, the sole career for Mr. Delia. He says so in his song “Fire in My Belly”: “I’m gonna rock and roll to the day I die.”
Raised in the town of Pearl River in Rockland County, one of 14 children, he learned to play piano as a child. The piano teacher was sometimes paid with eggs from the family’s chickens, he said.
He and his wife, and their son, Jake, 14, spend half their time in Rockland County, and he still records music there.
In the 1960s, when he was about 12, Mr. Delia co-wrote and sang for the Muppets’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He played with some of his brothers in the fuzzy green rock band, and shortly thereafter, the boys started a band of their own, the Bruthers, that was signed to RCA Records. The boys’ manager, Sid Bernstein, also promoted the Beatles’ New York City concerts at that time. While Mr. Delia’s music-making brothers moved on to other careers, he began to enjoy composing success with jingles for major advertising campaigns.
Making his way to the New York studio scene, he played and wrote for many well-known artists. He began frequenting Montauk in the 1970s and often shared places with Abel Ferrara, a film director. Eventually, he built a house with his second wife, Sylvia Muller, now a co-owner of the Mill House Inn in East Hampton.
Mr. Delia also co-produced and wrote music with the singer David Johansen, which resulted in an international tour, live television via “The Buster Poindexter Show,” two albums, and a hit song, “Hot Hot Hot.”
In addition to composing for film, television shows, and documentaries, Mr. Delia also formed a band, Killer Joe, in the early 1990s with Max Weinberg, the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The collaboration resulted in a critically acclaimed album, “Scene of the Crime.”
He met his current wife in Montauk. “We fell in love one summer when we ran into each other at the Memory Motel,” she recalled. She said she was always surrounding herself with music. “Paul Sydney used to put me on the air on WLNG back in the ’70s and we’d talk about the Beatles and such.” She was a radio disc jockey on WSBH and WHFM back in the ’80s, and later had a career on Wall Street, working in the World Trade Center. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, she spent months helping grieving families from all over the world get death certificates for their missing loved ones.
About a year and a half ago, when the economy brought a slowdown in the film business, Mr. Delia said he began to feel like he needed a “brand-new start,” something he sings about in a new song, “Fire in My Belly.” Joe Delia and Thieves was the result, with a musical style influenced by early Rolling Stones, as well as Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and Mr. Delia’s old friend Bruce Springsteen, with whom he occasionally shares the stage.
Many talented musicians were auditioned to be Thieves, with tryouts taking place while performing at mostly small, upstate gigs. Those that made the grade, and fulfilled Mr. Delia’s time and travel requirements, were Steve (Muddy) Roues on harmonica and upright bass, Billy Roues and Klyph Black on guitar, and James Benard on drums, with his wife onstage as a background singer and managing behind the scenes.
The band often takes advantage of the abundance of local talent on the East End, by inviting “guest Thieves” on the stage, including Randolph Hudson III, Brendan Connolly, andMick Hargreaves, with whom Mr. Delia has recently written a song.
Joe Delia and Thieves have already filled venues around New York and in New Jersey, and are planning a regional tour. The band will play with Max Weinberg on Jan. 20 at the Stone Pony, a favorite Springsteen venue, and will appear in March at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. The band recently celebrated the release there of its debut CD, “Smoke and Mirrors,” which was co-produced and mixed by Cynthia Daniels at her MonkMusic Studios in East Hampton. She joins the band with background vocals on some of the tracks, as does Larry Alexander, another Grammy winner.
“Smoke and Mirrors” also includes a collaboration with Philip Cody, who wrote Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain.” “Getting Over Jane” is the darkest song on the album, a fact masked by its danceability and clever lyrics, such as “I buried her remains in the muddy ruts of Memory Lane.”
The track “Under the Montauk Moon” was co-written with Ms. Delia, and based on her stories of growing up on the South Fork, “aimless and immortal by the sea.” Mr. Delia is joined in vocals on the song, appropriately, by Nancy Atlas, another local singer-songwriter with a big following.
The CD also includes songs written by the Roues Brothers, and one “swinging single” sung by Steven Roues, titled “Good Thing.” Other treats include cameos by Tony Garnier, Bob Dylan’s bassist, and Max Weinberg.
Mr. Delia has been teaching himself video editing, and is now working on local footage filmed by his son, Jake, and Frank Vespe for a new video for “Under the Montauk Moon.”
There’s little Mr. Delia doesn’t love about the music world, but his favorite part, he said, is when he’s onstage performing songs like “Under the Montauk Moon,” with the crowd singing along. “That’s an amazing feeling.”