Not a Bad Way to Go: A Story About a Killer Sixties Garage Band Called “The Bruthers”

You could spend the rest of your days (and paychecks) mining your favorite record stores and collector websites for sixties garage punk gold and never even scrape the surface of amazing fuzzy teen rocker 45’s that were released at that time. As soon as the Beatles and the Stones broke in the states, teens across America scrambled to start a band and record their hit single in order to tap into their share of the screaming girls and debauchery promised.

The Bruthers, circa 1966

It was from this enthusiastic and raucous climate that the Bruthers emerged from a small suburb north of New York City called Pearl River. Alf Delia, age 19 at the time, joined with three of his twelve younger siblings and began crafting (I’d argue) one of the most angsty and sincere teen punkers of all time. Alf moved to Portland Oregon in the late seventies and I recently had the good fortune to sit down with him at the Radio Room in NE Portland and reminisce about that golden era of music I hold so dear to my heart.

Alf and his younger brothers started off in the early 1960’s as the Delia Brothers, playing gigs around New York that were set up by their dad and lawyer uncle. Alf was playing an accordion at the time (that’s what you did in the early sixties), but by the mid-sixties he decided to plug in and traded the accordion for a bass guitar to be more like their aforementioned rock idols. The Bruthers commenced practice in a chicken coop on their families property. Alf rightfully pointed out that this technically makes them chicken coop rock as opposed to garage rock.

It became clear that if they were going to have any success at all, they would have to write some original material. Inspired by a break up with his then girIfriend Susie, emotion poured out of Alf’s guitar and onto paper and “Bad Way to Go” was born. Susie became the muse for the bands angst found in the lyrics of this and many other songs the Bruthers wrote at the time. Thank you, Susie!

The Bruthers recorded with producer Robin McBride who had some success recording with other regional acts such the Remains, the Great Scots, and countless others. McBride was going to bat for a lot of local local talent and connected the Bruthers with the now infamous manager Sid Bernstein, who is credited with jump starting the British Invasion in the United States and managed other acts like the Young Rascals and the Blues Project. Bernstein helped get the Bruthers a record deal with RCA records and the single for “Bad Way to Go/Bad Love” was released in 1966.

“We recorded at RCA studios where Neil Diamond and other big acts were recording at the time. They used to use the back stairwell for reverb back then.”

The Bruthers got paid $5,000 in the RCA deal, and like any 19 year old aspiring rock star, Alf spent his entire share ($1500) on a bright red Volkswagen Beetle. In addition to releasing the “Bad Way to Go” single, the Bruthers wrote and recorded a song for Jim Henson’s Muppets world debut on the Ed Sullivan show in September of 1966 with a song called “Rock it To Me” , and were featured in a number of magazine ads including one for Carrier air conditioners in Life Magazine.

At the time of the single’s release the majority of the Bruthers were still minors in high school, Joe Delia (killer organ parts, backing vocals) being the youngest at age 14. They had to tour during school breaks, playing Ivy League schools and venues that would look the other way. Once on a mini tour during Christmas break, the Bruthers played a week in Syracuse at a bar called the Little Brown Jug.

“We just went bananas with the whole rock and roll thing. We stayed upstairs from the bar…drinking, drugging, finding girls…you know, we were all way too young. Pop ended up coming up from Pearl River to bust up the gig after the brothers went a little too far with barroom hijinx.”

The Bruthers put on a raucous show that sometimes included sporting matching velvet jackets or running around in the crowd dressed in gorilla suits. Their wild antics, scruffy looks, and electric guitars landed them a spot on a Rhode Island TV show alongside the Beau Brummels.

“One Christmas Break, we played a couple shows for the Mafia, it was amazing. We stayed at the hotel affiliated with them, they had us to their Christmas dinner. I remember they had octopus and these huge long tables. We thought we were golden.”

The Bruthers playing in matching outfits, including velvet jackets

The Bruthers also spent a summer touring with Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park as part of the theater group.  “They had this stage they would roll out that we would perform on at various parks around the city.” Some other memorable gigs were backing up Chuck Berry on tour, opening for Stevie Wonder, and regularly playing with the Crystals.

“You have to be a plug in band. That’s what was floating us…you know, when you’re four brothers that look like you’re 12.”  

RCA decided to focus their attention on other groups at the time and dropped the Bruthers from the label before they were able to release the some of the other material they already had in the can.

“If they would have stuck with us and tried to make something out of “Bad Way to Go”, they would have done all right. The powers that be can make a thing happen. We were in the same stable as the Young Rascals. They went up, and we didn’t. It was uncommon for a band that was not schooled to be successful. We were not disciplined. We were actually the real thing. We couldn’t go into Vegas and be an act. We were just four brothers who learned some music, heard the Beatles and Stones and went ape.”  

Despite their short lived stint as the Bruthers, their music and story has maintained consistent interest by garage rock enthusiasts around the world. They have  appeared on many classic compilations including Pebbles Vol. 8Garage Beat ‘66 Vol. 6Mayhem & Psychosis Vol. 1Garage Zone Vol. 1, and Ya Gotta Have Moxie. In 2003, Sundazed worked with the Delia brothers to release their first and only full length album called Bad Way to Go , a must have for any collection. Acknowledged worldwide, “Bad Way to Go” was even covered by a sixties revival outfit out of France called the Missing Souls who released it as a 7” in 2015.

The Delia brothers never stopped making music after their break up in ‘67.

Joe Delia continued a successful career making music for 24 feature films, television, and in the seventies did writing and recording for many major acts such as Dusty Springfield, Grace Slick, the Left Banke, and Pat Benatar. Joe has also maintained his performance prowess over the years playing with many well known acts (Kim Larsen, Buster Poindexter) and his own bands. His current band is Thieves.

Francis Delia became a high-end photographer and a Hollywood director. As founder of production company RADPics he helped define the music video genre at the inception of MTV and was the first among MTV alumni to direct and write network / syndicated TV dramas. Delia’s creative collaboration has involved a spectrum of talents including Norman Mailer, Jerry Stahl, Michael Mann and many others. He is currently working on several new film projects.

Mike Delia has a wildly successful airplane parts corporation, is very active in Landmark, has kept up with his drumming here and there, but has also followed up on his art career started at Cooper Union. He has been closely associated with The Hopper House in Nyack, New York and had his own gallery showings.

Alf Delia relocated to Portland in 1978, and was a founding member with local legends Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods during the 1980’s. They recorded an album at the infamous ​Power Station​ studio in New York that was never released. That was followed by an art rock band called Alf Rider’s DaDa which played at many Northwest venues, primarily Satyricon and Key Largo. Alf has been working with his brother Joe to complete the Power Station album and will be releasing it on 180 gram vinyl sometime in 2018. Alf has also been working on material for a solo album for many years that is nearly complete and almost ready for mass consumption.

A warm thank you to Alf Delia and his lovely wife Eileen Delia for taking the time to meet with me to stroll down memory lane.  It was an honor and a truly enjoyable time.