Interview: Mike Dalton

bill bodkin wrote this piece about the Jersey Shore’s legendary musician for Night & Day magazine in 2009 …

It’s 1984. Huey Lewis & The News were topping the charts, Ghostbusters ruled the box office and the mullet, while still kinda lame, was very in.

And at the Lavallette Yacht Club’s Regatta Dance, a Jersey Shore legend was born.

Mike Dalton rocks The Boathouse in Belmar, N.J.
Photo: Bill Bodkin

On that balmy August night, a young Point Pleasant teenager named Mike Dalton took the stage, Oxford shirt undone, and performed his first show. Years later, Mike Dalton can be seen packing them in, sans Oxford shirt, all around the Jersey Shore.

While this may have been Dalton’s first concert, his musical career started much earlier.

Every summer, Dalton’s parents would bring him to Seaside Park to watch local musician Frankie Rendell, a friend and co-worker of Dalton’s father, perform in front of a crowd of tourists and locals. And every summer without fail, Rendell would bring a young Mike Dalton on stage to sing a song with him. To Dalton, this was the highlight of every summer.

Rendell’s influence on Dalton didn’t end when the autumnal winds swept the summer away. Rendell provided Dalton with his first microphone stand, the same one he performs with to this day.

“When I was young, I had a hard time playing and singing at the same time. I had a hard time drumming and trying to hold the turkey baster, which I used for a microphone at the same time. Then one morning, I woke up and there was this mic stand standing next to my bed.”

Dalton gave up the drums and turkey baster to form his first band with his childhood friends Kenny Peterson and Jeff Rataski (formerly of Big Bang Baby, currently in The Rory Daniels Band). They were garage all-stars, rocking out to the three songs they knew until they were approached for their first gig.

“We knew only three songs. We learned 20 within a week. [That first show] We didn’t have a chance. I remember coming out there, wearing an untucked Oxford shirt, feeling like a rebel. We didn’t have a prayer but we killed it. Kids were literally hanging off the rafters. They were dancing like crazy.”

After the success of their first gig, Dalton and the boys decided to turn to the middle school and high school dance circuit. The plan may seem simple, but it was effective. Dalton gained a following. As the kids from the dances grew older, they would follow the band to their bigger gigs.

“We played shows at Georgian Court [in Lakewood, N.J.] and I swear we had girls following us 10 years after the fact.”

High school ended and Mike Dalton left the Shore for the Banks of the Old Raritan: Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. In a city known for both its music and party scene, Dalton opted for a life of hard work and dedication.

“I probably drank a case of beer [combined] in the four years I went there. I would go to class and write lyrics, go back to my room do my homework and then write songs. I put my nose to the grindstone. I would go to the small piano rooms on Livingston [campus] and teach myself piano. While everyone was drinking on the weekends I was learning my craft. I didn’t waste my time partying and I don’t regret that at all.”

Oxford Shirt and All: A young Mike Dalton performs at the Jersey Shore
Oxford shirt and All: A young Mike Dalton performs at the Jersey Shore

After college, Dalton went to work for BMI as a telemarketer. This would be the last non-performing job Mike Dalton would have in his life. One day after performing a string of solo shows, he realized he could make more money in a week playing gigs than he could working as a telemarketer. He quit that day.

That was 1990.

Since then, Mike Dalton has been a constant performer and a vital piece of the Jersey Shore cover scene. Starting with regular gigs at Riggers & Razzles in Seaside, Dalton would go on to become a staple at such bars as Leggett’s in Manasquan, N.J. (where he can be seen on Thursdays in the summer), Martell’s Tiki Bar (Point Pleasant Beach) The Parker House in Sea Girt and eventually the Harmon Bars- The Boathouse (Belmar), 507 Main (Belmar) and Murray McGregor’s (Rumson). Dalton has performed at over 100 spots in his career along the Jersey Shore and various locales throughout New York and New Jersey.

However, cover gigs aren’t the only way Mike Dalton makes a living. Daytime TV fans may have heard the original tunes of Mike Dalton on such soap operas as Passions, As The World Turns, Guiding Light and Another World.

How did he score this gig? Turns out a fan of his was interning at one of the soaps, took his CD and passed it onto the music director. The rest is history.

Dalton’s music did so well on the soaps that he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award for a song he wrote with CSI:New York’s Melina Kanakeredes.

With his original music being successful on soaps, one would think that Mike Dalton would get tired of the Jersey Shore cover scene and look to become the next big band to headline The Garden.

“I am very lucky. I have been able to make a living playing music. I’d be foolish not to take every gig without a smile. To me every show is a learning experience. I come to work and I want to improve. I mean how can you master performing music live? I’m still very hungry to be the best band out there.”

This is not to say Dalton wouldn’t like to become a national recording star- seriously who wouldn’t? He is in fact working with someone who could be on the verge of making it big in the music biz. Dalton is currently writing and working with former American Idol contestant and Point Pleasant, N.J., native Antonella Barba. There is label interest in the singer and Dalton says he is working very closely with the young vocalist on her latest album.

Outside of his national ventures, Dalton still remains extremely active on the cover scene. Yet one has to ask: How has he been able to stay a relevant piece of the Jersey Shore cover scene since the 1980s? Most of his contemporaries, both local weekend warrior cover bands and large, regional cover acts, have either disbanded or play sporadically.

“I believe I’m a halfway decent singer and a halfway normal guy. I think people get into me because they know I’m a normal guy who is really into music. They believe I love what I play, because I really do love it and they dig that. There’s no ego or rock-star attitude, I’m an approachable guy and people like it.”

Dalton also thinks that the support of many people in the scene, beyond his fans, have helped him succeed. Dalton points to Miller Lite, particularly Andy Sisti and his crew at Point Pleasant Distributors, who have sponsored him for the past 12 years. “They’ve been extraordinarily great to me.”

He also points to his sound guy Kenny Johnson. “This is a spectacular guy, he has been my right hand man for years and is an integral part of a Mike Dalton Show.”

He points to bar owners like Matt and Tim Harmon who have booked him at all their bars as “two guys who have been so good to me for all these years.”

The future for The Mike Dalton Band, as always, is bright. A full summer of gigs throughout the shore is in order as well as the unveiling of a new concept: a horn section. Headed up by former Brian Kirk & The Kirks horn player Mike Firios, the horn section of The Mike Dalton Band will be making select appearances at gigs throughout the summer including a huge show at The Boathouse in June.

Dalton is a true veteran of the Shore scene. As our area continuously changes, one thing remains the same: the sweet sounds of Mike Dalton’s tunes will be echoing throughout the bars and clubs of our area, providing the soundtrack of each night, creating new memories for bar-goers and adding another chapter into his storied career.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites