DeLuca grew up in Southern California surrounded by musicians and “a lot of gypsies and free-spirited people.” When it was time to choose his own instrument, he gravitated to the dobro.
“Any time I picked up the slide, it seemed to be welcomed,” DeLuca told Pollstar. “It felt like I was finding something that could be mine.”
Although he played often, both in living room jam sessions and the occasional club, making a record didn’t seem like an option.
“I never really thought I would be playing music for a living because I didn’t see much out there in the world that I really wanted to be associated with, to be honest,” DeLuca said. “Nothing against rock ’n’ roll, but it, or the pop world, always seemed kind of removed from what I really loved.
“To this day, I just see music as part of my daily thing, like writing a letter or cooking something to eat. I just pick up and play. It’s always been that way for me. Through my whole life, I had done shows. But I had never documented anything.”
So what finally convinced him to hit the studio?
First, when DeLuca settled into residency at a pair of clubs a few years ago, he began to attract a lot of attention.
“I noticed that every week it would get bigger,” he said. “It would be kind of a scene, you know? All of a sudden you’re at the center of a small happening. At that point, it was like, ‘OK, maybe we should record this.’”
The second thing was meeting actor Kiefer Sutherland, who was so taken with DeLuca he partnered with Jude Cole to start a label, Ironworks, to deliver his work to the rest of the world.
“It was just really nice to meet a person like Kiefer, just as a friend,” DeLuca explained. “I’ve always lived with the fear that when you document a song, people have the opportunity to criticize it.
“But here was a person who was kind of fearless and was successful at trying things and not afraid to succeed or fail. I’d never been around anybody with that mindset. Meeting him showed me that I might just have to take a chance and make a record.”
That record, 2006’s I Trust You to Kill Me, garnered positive reviews from critics and fans alike, as did a behind-the-scenes documentary of the same name that followed Sutherland acting as promoter and manager.
During three years of non-stop touring for the album, DeLuca had time to further refine his musical vision – and to reconsider the direction of his career. The results are clearly apparent on his intimate new album, Mercy, and in his tour plans.
“On the first campaign, because it was more pop-radio driven, I felt a little lost,” he explained. “Nothing against anything though, because the campaign was very successful and everybody involved was great and supportive. But I felt a bit incomplete and like maybe I was selling myself a little short.
“Being on the road with the other pop artists – I didn’t relish their position. I felt like a lot of artists had painted themselves into a bit of a corner. And that, to me, is like a jail sentence. I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to share my music or this record with everybody, but I don’t know what the consequences of that would be.
“Even with a little bit of success, you tend to grow more – I don’t know – insensitive. That feeling scared me a bit. There’s a certain lifestyle I was seeing around me that I really didn’t want to be a part of.”
His new direction includes a new manager, Mick Artists Management’s Sue Berger, who was recommended by his agent at CAA, Scott Clayton. Berger fell in love with DeLuca’s music and decided she wanted to work with him.
“He’s a great guy and a real artist,” Berger told Pollstar. “The relationship that he has with his dobro is amazing; it’s like he’s one with it. I just wanted to help him get his career where he wanted it to be.”
Berger said Mercy, which DeLuca and producer Daniel Lanois completed by recording and mixing each track in a single day, is as close to his live show as one can get.
“The album captures you,” Berger said. “It makes you stop and listen. And the live show is more of that. You can kind of feel Rocco’s feelings coming out through the speakers.”
DeLuca is out on the road with drummer Ryan Carman for a spring tour in support of the new album, with plans to add U.S. festival dates and head to the U.K. in the fall. But Berger said when it comes to touring, the sky’s the limit.
“I don’t think that he’s ever going to be at that place where he considers himself too big to do something. If it’s the right tour with the right musicians and the right setting, he’s gonna be all over that. It’s all about the music.”