Mike Daly always knew he was merely a star orbiting in her galaxy. He was a blue-collar guy with a creative flair who somehow caught the attention of Marilyn Deluca in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
The two connected after she came to a rehearsal of one of Mike’s early guitar-player gigs in Kelly’s Band. That began a mutual infatuation, two teens who knew they wanted a journey far beyond the Philadelphia suburbs. But it wasn’t until their dreaming landed them in the Virgin Islands that Mike bore witness to the voice that changed his life.
“It’s 1976, we’re off the map, built a house in the rain forest, I’m working at the post office down there, she’s nursing Jevon and Gav and she starts singing Fleetwood Mac and it just stops me in my tracks,” he said. “It’s just absolutely stunning. I’d never heard her sing before and I knew I always wanted to hear her sing from that moment on.”
Mike had no formal training but had a passion for bass guitar and enough friends to connect him to local bar owners looking for musical acts.
“(Our daughter) Kelci was born in 1977 and that next year, we formed a band named Groundsea,” he said. “We played Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, some blues. And Marilyn – she was a dynamo off the stage, but behind a mic, it was just magical from Day One. The minute people heard her, the place was on fire with energy and applause and people crowding in off the street.”
Groundsea became the celebrated rock band in St. Thomas, packing bars like Larry’s Hideaway and Fat City on Back Street, a musical hot spot equally famous for even locals getting routinely mugged in the daylight.
Longing to be closer to family, the family of five moved back to Bryn Mawr. There, they formed Nell and the Do-Rights and started to mix a little harder edge into the repertoire, adding some Rolling Stones into the play list.
“We’re just owning these college bars. She was just so dynamic, so charismatic. She mesmerized you with the short skirt and the voice,” Mike said.
Son Jevon remembers the first time he saw his Mom on stage rehearsing before a show.
“I knew we were a different kind of family, but man, to see her, to see the physical swagger. Even in rehearsal, she just dominated the room,” Jevon said.
Longing for a change of scenery and warmer temperatures, the Dalys were on the move again in the early ’80s, this time to Hilton Head Island. With this move, their reputation preceded them a bit.
“We had folks speaking up for us to get in doors early on, but again, when Marilyn started singing, it was magic,” Mike said.
This incarnation was known as Holly Hilton and the Rockets. Marilyn would sport a tennis skirt and all whites, giving off an air of innocence that was shattered the minute she began gyrating on stage.
The scene could get raucous and alcohol-fueled at places like Amadeus above New York City Pizza or the White Parrot at the old Holiday Inn, but Mike said his better half almost enjoyed that chaos.
“Nobody could shake her. She was intimidating and inviting all at once. People knew it was her room and not to mess with her,” he said.
Mike picked up keyboard player Tommy Beaumont by stealing him from a band that played regularly atop the Hilton Head Inn. They added drummer Dave Ennis, a former high school and Air Force marching band player and HVAC guy on the island that Mike called the best in-the-pocket session drummer he’d ever seen.
“Dave passed away recently. We just loved him and he added so much to the vibe,” Mike said.
“Holly Hilton” and company played at the Shelter Cove open-air stage in 1985, playing pop hits, adding in Blondie and The Police to their classic formula that packed the Fourth of July show. They were the last band to play Shelter Cove before Shannon Tanner started a three-decade run with a “bit tamer show,” Mike said with a smile.
The band evolved into The Techniques, a late-’80s mix that garnered groupies like long-time island music scene regular Sammy Long – just one of many that say Marilyn was one of the most dynamic performers to ever play these parts.
“We didn’t do original songs, we took extreme pride in being the best bar band out there,” Mike said. “Her phrasing, her cadence, she made every familiar song her own in a different way every night.”
The couple rocked the island consistently until one beach show in 1988, where after another raucous crowd got the best show she had in her, Marilyn turned to Mike and said, “This is it. I’ve had it.”
Jevon said growing up in that glow was “so many things.”
“She’d drive us to school and tell us, ‘You know we’re the coolest family in this school, the hippest by far, right?’ She gave us confidence we didn’t know was there. But there was also hearing your friends say, ‘Your mom is so cool. I just jammed with her backstage.’ That’s a big shadow, but my mom, she had no other gear except cool. She loved Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Lenny Kravitz. I remember her singing songs from ‘Mama Said’ and thinking, ‘How does she know all the words to every song already?”
The Dalys played a handful of shows as a family, but it was more a novelty than a next chapter – Mike and Jevon estimate the family played 10 shows total together.
Jevon and Gavan played in the high school band, and became the trained musicians in the family. By their early 20s, they were the house band at Hinchey’s, playing with Ben Vaught as The Daly Planet in the mid ’90s “thinking we were pretty damn cool.”
And then Mom would come in after working a restaurant shift.
“And we’re like, ‘Oh, shoot (edited for family publication). We thought we were owning the joint and then she’d say, ‘Let me play one with you.’ And she would literally own the place,” Jevon said. “She hadn’t played a gig in months, maybe years and it was always the same, slayed it. And then we’d have to follow that and realize we weren’t the kings we thought we were.”
Jevon remembers a ’90s road trip, their only return to Bryn Mawr, just after he and Gav had cut a CD with Jeff Franklin.
“I put it in and my mom is just laughing. We were a different thing – we were skateboarder dudes, punk rock and original lyrics and funkiness,” he said. “We think we’re bad asses and she smiles and says, ‘These songs are so out in left field, how do you guys come up with this stuff?’”
Just three years later, Marilyn Daly died from brain cancer in 1999 at the age of 47.
“It was hard. We all go through those phases of rebellion and childishness with our parents. I had just hit that zone where I had become her friend,” Jevon said.
The legacy lives on. The sound has evolved. Jevon has a very distinct yet indefinable lane, Gav has become a renowned tattoo artist, and father and sons have become one of the more beloved bands of the day with Lowcountry Boil playing Southern bluegrass.
Jevon went from “faking it on raw talent” to a more seasoned professional playing with Mike Kavanaugh in JoJo Squirrel and the Home Pickles, as well as a 20-year-run in the heavy metal rockers Silicon Sister.
“People would especially say to me, ‘Oh if she could have seen you play with Silicon.’ I wish she’d seen me take what she instilled in me and just take off to Mars with it,” he said.
Jevon wishes his daughters, shy but budding musicians themselves, had the presence and the daily dose of confidence from their grandmother, who would be 71 this year.
There was no YouTube back then and few recordings remain. Gavan has a recording of a classic Old Post Office performance that the family plans to remaster and share with the public.
“People, you need to hear this woman. The voice, it could haunt us if we let it because we miss her so much,” Jevon said. “But it just brings her back, gives me a shot of confidence knowing where I came from.”
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. firstname.lastname@example.org.