The life of an opening act is never easy, and no one knew that better than blues rock guitarist David Shelley.
As an up-and-comer, the longtime Fort Lauderdale musician opened South Florida shows for big names like Cheap Trick, Eddie Money and the late pop singer Laura Branigan.
Shelley, who died from cancer at 57 on Aug. 10, was a pro. He knew how to ride the roller-coaster music business better than most.
At a Kinks concert at the long-gone Sunrise Musical Theater in February 1985, Shelley’s set, already plagued by audio glitches, was interrupted by Kinks fans screaming for Ray Davies and his band. Shelley shrugged back his long, blond bangs, and just as friendly as you please told the anxious crowd, “We heard the Kinks at sound check and they sound great! Just a few more songs and they’ll be out here!”
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Shelley was rewarded with a rousing cheer, the Miami News reported.
Shelley, born Nov. 23, 1957, in Santa Monica to ’40s and ’50s film and TV actress Martha Stewart and her husband, David Shelley, had had plenty of experience on both sides of the music biz. He knew success:
After casting directors caught his part as a rock band member in Roger Vadim’s 1988 movie And God Created Woman, he was tapped to appear in Cher’s video You Wouldn’t Know Love. The gig led to his performance with Cher at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards and in her controversial If I Could Turn Back Time clip. He was a member of her touring band on her Heart of Stone Tour, along with background vocalist Darlene Love. The tour enjoyed a sold-out date at Miami’s James L. Knight Center in April 1990.
“He wasn’t one to brag or to show off but he said he had a great time on that tour and hung out with Richie Sambora,” said his manager and partner Suzana DePaola.
Even though he had big dreams, he would always come back to the local scene. He was a simple guy at heart.
Suzana DePaola, manager/girlfriend
Shelley, whose grandfather Buddy DeSylva co-founded Capitol Records in 1942, signed a major label deal with MCA Records in 1985. A year earlier his original songs — Jamaica’s Calling Me Back, Tell It to Somebody Who Cares and She’s Only Rock and Roll — caught on locally. The latter briefly became the theme song for former rock radio station WSHE-FM.
“I feel really relieved. A lot of people are depending on me. The pressure feels good, though,” Shelley told the Miami News about signing that long-desired label deal, which came after years of dues-paying by playing with local bands and late jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius.
Conversely, Shelley knew disappointment. The MCA deal disintegrated in 1986. Label politics. The album he’d recorded, his shot at the big-time, was shelved.
In the 1990s, Shelley became musical director and band leader for the short-lived, The Ron Reagan Show, and became a fixture on the South Florida scene, headlining shows at O’Hara’s Jazz & Blues Cafe in Fort Lauderdale and Alligator Alley.
“One of his favorite things to do, even if he didn’t tour all around the world, was to come back to the local venues,” said DePaola. “He loved the fans in South Florida that built him up.”
One of his dying wishes, he told DePaola, was to have a celebration of life concert at The Funky Biscuit, 303 Mizner Park Blvd., Boca Raton. “He said … ‘I want people to play and jam and I’ll be there.’”
The Funky Biscuit event is scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 22.
In addition to DePaola and his mother, Shelley is survived by daughter Daylin Shelley.