Every Sunday night without fail there is a stadium full of musical magic, joy and community packed into a beach side bar and grill in Florida. The Daiquiri Shak in Madeira Beach is home to the Legendary Mad Beach Mafia Open Mic: an amazing, all inclusive, all ages jam hosted by a supergroup of supportive career rockers and where…“All are welcome, children, all are welcome”, my voice rings out through the club every Sunday night (as a nod to Poltergeist, one of my favourite movies). “All of my material comes from the Cinema”…I say with regularity. Today I interviewed the great Jimmy DeLisi of the band Julliet to find out how it all started.
The Mad Beach Mafia is Jimmy DeLisi of Juliett and Decades Rewind (lead guitar), John Spinnelli (Drums), Leo Binetti of Decades Rewind (Bass guitar) and Me, Twinkle of Rock Soul Radio (lead singer and show host). Sometimes the incredible Jerry Outlaw (Bogus Pomp,Genitorturers) covers for Jimmy. Recently Tommy Zvoncheck has joined us on keyboards, he has toured and recorded with several national acts. All made loud and proud by our soundman and sometimes keyboardist, Glenn Laubaugh.
“DAQ SHAK!!” I yell in my best “Let’s get ready to rumble” voice. “You are at the Daiquiri Shak in Madeira beach and, if you just woke up, you are among friends. This is a Safe Place.” I hold my hands in a heart shape. “If you would like to jam, please put your name on the list over there. You can play our guitar, bass, drums, keys, sing. Do your own songs, covers, whatever. Bring your band, or play with ours. We love pros and amateurs alike and so do these guys, right?” The audience cheers, then the great and powerful Jimmy DeLisi (literally one of the greatest guitarists in the world) starts some rock anthem like Rock Steady by Bad Company, No Matter What by BadFinger, David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel or he just soulfully kicks into Chain of Fools. Then we’re off like teenagers who have access to their uncles P.A., playing joyfully the music that formed us. We do a set and then start the night of jammers: wonderful, talented musicians of all ages and backgrounds who come to sit in with the band.
The Mad Beach Mafia is the brain child of Jimmy DeLisi and Johnny Middleton (Savatage bassist and cofounder of Tran-Siberian Orchestra) who started this epic open mic years ago that has now turned into a profound variety show that brings together people from all walks of life every Sunday to cheer each other on. We call it our Church. Infused with comic undertones and amazing performances, the show has been voted Best Jam in the Universe multiple years in a row and has become a necessary stopover for touring musicians who hear about it on the road and young players just starting out alike. Why is this jam so special you ask? Well, if I could venture a theory, it’s because of the incredible band of veteran rockers, the regular musicians ready to rock you, like Ozzy (Harry Von Twistern), who is there with us every week singing Breaking the Law, or Highway Star, Perfect Strangers or some great Ozzy song. The badass sound system, the superb sound man Glenn Laubaugh (who also gets my jokes), the photographer David Ruggeri who donates his time to capture the action and then posts it for everyone, gratis. The totally engaged audience, the families who support the young ones, the staff, the owner Jeremy Runo who lets it all happen and the fact that it’s in a beach side town in Florida. The joy that infuses this place on Sundays is legendary and the talent comes in all sizes. There are brilliant players and singers and those who just started, some who used to play but now are venturing out again, new bands who want exposure, some who for the first time will hear their voice through a microphone, and some who are just truly magnificent and just want to be a part of what is a magical, musical scene. But, no matter the level of talent or shyness, they will find love and an attentive audience, and a badass backup band in this room. Plus, it all feels like one big family reunion every Sunday, if your family are a bunch of smartasses! We have a saying, “You have to be smart to be a smartass”. Also, the food’s great!
Prince’s drummer, the late John Blackwell, would come rock with us whenever they were not touring and also Rick Brothers, drummer for Gretchen Wilson. Sherman Noir, German superstar, Jason Wooten, lead from Broadway smash Hair and Jekyll and Hyde who was also in Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Gary Schutt who was courted by Boston and played for Jeff Scott Soto (Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen, TSO, Sons of Apollo) and Twitch (Scott Anderson) finishes our nights with A Little Help From My Friends, where we all are singing together. And, I mean, it’s epic! Tears, real ones, from us and every one there. Meanwhile, it’s not just about the professionals, there are kids who are just beginning, starting their own bands and coming to flesh out their new originals with us. The families who support these young ones by bringing them without fail have my eternal gratitude. “Thank you for supporting your artistic children”, I say, and “My grandfather had a saying, ‘Art is not important, it’s the Most important.'” I live by that rule, and my mother raised me with that idea, that my music was not something to be discouraged. Quite the contrary, something wonderful to be valued and developed.
Every Sunday is different, and always wonderful. Some nights Glen Laubaugh, the soundman, will come up and play piano and we’ll all sing Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John. I start singing by myself but, then I hear Jimmy DeLisi, and Leo and Tony singing backup and we are all 12 again. We were all raised by Rock and when we play these songs, we are moved. And we’re not alone. There is a club full of people who love to Rock and they know where to go every Sunday night. I am eternally grateful for the special night we are gifted with every Sunday and the regulars, the band, the staff and the travelers who make it that way. I would list everyone but, you know who you are.
The following is my interview with Jimmy DeLisi.
TY So, start at the beginning of this thing, Jimmy.
JD Ok. Johnny Middleton came back around from TSO (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and he was putting this thing together just to have something to do when he was off tour. We formed and reformed the band and knew that what we wanted to do was make sure we did music that was difficult. Not just difficult but, extremely popular. Not just popular but, make sure we did it accurately, not thrown together. Let’s show off, let’s be intricate. When we were doing that I thought, “It would be kind of cool to talk to Jeremy, owner of the Daiquiri Shak” and I told him, “look, I’m gonna bring you a supergroup.” He says, “Alright, what are we gonna do?”
