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Dion DiMucci, A Rock & Roll Caruso

December 30, 2016

 

 

 

I have loved the work of Dion forever.

 

I had my first ever guitar lesson from Trevor Rackley when I was about 13 years, old in a small terraced house on Alma Street in Reading. That Saturday afternoon Trevor wrote out chord charts for three songs; 'Be Bop A Lula' by Gene Vincent, 'Your Cheating Heart' by Hank Williams and 'Teenager In Love' by Dion (written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman) ... whose template I still use now in writing pop blues songs for Michael Messer). They were written out in the key of C major and I can still ... and often do ... play them now.

 

Dion along with Johnny Cash and the Everly Brothers has been the backbone of my musical inspiration my whole life. His recorded work has always uplifted me and made me want to pick up a guitar and play or write another song.

 

There are so many highlights in his recording career; the early days of 'The Wanderer', 'Runaround Sue', 'Abraham, Martin and John' ... his more acoustic Warner Brothers 'songwriter' albums of the 1970's, his awesome (and at the time - neglected) Phil Spector produced 'Born To Be With You' from 1975.

 

The single from those sessions 'Baby Let's Stick Together' featured Bruce Springsteen on vocals. Springsteen's E Street Band guitarist; 'Miami' Steve Van Zandt was a former Dion band member. His 1989 Arista album 'Yo Frankie' was a highpoint in a career full of them ... shortly after he was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

The shows he did at the Town and Country Club in London's Kentish Town shortly after still ring in my own memory - they were awesome performances.

For the first one he was accompanied by his own band from Miami, with John Sambatero on guitar. Sambatero played on some of Stephen Stills albums which were cut down there also on a lot of the Bee Gees records from that time .... The next time he came with Dave Edmunds who produced 'Yo Frankie' ... add Steve Cropper on guitar, Chuck Leavall on keyboards, the 'Miami Horns', Terry Williams on drums and you have a pretty incendiary combination.

 

In 1991 Columbia Records released Dion's 'Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings (1962-1965). It included his versions of songs such as Willie Dixon's 'Spoonful' cut in 1965 and an unreleased version of Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Don't Start Me Talking' from 1964. For my money they rock as hard as anything cut by the Yardbirds or the Rolling Stones. These are diamond hard arrangements of blues classics that are almost primal in their energy.

Clean cut teen idol? .... think again.

 

 

Over the years whenever I've been on the road or in a new town, I would scour the racks in second hand shops for Dion records that I didn't have ... my first time in Nashville in 1987 my friend J.D. Foster (he was a crazy collector too ! ) took me to a record store on the Nolansville Road where he said he was sure I'd find SOMETHING I wanted.

 

I walked in and found a mint condition vinyl copy of "Wonder Where I'm Bound' by Dion which I'd been searching for for years .... J.D. found some T Rex and Mott the Hoople that he didn't have!

 

My album 'Night Ride to Birmingham' is a collection of songs which are tributes/homages to people who inspired my life and music; Johnny Cash, Johnny Burnette, Maria Callas, Laura Nyro and others. The song below for Dion was written after the album was completed ... maybe I'll have to do Volume 2.

 

In closing ... I learned from my Tampa friend Ronny Elliott  that HE recorded the original demo of Dick Holler's 'Abraham, Martin and John' for Dion way back when ....

I might have known. Ronny is one cool cat.

 

"Dion 'The Wanderer' and 'Ruby Baby' "

Where I came from boys grew their hair ...
wanted to be in the Rolling Stones
me ... I went to school with Italian boys
I wanted to be Dion
I still love the way he sings
like a rock 'n' roll Caruso
go down Dion - Bronx to Florida
orange blossom blooming when you go

Where he came from they cruised the streets 
in packs and in the shadows 
the same streets Bobby Darin walked 
where they trained young Jake la Motta 
I still love the way he talks
Like a rock 'n' roll James Cagney 
a rolling panorama, a streetlife symphony 
alchemy and magic in the subway

Chorus
It's Dion 'The Wanderer' and 'Ruby Baby'
swaying down the avenue
engines idle at a red stop light
Dion goes on through
he always goes on through

Was a black and white television set
was on a Saturday night
was Dion singing "Runaround Sue'
- God gave the blind man sight - 
in 'the Holy Land of Marinara'
is where you learn to sing like that
when the high tenor sings the blues
you even dance on your own doormat

Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals
Phil Spector at the mixing board
welcome to the 1970's
hold on tight pull the ripcord
bass drum kicks and rimshot sticks
and the backbeat is the king
'West Side Story' was incomplete
because - when did Dion sing?

Chorus
It's Dion 'The Wanderer' and 'Ruby Baby'
swaying down the avenue
engines idle at a red stop light
Dion goes on through
he always goes on through

Growing up riding the 'D' train
through girders and shadows of evening

marionettes are dancing
while in a sweatshop somebody's weaving
the old folks have memories of Bari
on the coast of the Adriatic
the young ones are looking at the jukebox
and the wonders of 'automatic'

Chorus
It's Dion 'The Wanderer' and 'Ruby Baby'
swaying down the avenue
engines idle at a red stop light
Dion goes on through
he always goes on through

Lyrics by Terry Clarke & Kathryn Lay
Music by Terry Clarke © Bucks Music 2006

 

 

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