The BLOG: Lifestyle

Mike DelGuidice proves more than an ‘ordinary guy’


Mike DelGuidice isn’t an ordinary guy, but he sings about one on the new CBS comedy Kevin Can Wait starring Kevin James, Monday nights at 8:30. The writer and performer of the sitcom’s theme song rocks the chorus that rings true for the musical magician as he conjures up his working class existence with his heart then pours his soul into its phrases.

The rhythm of Mike’s storied life has complex stanzas of both discord and harmony. But, like any great song, the legend comes together in its chorus. Musicians use the Italian term legato for ideations that are tied together. Mike’s days and nights articulate the word perfectly. Without skipping a beat DelGuidice’s family, friends, faith, and — oh yeah — his music synthesize his transitions from ordinary garage-bander to performer with international rock icon, his idol, Billy Joel, Capo di tutt’i capi. (boss of all bosses)

Grab a gab with Mike and one of the first things he’ll tell you is music has been his gift from God. He feels his life is the manifestation of divine inspiration. He explains both sharp and mellow chords have been drawing him towards a master’s plan he never could have imagined. As a little guy DelGuidice required seven surgeries to address a congenital kidney condition. The success of those surgeries is the first miracle of Mike’s 45-year-old life.

The Long Islander of improved health says his childhood revolved around a house full of mayhem and music. His parents, Fred and Josie, lived paycheck to paycheck to get ravioli or pork and beans on the table for their three sons, John, Joey and Mike. The youngest one says the kids of this nice Italian family were whacked with the same wooden spoon that fed them. Really, really, hard work was the ethos of the parents who tried as best they could to manage academic performance for the three boys, born in six years, who loved baseball and bass-playing far more than books.

Mike’s mind has always been a bonfire of music. As a kid he listened to everything from arias to Zeppelin. Banging drums and plunking away on a plastic guitar, he taught himself what he needed to learn to join a neighborhood garage band, enter a sixth grade talent show, and be confident enough to ask his grade school principal if he could organize and “headline” a first ever field-day concert. Hard work kindled success. His skills earned him an invitation to play piano in his church youth group. It didn’t matter to Mike that he didn’t know how to play one, he had faith in himself and a fire to play anything, anywhere.

Grade school accomplishments graduated to the high school level, following his older brother John into the landscaping business. Mowing lawns left the young music man free to mow through Long Island saloons hustling anyone he could into hiring him with his band of brotherly buds. The first time the group was paid the uptown price of $150 for a night’s work Mike’s dream of making a career in music was stoked.

Melody was his passion, but not a generous patron as DelGuidice lived between sets in a trailer of his friend Willy’s backyard. Undaunted by disappointing cash flow he remained resolute in his work ethic, managing to turn his anything-but-famous boy band into a viable business with integrity. Payless hours of practice paid off in applause and enough money to make ends meet provided he didn’t splurge on cable TV.

Decades of polishing tribute bands, Mike’s groups earned a reputation that sparked a nostalgic niche following that began in the early 2000s. With steady work in the tri-state area, he married Vicky, moved out of Willy’s back yard and had two kids; Victoria and Samantha. The guitar man with the youthful voice of grit and soul stayed focused, grateful his passion was also his profession. The business built slowly and solidly on the craftsman’s concept of what a concert should look and sound like. With his constant pursuit of perfection, Mike’s corona was on the rise.

Eventually, the Big Shots tribute band of talented troubadours were heard by Brian Ruggles, Billy Joel’s live sound producer. It was no coincidence Joel band members — guitarist Tommy Byrnes, drummer Chuck Burgi, and saxophonist/vocalist Mark Rivera — began to hang out and rock out with the Big Shots on the nights they were playing at Mulcahy’s, a local Long Island bar. The tribute band made space on stage for the guys whose shared love of playing tightly performed music rolled them into another world with every allegro’d lick of the guitar, every beat of the drum, and every note that they sang.