We’re gonna have a badass sit-in night, a who’s who, “I’m gonna go sit in with the band” night. And, at that time, when we first started, we wanted people to come up and see bonafide rock stars and other stars on that stage but, we also wanted people to understand that they can get up and play with them, that when we’re on that stage in particular we are all just musicians. We’re equal, you know? It doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing for a freaking year, as long as you’re not drunk, stupid, or a moron and rude get up there, do your best and we’ll clap for you anyway. That was one of my original sayings, “We’re gonna clap for you anyway” you know? Seriously, it was. We never put it on a t-shirt but, we’re sitting there thinking that should be the mentality because they need encouragement. And we wanted young people to feel welcome, which is where John comes in. John Spinelli, our drummer from Seminole Music, started bringing in alot of students. And young people were already coming.
For instance, a woman Mikalah brought in her daughters to all sing together and, when that word got out, it started to get really cool. It started to prove our concept, that we (the jammers) aspire to be these people one day, we want to be able to work and make a living doing our music one day. But, we have a hard time telling our parents, “I want a guitar for xmas.” They ask “Why?” “Well, I wanna be a Rock Star.” “Oh brother, really? Look, I’ll get you a spaceship, you’re gonna be an astronaut” or, “I’ll get you a microscope, you’re going to be a scientist.” “No, I want a guitar.” “We can never give you a guitar and have you be anything though!” Well, we wanted to respond “bullshit” to that saying because there’s folks up there making a damn good living at it, if you can go up there and do it honestly.
Then we got to thinking, how about if we do some kind of mentorship program where people who wanted to know about music, who wanted to know how to play guitar in a band, how it’s supposed to be, how it works, what do I bring to rehearsal? Etc..We wanted to mentor people. Over the years we’ve changed some members, and the band has progressively gotten into where it’s got the the exact right members now because of that mentoring thing, because now we’ve got you, right? And with you kind of leading the charge on that stuff, it was the last thing that the idea needed. And actually, ironically, the last thing was probably the most critical thing. The idea needed the person that can sew it all together, you know? And that’s where you came in.
TY Thanks Jimmy.
JD Well, you’re welcome, I’m just telling the truth. I’m pretending I’m not on the phone with you. So once that person got involved, it definitely morphed into what is now, what I think the best, not only jam session, but Mentorship / I Wanna Be A Rock Star program on the Planet. We’ve got some serious bona fide rockstars up there and these people look up to us (and you) and aspire to be like us (and you) making a living doing music. So, that’s basically where it started and it’s where we’re at. And we also used this for the longest time to put musicians together. When it first started I had a notebook with all the guys I know who play in bands. So, for instance, I’ve got a bass player, I’ve got a guitar player and I used to try to hook these people up. And it was kind of a cool tool to put bands together. “Hey, Jimmy, do you know a guitar player?” “Yeah, here’s three of them that I would work with and two I wouldn’t.” And then bass, keyboard player, etc.
TY Now it just kind of happens organically, like that cat Mick. Great player, great voice, looking for work, found a band by jamming with us. Feels good. Like Rick Brothers came down from Nashville, and he was looking for a project…
JD Yes, and now Rick Brothers is playing with Brian Howe’s version of Bad Company,
TY I love what you said before, everyone we’re up there with, we’re all just musicians. Even though we’ve all had our successes it’s just as magical, and more so. How many times have players come up to you and said, “Man, I’d forgotten how fun it was just to play.”? You know, they forget, because the pressure is always there to “Make it”, go make it, or go do this kind of music, or be on tour. And pretty soon you stop remembering the joy. The sheer joy of why you started playing to begin with. All of a sudden we’re all 12 years old again and it’s F’ing Beautiful. ‘Cause that’s why we started playing, that feeling.
JD And, trust me, that’s what’s kept this going for so long. That and the kindness of Jeremy Runo and his staff, ok you gotta mention them, cause he’s a believer. He is also a guy that likes to play guitar and, he’s not an aspiring musician but, he loves music. You know there’s a difference. There’s people and, here’s the cool thing about this, you might want to think about this; when you’re out there at that Daq Shak, whether you came here to see us, whether you came here to play, I believe everybody has a song. Now we may not play it, we might get close. But, when you’re sitting in the audience, all of a sudden you’re experiencing something. You’re not just going to see one band, one artist, one person, one song, you know? You’re going to see the evolution of probably, maybe 2,3,5,10 bands, 10 solo careers, you have no idea what you’re looking at. I mean, Nasuree’s gonna be on America’s Got Talent, and this is where she started.
(Footnote: the talented Nasuree Van Gelder is our youngest jammer at 11 years old and she’s been coming for 2 years with her father Jules. Nasuree plays solo gigs every week and her father saves the money in a college fund).
And, another thing, it’s a strong point we have to mention; people come out of retirement and get back into playing. I’ve got that one tall guy, great guitar player, he kept wanting to get up there but wouldn’t. He kept coming back in week after week coming back, next thing I know he brought a guitar with him. It might sound strange but, that’s one of the proudest moments of my career. I got that guy who is my age to come out of retirement and play the guitar again. Now he’s actively seeking a band, and maybe not a musical career, but Music is the universal language. And if you don’t know, I just told you. Be happy.
TY Damn right, and the science is behind it, it actually IS the language of the universe. I feel it every time we play, and I think it’s so wonderful to share that with everybody. I get people who come up to me every week who don’t know how to express what they’re feeling but, they’re so glad to be feeling it. Thanks JImmy, anything you’d like to add?
JD “I believe that everybody has a song”, says Jimmy. “And I can’t wait to learn yours.”
Photos from Mad Beach Mafia FB page.