Marin keyboard player Austin deLone happily hugged his wife and teenage daughter as he walked offstage with Elvis Costello after playing for thousands of cheering fans at the opening of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 6 in Golden Gate Park last Friday afternoon.
DeLone — who'll be playing with his own band for a dance party at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley on Oct. 21 — has backed up some of the biggest and best musicians in rock in his career, but this park gig with Costello was a pretty special show for the modest Mill Valley sideman.
Costello and his band, with deLone on piano and organ, were joined onstage by the sensational young singer/songwriter Gillian Welch, her guitarist partner David Rawlings and the legendary Emmylou Harris, silver-haired and still gorgeous at 59.
During the set, deLone took the spotlight, singing a mellow rendition of the bittersweet ballad "Satisfied Mind."
"I could never sing 'Satisfied Mind' as calm as he did," the intense Costello said. "Audie has such a soulful voice."
Costello, or E.C., as his friends and intimates call him, was sweating and exuberant in a black country western suit as he sat in a backstage tent after what had been an extraordinary show.
At one point, Costello and Harris blended voices on "Love Hurts," an achingly beautiful duet that took the chill off a foggy San Francisco afternoon.
In the afterglow of the music, Costello was more than happy to talk about deLone, a friend and frequent bandmate for more than two decades.
Pointing out what few rock fans know, he credited deLone and his American band, Eggs Over Easy, with kick-starting what became known as the "pub rock movement" in England in the early 1970s.
In turn, pub rock paved the way for the new wave/punk movement that brought Costello to pop prominence in England and the U.S. at the end of that decade.
"He would be too modest to say it, but if it hadn't been for what he did, I don't think the audience would have been there for what I did," Costello said. "If that scene hadn't started, there would probably be no Elvis Costello."
Raised in Philadelphia and inspired by Ray Charles, the Beatles and Bob Dylan, deLone dropped out of Harvard to form Eggs Over Easy, migrating across the pond to play at a working man's pub called the Tally Ho in northern England.
"We begged to play on Monday nights for a beer and a couple of sausage rolls," deLone recalled. "By the end of the year, we were playing six nights a week of rock 'n' roll and one night of jazz. We were rockin' like mad."
After a year in England, deLone moved to Mill Valley in 1972, where he walked into what he called "a wild, blooming music scene" centered on the Old Mill Tavern (now Vasco's restaurant), where he met his British-born wife, Lesley. They have two children, Caroline, 14, and Richard, 8.
Once ensconced in Marin, deLone continued to play with Eggs Over Easy, a trio with Brien Hopkins, who still lives in Mill Valley, and Jack O'Hara, a musician in New York. They released an album on A&M Records that was produced by rock guitar god Link Wray. But, for whatever reason, the band never broke through and the Eggs eventually broke up.
"It's hard to say why some bands don't make it to the big time (but) Eggs Over Easy were one such band," wrote English rock critic Nigel Cross in this year's CD re-issue of the Eggs Over Easy album "Good 'n' Cheap."
Despite that disappointment, deLone has fashioned an impressive career as a working musician, playing with English musicians like his friend Nick Lowe, the bassist for the British band Brinsley Schwarz.
In 1977, Lowe produced Costello's breakthrough debut album, "My Aim Is True," which Rolling Stone magazine crowned "the album of the year."
In a remarkable coincidence, the Marin band Clover, which included Huey Lewis, backed up Costello on that classic album, which climbed into the top 40 in the United States and established Costello as a cult rock star.
In 1987, deLone was asked to play keyboards in Costello's band, the Confederates, when Costello toured the United Staates, Japan and Australia in support of the albums "King of America" and "Blood and Chocolate."
"I got the call asking me if I could do it," deLone recalled with a laugh. "I said, sure, but I'll have to cancel a couple of gigs at Sweetwater and the Last Day Saloon."
That Confederates tour was the start of long association between Costello, deLone and Marin County.
"The first place I played in America was at Sweetwater," Costello recalled. "It became a hangout."
He mentioned a photo that he has hanging on the wall of his home of a Sweetwater show that Village Music's John Goddard produced with Costello, Jerry Garcia and James Burton, the revered guitarist for Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson.
"For some reason, we all ended up playing each other's guitars," Costello remembered. "It was a funny night."
Over the years, deLone has played one-off gigs with Costello while becoming a mainstay in an impressive list of top bands: Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, the Moonlighters with rockabilly guitar great Bill Kirchen, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Paul Carrack, the singer for the band Ace who had a hit with the classic rock song "How Long."
DeLone is also known as a top bandleader, leading the band for the Bay Area Music Awards for several years during the heyday of the Bammies.
On Oct. 21, he'll be playing what he's calling "A Fabulous Rhythm & Roll Dance Party" at 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley.
For that gig, he's assembled a stellar band with guitarist Mighty Mike Schermer, bassist Eric McCann, former E Street Band drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter, singers Mz Dee and Glenn Walters and a three-piece horn section.
Although he's thoughtful and intelligent and soft-spoken, deLone has been known to kick out his right leg when he plays and pound the keyboards with his feet. The man knows how to rock.
"We like to have a good time," he said, "and we want everybody else to have a good time, too."