By Fran Maye
Del Bittle, who has DJ’d more weddings, reunions and high school dances than anyone in the Kennett area over the past 30 years, has decided to stop spinning.
Bittle, who turns 65 in April, said the lyrics in some of the songs today are damaging children and he wants no part of it. The Kennett High School Class of 1972 was his last reunion, and he DJ’s his last wedding a few weeks ago.
“I knew this day would come,” Bittle said, but it really hit home a couple of months ago at the Red Clay Room (in Kennett Square) when I was asked if I had any Pitbull, Jaz-Z or Beyonce. I didn’t have them, and this person reaches in his pocket and pulls out an IPhone. I tell him there better be no bad language on this song, it’s got to be clean. I give them only one shot.”
Bittle knows music. When most people dream about sheep, he dreams about clef notes.
“You get me in a certain era, and I’m tough,” he said.
Bittle said he knows the words to just about every one of the 275 Beatles songs, and can even name most of the songs on the flip side of the original vinyl 45s.
Bittle saw the Beatles perform live at JFK in the 1960s. A few years ago, he took his daughter Megan to see Paul McCartney (Beatles’ lead singer) at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and paid $15 to park. “I told her I just paid more for parking than I did for two tickets to see the Beatles,” Bittle said. “The Chiffons opened for them. I still remember it .I still have my $5 ticket stubs.”
Bittle started his interest in music at an early age. He took drum lessons at Unionville Elementary in fourth grade. In High School, Unionville High didn’t have a marching band back then, so he started a garage band called the Nebulas. Bittle was the drummer.
“We played cover music, old three- and four-chord rock and roll, Chuck Berry and local tunes,” he said.
Bittle’s band once opened for The Beach Boys in 1964.
“By today’s standards, we weren’t that good,” Bittle said. “I’ve seen today’s music and never appreciated the talent and what it takes to play. Today’s music is tough, there are all sorts of different tunings, different chord progressions, and the speed of the music. At my age, I’ve learned to appreciate today’s music.”
Today, that appreciation is Bittle’s favorite groups, the Killers, Cold Plan, Muse and Rage Against the Machine.
Though he’s hung up the headphones and microphone, Bittle still maintains his music store located on family property off Route 842 in Pocopson Township. He sells musical instruments, and he gets more satisfaction out of helping young, aspiring musicians than making money at the store.
“They are going to have to carry me out of here feet first,” he said. “I love coming in here every day. And now (without DJ responsibilities), I don’t have pressure or commitments to make.”
Bittle moved to the Pocopson location after having a music store in Kennett Square for more than a decade. It was located on Union Street next to Fragale’s Barber shop, and it opened in the mid-1980s.
“I had a back room filled with nothing but oldies,” he said. “Jukeboxes were popular. In the front of the store I had albums and tie dye T-shirts and posters. But it wasn’t a head shop.”
Back when he had his Kennett Square store, Bittle saw the trend of music with disturbing lyrics. He wanted to keep those lyrics from the ears of impressionable young children.
“One day I was at the counter at the Kennett store, and a little guy comes in with a $20 bill and tells me he wants the new 2 Live Crew CD. I told him, ‘son, I can’t sell it to you.” This was before the warnings came on the labels. So he walks out of the store and before I know it, in comes this drop-dead gorgeous blond dressed to the max, who throws a $20 bill on the counter and tells me to sell her the 2 Live Crew CD. She said she was bothered by having to get out of the car.”
Bittle said that was a sign that he needed to get out of selling music.
“I’m trying to protect these kids,” he said. “Parents don’t’ have a clue to what their kids are listening to.”
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Bittle said, profanity in songs was extremely rare. But Bittle said he remembers a group from Coatesville called the Eddie and the Galaxies (also went under the name Pit Town 5) who recorded under the Parliament label who used a single instance of the word damn.
“Anybody who wanted that record had to buy it under the counter of the Downingtown Farmer’s Market,” Bittle said. “Back then, it was forbidden.”
Being a DJ back in the days of vinyl was a challenge, Bittle said.
“I remember in the early 90s I had a wedding and I had to carry 20 crates (filled with CDs and vinyl albums) up a fire escape to the top floor to get to the banquet hall,” Bittle said. “Today, the DJs walk in with a laptop and they are all set. There’s been a lot of changes in the music business.”
Bittle still has some of those old vinyl albums at his store in Pocopson, but doesn’t sell them. He estimates he has 60,000 45s and 10,000 albums.
“When parents come in here with their kids, the kids see the albums and don’t know what it is,” Bittle said. “It’s sad because it’s a format that’s only been gone for 15 to 20 years, but I guess that’s an entire generation.”
Bittle said he gets two or three calls a week for older people who want to donate their old albums to him. “I don’t want them,” Bittle said. “I tell them I’m happy to look through their collection. I see a lot of Lawrence Welk, Al Martino, and even the First Family.”
The First Family was a comedy album released in 1962 that was a good-natured parody of then-president John F. Kennedy. It was the fastest selling record in the history of the record history selling more than a million copies in the first six weeks following its release.
To this day, one of Bittle’s favorite moments was playing in his band. The band lasted about five years, breaking up in the late 1960s when some members were called to serve in Vietnam. Bittle went to Penn State, then to Goldey Beacom College to pick up some business credits. But when Pathmark offered him a job for $150 an hour to work in the health and beauty aids department, he couldn’t pass it up because he wanted to buy a 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner.
Bittle got his start in the DJ business when he decided he needed to compliment his income a few years after his Pathmark job. He bought a mixer at Radio Shack for $90, brought his turntable and milk crates filled with albums and began to disc jockey at the old Anvil Inn in Kennett. Anyone who grew up in Kennett knows the Anvil Inn was the place to be on Thursday nights.
Bittle, who grew up in Unionville off Indian Hanna Road, became a household name. He began volunteering in the community, something he continues to this day. He was named honorary Grand Marshall of the 2011 Mushroom Festival, which he called “a great honor.”
“Maybe I’m missing something, but our next generation is not as civic-minded,” he said. “They don’t step up to the plate like we do.”
Though he enjoys helping his community, Bittle said he has lost faith with some aspects of today’s society, and it’s the reason he cancelled Del Stock.
Del Stock was a bluegrass festival that was held on the grounds of his 52-acre property off Route 842. It attracted upward of 400 people yearly. Groups would come in and sing. It was a free event, and Bittle even had free food.
But after 13 years, he was sued after someone fell on his property at the event.
“It just killed my spirit,” he said. “I thought I was doing something nice for the community. This was like the Old Fiddler’s Picnic, only more laid-back. People brought yard chairs and we had antique tractors and it was a really good run.”
Bittle won the lawsuit, but it took three years and plenty of money to defend against.
For aspiring young musicians in the Unionville area, Bittle can be their best friend. He enjoys mentoring them, and is more interested in seeing them advance musically than in making money.
His family is close by. He and his wife Shiela have a daughter, Megan, 29 who is a first-grade teacher in Elkton, Md. and Jason, who works for a construction company.
His property was recently put into a conservation easement, something his late mother, Alta Bailey Bittle, would have appreciated. His mother wrote a book on the history of Pocopson Township. She died at age 103 at the Pocopson Home, which was built on her grandfather’s farm.
“I have all my family and friends near me,” Bittle said. “It can’t get any better than that.”