Looking back after three years of touring with Billy Joel, Mike still tells the story of how he came to be a full-time member of Joel’s band with a palpable sense of incredulity. He starts by saying band members told him Billy doesn’t like to practice before performances and they needed a stand-in guy that sounds like the boss for rehearsals. This miracle, thought DelGuidice, exceeded his wildest dreams.

Mike remembers vividly the morning of Oct. 15 in 2013 when Billy came to listen to him rehearse at the Paramount Theater in Huntington. He said, he was “sh**ing his pants ” when they jammed, feeling like it was happening as quickly as his red and black Vette accelerates. That Tuesday morning, DelGuidice played acoustic guitar while Joel banged out the chords to Band on the Run by Paul McCartney’s Wings. When he heard Billy say, “so uhhh if it works for you, do you wanna join the band tomorrow night and play in Europe next week?” Mike said his immediate response was “Are you f***ing kidding me?”

Passport ready, DelGuidice joined the tour that stopped in Manchester, Birmingham and Dublin, feeling blessed to be the fill-in guy for the trip. Harmonizing or double-tracking with Joel on stage added dimension to the live concert sound usually achieved only in recording studios. The guy who used his mom’s vacuum cleaner nozzle as a microphone, who played air guitar in the house of mayhem was asked to join the band permanently while Billy casually fiddled with his clothes in his dressing room closet before packing up his stuff to head back to the States. Two caveats were attached to the offer Joel made personally; first, the deal had to work for the Big Shot band members and secondly, DelGuidice could never again make the mistake of using Joel’s private backstage bathroom. Even if his one remaining kidney floods and explodes, the perk is reserved only for the boss — never the f***ing new guy.

The work ethic of DelGuidice was foreplay for performances that intentionally elicit almost orgasmic responses from millions of Joel fans who know his poetry and have used it to express the emotions of their own lives. Concerts begin with a flash of light and frequently the pounding sensation of We Didn’t Start the Fire. Quickly the cadence moves into standards that swoons lovers and shatters lonely hearts who feel each stanza. As the soundtrack of their lives rock on with gorgeous short-skirters stacking the front rows, DelGuidice says he’s working in double-time totally focused on what he’s doing, and what he needs to do next. It’s not fear he feels; it’s exhilaration of performing on this level and wanting to be perfect with every note. “Let’s put it this way” he says, “you don’t stick around if you make mistakes. Billy’s shows are serious work.”

Wearing dark-washed Guess jeans, a dark shirt and business shoes the “new guy”aims to offer the best support to his boss and all of his bandmates. He never takes the lead, or hot-dogs. He performs in auto-pilot, concentrating by the millisecond on every aspect of his profession while Joel’s band is on stage. Micro-adjusting his performance knowing it’s expensive entertainment for fans and hard work for the poet he canonizes, they play to the chorus which sings with abandon. DelGuidice channels Pavarotti’s performance of Puccini’s Nessun dorma in a solo that stills the crowds before Joel seduces his fans back to singing, serenading them with Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. Tempo-ed thrills continue until the lights go down and the performers rush to the open doors of waiting vans, police escorts and the next hotel on the tour.

There are times the musicians grab something to eat after the show but most often the business of the band is done for the day. Like ordinary guys they go to their rooms, collapse on their beds, and call home after work. Mike counts his blessings of two more kids, Colby and Noah, and a new wife Missy, who considers his first wife a girlfriend fun enough to “wine” with. A home studio where he encourages daughter Sam to find her voice, is also where he composed and performs the theme song for Kevin Can Wait. His latest rhythm, Ordinary Guy, written on the road of miracles and constant hard work, is for Mike DelGuidice a potential new career opportunity; it’s also the chorus to this really nice guy’s most extraordinary life.

The Big Shot tribute band performs regularly around Long Island. Billy Joel’s band performs monthly at Madison Square Garden, and oh yeah, everyplace around the world.

Contact Diane Kilgore at [email protected].