CDs and it's Deja Nu for Dion all over again
Dion DiMucci — Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, the guy
who gave up his seat on the ill-fated Buddy Holly-Ritchie
Valens flight, ex-addict and eternal rocker -- is still very
much into the music. And two recent releases — Deja
Nu, a collection of brand new vintage-sounding recordings,
of New York Streets, a career-spanning compilation of
his hits and more, firmly establish the longtime South Florida
resident as a member of the rock-and-roll pantheon.
"There's a thread that runs through my songs'' he said,
one afternoon in the front room of his Boca Raton home. "It's
a constant thing; it's who I am and how I see the world and
the people in it. I didn't realize until a little while ago,
but it's the same guy -- I'm the same guy -- no matter what
the song is!''
Most boomers remember the hits,
Runaround Sue and The Wanderer, in particular, but thanks
to the 3-CD King
of New York Streets, many so-called "oldies'' one may
have subconsciously attributed to now-extinct faceless, nameless
one-hit wonders are identified as Dion's: I Wonder Why, A
Teenager In Love, Ruby Baby, Lonely Teenager, Donna The Prima
Donna, Drip Drop — and that's just from the first phase of
his 40-year career.
Then, reinventing — not himself — but the public's perception,
he recorded Abraham, Martin and John, a late-'60s meditation
on civil rights, loss and spirituality. After a well-received
series of similarly introspective recordings, the former rocker
abandoned several self-destructive habits and embraced a newfound
spirituality. It resulted in yet another path and a new career
as an award-winning Contemporary Christian artist.
He also cut several tracks under the tight supervision of
legendary producer Phil Spector in 1974. The planned album
was never completed, though a single was released and a
compilation of the Spector tracks (with a couple of other
songs, including the incredibly self-revelatory Your Own Backyard,
later covered by Mott
The Hoople) finally surfaced in England in 1981.
"I think it goes back for me to when I was a kid in The
Bronx and first heard Hank Williams singing Jambalaya,'' he
recalled recently, sitting strumming an acoustic guitar, with
his trademark cap and dark glasses.
"I didn't know what the heck Jambalya meant, but I learned
about 70 Hank Williams songs by the time I was 15.
"Willie Green, the super in my apartment building in The
Bronx introduced me to Sonny Boy Williamson and the blues.
Black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood comes
out with an attitude,'' he laughed. ``Country music and the
blues coming together; that's rock and roll.''
IN THE GAME
Dion remained active, especially on stage and television.
In 1988, he published a frank autobiography, The
Wanderer, and later released a new album, Yo
Frankie, that received airplay, including highly vocal
support from South Florida's ``King of Talk Radio,'' Neil
Rogers. He championed the album and presented an in-studio
appearance by Dion.
A couple of years ago, actor/director Chazz Palminteri turned
the autobiography into a screenplay. A movie hasn't been filmed
yet, but Dion wrote incidental music for it anyway. The result
Nu, an album of brand new "oldies'' that sound as if
they were unearthed from a dusty studio vault.
The lead track, Shu Bop, garnered some radio play around
the country. Another song, Hug My Radiator, was born in the
frigid buses Dion rode with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and
the rest during that ill-fated winter tour of the Midwest.
Every Day (That I'm With You) is a heartfelt nod to Holly.
Also featured are a couple of Bruce Springsteen songs sounding
as if they were written with Dion in mind, as well as some
Kempner, a solo artist and producer in his own right,
and guitarist of the once-and-future
Dictators, and ahead-of-their-time rootsy rockers, The
As cool as Deja
Nu is, even more momentous is the release of the New
York Streets anthology. Lovingly compiled and meticulously
produced, the songs cover every phase of his remarkably diverse,
yet consistent, career. Dion's primary instrument, his remarkable
voice, started off high and a little wild, but matured into
a lithe and evocative vehicle without losing a bit of its
trademark edge and attitude. The early
hits sound great, of course, and the '70s stuff, which
maybe seemed a little light at the time, have aged nicely.
The songs from Yo
Frankie and beyond wear just as well. Terrific photos
and notes by Springsteen, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings
(Buddy Holly's bassist on the final tour), and others are
Dion continues to tour (though he prefers not to fly in the
winter, for obvious reasons) and plays material from all phases
of his multifaceted past. He says that he loves the feedback
and emotional response he receives from audiences of all ages.
But he's not like some of the oldies acts on the circuit that
sell prepackaged nostalgia. ``A lot of these guys don't really
care; to them, it's a business. They show up, and they produce,
but the music is over for them. They just redo their hits,''
"Me, I'll always do the classic records. I love 'em, but
the other part of me still wants to create new things.''