When Delanie Pickering first moved to Martha’s Vineyard, she didn’t know a soul, and didn’t tell anyone she was a musician. A year and a half later, she’s become one of the more ubiquitous faces on the Island music scene — most recently as the new guitarist for Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, replacing longtime guitarist Buck Shank. In addition to her new gig as a Bluefish, she plays regularly in three other bands (Rosie’s Ritzy Revue, the Black Eyed Susans, and the Outskirts), sits in with others when she can, and works full-time at Mocha Mott’s.
Originally from Concord, N.H., Pickering, 22, washed ashore in the summer of 2017, after her hopes to find work on Cape Cod had fallen through. “I had no knowledge of Martha’s Vineyard,” she says. “I just figured … it’s an Island, and it’s right there.”
She was out of money from traveling, having just returned from a solo road trip that had taken her “the long way” to Memphis for the Blues Challenge, to Florida, where she stayed a while with her father, then to the Cape in search of work. “I can go [to the Vineyard], and just bum around on the beach,” she remembers thinking. It was a fortuitous decision for the young musician, and worked out better than she probably could have imagined.
Pickering first picked up a guitar at around 15 or 16, after discovering a love for blues music, and started teaching herself to play.
“My dad had a big box of records,” she says. “At first it was George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers … ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ by Robert Johnson … Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Texas Flood,’ Eric Clapton’s ‘Just One Night,’ James ‘Superharp’ Cotton — I liked all that stuff.”
When her father realized she was serious about guitar, he offered to pay for lessons, but that didn’t last long. “I was … paying money to do something I could do on my own,” Pickering says.
Within a year of picking up the guitar, Delanie had landed some solo gigs in the Concord area, playing and singing acoustic blues and singer-songwriter tunes in bars, but she didn’t play with a band until she moved to the Vineyard. “There were no bands,” she says. “There was nobody to play with.”
By 18, she’d played in several blues festivals and challenges, had been playing regularly around New Hampshire, and had recorded an album, “Down Not Home,” which she wrote as a set for a festival she’d gotten into that required original tunes. Once she’d written it, she thought, “Now that I have a show, I might as well record it.”
“She is not of the norm,” wrote Rob Azevedo in 2015 in No Depression, a roots music publication. He listened to a five-song sample CD from her album and declared, “She’s beyond good.”
As impressive as that record is, Pickering says she wrote it purely for a deadline, and she hasn’t written since. “I’m not against original music,” she says. “I like it, but I don’t find writing fun, and I just wanna have fun, really.” And have fun she does.
“She has so much joy,” says Johnny Hoy of his band’s new guitarist. “Her joy is really communicative, which is a rare gift.” Hoy lights up when he talks about her passion for music. “She just wants to hold that guitar, and play the s___ out of it. She wants to play loud, and she wants to have fun.”
Delanie can get away with playing loud, Hoy says, which isn’t easy. “She can be twice as loud as everybody else, and it doesn’t bother me. And it doesn’t bother other people, because her tone is exquisite.” He smiles when describing her guitar playing: “If you watch her, she rarely plays with a pick. She plays with her thumb, [with] the meat of her fingers, [with] the side of her finger, she picks the string up and just plucks it between her two fingers and lifts it way out, bang-boing,” he says. “She’ll play with a slide — she’s just all over that thing.”
Pickering recalls first hearing the Bluefish at the Ritz Cafe her second night on Martha’s Vineyard. “They were awesome,” she says. She was surprised to find such a good blues band on the Island. “I thought it would be all Jimmy Buffett music and stuff.”
The bar’s chalkboard indicated that the Ritz had music every night, so she went, to listen and watch, pretty much every night. “I didn’t tell anyone I played music for a long time,” Pickering recalls.
When she finally did, it was current Bluefish drummer Kevin Medeiros, now her good friend and bandmate, whom she’d noticed was in just about every band. “I knew he worked at the coffee shop,” she says. “So I went in there, and [said], ‘I play music, here’s my CD,’ and he [said], ‘Come on a Thursday.’”
That Thursday, she sat in with the Edbury All-Stars at the Ritz, and word soon got around that there was a new, very talented, kid in town. Johnny Hoy heard about her from Jessie Leaman, who plays bass in the Edbury All-Stars, and he called her up to sit in with the Bluefish that Wednesday. Within a month or two, Rose Guerin, who has Rosie’s Ritzy Revue on Saturday evenings, had asked Delanie to play with her band.
Josh Campbell, Rosie’s bassist, says he’s played with quite a few guitarists, and Pickering is one of the few he clicked with right away. “We are able to feed off one another,” he says. “It really is a special thing when that happens.”
In the spring of 2018 came the Black Eyed Susans, formed after the breakup of the Chandler Blues Band, featuring Chandler’s frontman Michael “Icey” Baird on vocals, Lance Fullin, Slim Bob Berosh, and Ritz bartender Jeremiah Roberts on drums.
As her musical presence on the Island began to grow last winter, people started asking Delanie what she wanted. Did she want solo gigs? Did she want to get a band together? “I just want to be the guy they call when Buck [Shank] can’t do a gig,” she recalls answering. “That was my only dream.”
Delanie credits Buck Shank himself with how quickly that dream became reality. “He totally coached me,” she says. “He said, ‘You should start learning their songs, you should start playing with us more often, you should take my spot when I’m not around.’”
Pickering says playing with Buck made her a better guitar player: “I learned everything about being in a band from watching him.” She mentions Mike Benjamin and others who lead the band as well as playing, and says that’s different from just being a guitarist. “Buck’s just there, and he’s making the whole band sound good, and he’s playing killer solos, and he’s listening to the whole band. He’s the model for a bandmate.”
When Shank decided to retire from the band in the fall, Delanie had been subbing for him for a while, and she seemed the obvious choice to replace him. It’s a learning experience, and hard work for the young guitarist, as Hoy and bandmate Jeremy Berlin put her through “Bluefish boot camp,” but she’s stepping up, and her new bandmates appreciate her positive, can-do attitude. “Even when you know she’s like, ‘Eh, this isn’t my thing,’ she’ll do her best,” Hoy says. “Buck had that. Buck is a worker, and she loved Buck. I loved seeing those two together. It was just such a camaraderie.”
Hoy describes Delanie as a fast learner, and Rob Myers, veteran Island musician and drummer for Rosie’s Ritzy Revue, agrees. “She remains curious about everything,” he says. “She can just soak it up, and then totally shred.”
“The amount of raw talent [Delanie] has is mind-blowing,” says Black Eyed Susans singer Icey Baird. “You can tell she feels the blues down to her soul.”
Josh Campbell says of all the musicians he knows, Delanie Pickering “has the most potential to become a rock star.” Given her quick success in a crowded Island music scene that’s chock-full of incredible talents, he may not be far off.
“She’s going places,” says Johnny Hoy. “But we’re lucky to have her while we’ve got her.”
Catch Delanie Pickering on guitar in Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, Wednesday nights at the Ritz.
This article by M.A. Kent-Holmes originally appeared on mvtimes.com.