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Brad Delp
Brad Delp.

Remembering Brad Delp

A sign on the front of Johnny D's on Friday declared, "Brad, we miss you.'' Inside, someone had put flowers on the empty stage. Delp's group, Beatle Juice, his side project to his more famous singing role in the mega-platinum band Boston, had canceled that night because Delp was found dead in his New Hampshire home during the afternoon of still-unexplained causes.

Club management still opened the doors of the Somerville club to allow fans to commune their loss. "The phones were ringing non-stop with people asking, 'Is it really true? Is Brad gone?' said general manager Sean Sturgess.

Songs of the Beatles and of the band Boston were played on the sound system. Close to a hundred fans gathered at this ground zero of Delp's mourning. Some cried, some huddled in corners, and all appeared in deep shock. Beatle Juice had sold out Johnny D's more than 50 times in recent years. They were the only local act to regularly perform two nights a month there when Boston wasn't on tour -- and the principal draw was Brad, who sang John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison songs with equal aplomb and never turned away an autograph-seeker afterward.

"Brad always signed everything that people brought him,'' said Sturgess. "Some bands just draw 45 people and you can't get them to stay around to greet their fans. Brad often stayed until the end of the night. We'd even have to tell him to leave sometimes because it was getting late.''

When you hear that Brad Delp was the nicest guy in the Boston rock scene, it's all true. I had known him since the group first played the Boston Garden in 1977, then caught their shows at the Garden in 1978 and a couple of their record-setting nine dates at the Worcester Centrum in 1987, as well as an AIDS benefit they did at the Garden in 1989, a Globe Santa benefit at the House of Blues in 1994, and a Great Woods show the following year.

But my favorite gig was when Boston headlined over Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Poison, and Farrenheit at the Texxas Jam in Dallas in 1987. Delp and his definitive, high-pitched arena-rock voice mesmerized a crowd of 82,000 people in soaring, 96-degree heat. Afterward, Delp, a teetotaler, entered the band's dressing room and decreed in celebration, "Break out the apple juice!''

He never had an enemy. Other superstar local acts endured tensions – Aerosmith had its drug problems, the J. Geils Band had a rift between singer Peter Wolf and other members, and the Cars had internal discord. The group Boston had some problems (notably between founder Tom Scholz and certain original members), but Brad was never branded a troublemaker.

He was a man of few words, but always endeared himself to audiences. At the Garden in 1977 (back when scalpers got a then-unheard-of $15 for tickets), Delp said, "We're going to party tonight! And we were just up in Montreal and we stuck up for the Bruins!''

Brad could sing anything. "Back when I started, I'd go from singing a Righteous Brothers song to the Beatles, the Hollies, and Sam & Dave,'' he once said. And no one could deny his talent. As Boston's Scholz said, "He had amazing breath control. He could sing halfway through the verse and chorus in one breath. Night after night he would do that.''

Brad Delp was an unsung hero who deserved even more appreciation than he got.

-- STEVE MORSE, longtime Boston Globe staff rock critic, currently freelances for the Globe and cohosts "Morse on Music'' for WBOS-FM

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