Brought to you by a 60s D.J. and Craigslist, Johnny Delaware has moved onto the forefront of the local music scene in Charleston within the past month. He gave a last-minute performance at Royal American, opened for SUSTO at Redux, is on the bill with Bombadil at the Music Hall and is finishing off his year at 1770 Records’ Boat Show. Hailing from the Black Hills of South Dakota, Delaware moved to Charleston nearly two years ago and released his album late last year. Although he seems like an overnight success, Delaware has actually been pursuing his passion for years – he just needed to find the right place to call home.
Delaware admits that he is and always has been a late bloomer. Preoccupied with competitive running in his youth, he didn’t realize his love for music until he was a sophomore at Black Hills University. He had never received any vocal training and despite a few guitar lessons when he was fourteen, he had little experience playing an instrument. Determined, or maybe just a little naïve, he didn’t let that stop him and Delaware dropped out of college that semester. Abandoning the traditional route, his life quickly became a whirlwind afterward his decision. He moved from Nashville to Albuquerque, back to S. Dakota then to Austin all within five years. It goes without saying, finding a new place to call home was difficult but in 2012, he met Luk Mitchel through Craigslist.
The ad was essentially Johnny reaching out to local musicians in Austin in hopes someone would just be willing to jam with him. Luk responded and the two hit it off, performing as a pseudo-country duo for a while. A Charleston local, Luk was the one who suggested Johnny take the solo material he had been working on to Wolfgang Zimmerman, a notable producer in the area. Johnny took Luk up on the suggestion. Within a year, the album was finished and instead of leaving for a new city, Johnny had found a new home – at least for now.
The debut Secret Wave encompasses all of his experiences, tracing his stories from the Midwest to the Southeast and all the transitional periods in between. As stated by my best friend and biggest Delaware fan I know, “he just goes so within his experience that it becomes universal in its honesty, both to himself, his emotions and the listener.” That universality was stated by Johnny to be one of the intentions behind writing his music; an attempt to inspire people to follow their dreams. He stated that it really is a service for other people, and especially his father who had always wanted to be a professional baseball player but couldn’t. In pursuing his dreams, Johnny hopes to be like a second chance for him. “Sweet” is a perfect example of that; written in a trailer in S. Dakota during a low-spirited time, it’s a warning to be careful with your dreams and an expression of feeling lost.
Don’t let the sentimental pieces get you down though; Johnny Delaware is generally upbeat and quirky. For instance, nicknames he coined, like ‘ciggy’ for cigarettes, are peppered throughout the album and he plays with words to add in a pun here and there. Delaware noted that he usually writes the lyrics first then hears the musical elements, and that’s evident when you pay close attention. Despite his own unique dictionary, he didn’t craft the moniker ‘Johnny Delaware.’ The aforementioned D.J. from the 1960s was also a professor at Johnny’s college, and went by his own stage-worthy name: Dave Diamond. Sipping cocktails at an old steakhouse when Johnny had returned from Albuquerque and was feeling lost; Dave tossed the name out and it stuck.
Delaware’s light-hearted nature also comes out when he’s performing live. For a while, he was performing primarily acoustic solo sets, which did have a tendency to embody the somber nature of the album. Now with a full band behind him, he’s electric. And the full band is the talented camaraderie of people who’ve influenced Johnny’s life. Luk brings his amazing talent on the drums, Kevin Early on the bass and Lucia Garcia, Delaware’s girlfriend, is the gorgeous gypsy behind the keyboard. The effect of the indie folk blues is oddly uplifting; hence, why I emphasize going to at least one of their upcoming shows. After all, you never know when Delaware is going to relocate again.
Originally published on SceneSC.