You can learn a lot in a band, when you’re making something out of nothing and getting paid almost nothing to do it. What I learned from Dale was how to squeeze more out of life. More laughs, more adventures, more music. I always just assumed that there would be more time.
I met Dale in high school in 1972, at a junior-year student government exchange. He came over from Dickinson High one day, and I recognized his name because his dad was my homeroom teacher at McKean.
We both quickly became bored with the day’s events. After realizing that he played bass and I played drums, we escaped down to the band room for a quick jam session. And that was the first of our many collaborations over the next 40 years.
There was our no-name jazz band in high school. Then Stone’s Throw, All You Can Eat, Circuit, and The Larry Tucker Band to close out the 1970s. That year when Dale, Marc and I were with Larry tightened us up and prepared us for Bad Sneakers, a seven-year odyssey through the 1980s that took us, in Dale’s words, “from obscurity to oblivion.”
We rented houses together in Newark during those early years, mostly to save money on rent but also so we’d have a basement where we could make a lot of noise. 135 East Cleveland Avenue, 58 Shull Drive, 282 East Main Street.
Dale liked to occupy the top floor, the attic room, in those old houses. And he was always working on something up there. Instruments lying around, papers strewn about. Tape decks and audio gear. It seemed like everything was always in disarray — empty packs of Pall Mall cigarettes, jumbled piles of wires.
But somehow out of that mess, Dale would craft these brilliant pieces of music. From the early experimental tunes, through the wild satirical years of All You Can Eat, to the finely-honed gems of pop music in the 1980s. Dale was always a great craftsman, and always just a little skewed in his lyrical perspective on life.
“I gotta buy some invisible records, for my invisible stereo.” — “Invisible Man” by Dale Dallabrida
Who else but Dale would compose a song about fried clams and title it “Dance of the Bivalve Mollusks”? His absurdist “Invisible Man” lyrics were made even more so by the three-part vocal harmony doo-wop arrangement. Dale moved effortlessly from genre to genre, always holding down the groove.
Even when we both finally grew up and decided to get real jobs, we couldn’t stay apart for too long. In 1999, Dale rescued me from the corporate world by enticing me to join him in a little internet startup. That turned out to be the best career move of my life, setting the stage for the work that I do to this day.
We collided corporately again for several years in the 2000s. I loved his title in that company — “Knowledge Manager.” Perfectly appropriate for a brilliant and precise guy with such an expansive range of interests.
I think that those early rock ‘n’ roll years laid a foundation for creative collaboration that carried us through our careers, together and separately.
The last time we played music together was in December of 2013, when I came back home to Delaware for a few days. I sat at the piano in his living room and banged out the chords to a new song I was working on for my soon-to-be bride Gwyneth. With her at our side, Dale picked up his old Fender Jazz fretless bass and started playing the most beautiful, flowing lines. He always knew exactly what to do to make my songs work.
You see, there’s this thing about bass players and drummers. If you’re a drummer, the most important person in your life, next to your significant other, is your bass player.
Your bass player lays it down for you. He knows when to drive and when to settle back. He’s in your face, and in the pocket. And above all, your bass player always knows where “one” is.
One. The beginning of every beat, and of the rhythm of life. For a drummer, there is nothing more beautiful than landing on “one” and knowing that your counterpart is landing right there with you. Constant. Unwavering. It makes music and life flow so effortlessly.
Farewell, dear friend. You are now part of the Eternal One.
— Neal Tillotson, December 2014