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Dion

Dion

Singer, guitarist, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

It is notoriously difficult for teen singing idols to maintain popularity as they matureoften they drift into total anonymity or appear only in oldies revues. These avenues have never appealed to Dion DiMucci, the Italian heartthrob of rock n rolls formative years. Dion with and without his group the Belmontsscored a long string of pop hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, earning millions before the British Invasion changed the face of the rock world. Once dismissed as a mere pop entertainer, Dion has earned the respect of critics for his musicianship, his honest lyrics, and his ability to sustain an audience well into middle age. Now in his 50s, he is still producing, writing, and singing new material.

In a Los Angeles Times review, Kathy Orloff finds much to praise in Dions work. The critic writes: His style is immediately identifiable and unique, his voice is strong and rich and profoundly pure. The sound is sensitive tangible, full. His songs... show him to be open, vulnerable, and yet somehow steady. The vulnerability in Dions music stems from his years of struggle with drug addiction and his subsequent satisfaction at having kicked a heroin habit. The star who has always called himself the Wanderer told People magazine that in his teen-star years he was Mr. Macho, yeah, but lost in a way. Now [Im] home.

Dion was born and raised in the Bronx, son of an itinerant puppeteer who was often unemployed. People reporter Steve Dougherty notes that the singers father was a disaster. He taught Dion to shop-lift and filled him with a lifelong sense of fear and insecurity. Dion grew up on the Bronxs mean streets, running with a gang and shooting heroin from his early teens. He hardly seemed a candidate for show business stardom, but he had two valuable assets that he learned to use: a beautiful singing voice and a cool, macho image that somehow suited rock n roll music.

The day I heard Hank Williams for the first time, my life changed, Dion told People. Before that, music was boring. Rock and roll didnt exist in my neighborhood before that. Hank was the dawn of creation for me. Dion was one of the millions of teens who embraced rock n roll and its black counterpart, rhythm and blues. He began to spend evenings on street corners, singing a capella with several buddies. Dion was the first of the group to find his way into a recording studio, and with a group called the Tamberlanes he cut the single The Chosen Few. When that song did well, he brought in his friends to back him up on his second single, I Wonder Why. Soon they were traveling together

For the Record

Full name Dion DiMucci; born July 18, 1939, in Bronx, N.Y.; son of Pasquale DiMucci (a puppeteer); married, wifes name Susan; children: Tane, August, Lark.

Singer, guitarist, songwriter, 1957. Formed group Dion and the Tamberlanes, 1957; with Fred Milano, Carlo Mastangelo, and Angelo DAleo, formed group Dion and the Belmonts, 1957-60; solo performer, 1960; record labels include: Laurie Records, Columbia Records, ABC Records, Warner Bros. Records, Word Records, and Arista Records.

Awards: Elected to Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, January, 1989.

Addresses: Record companyAnsia Records, Inc., 6 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

gather as Dion and the Belmontsnamed after Belmont Avenue in the Bronx.

While other groups of the period specialized in flashy dance routines, Dion and the Belmonts preferred to keep their stage show simple, almost a version of their street-corner doo-wopping. The group had a number of Top 40 hits between 1957 and 1960, including No One Knows, Dont Pity Me, A Teenager in Love, and A Lovers Prayer. Their most fateful appearance was certainly February 2,1959, when they appeared in Clear Lake, Iowa on a program with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. At the shows conclusion, Dion was asked to pitch in thirty-five dollars to charter a plane to the next concert site. He chose to travel in the bus instead, and thus was spared when the plane carrying Holly and Valens crashed in a cornfield.

Dion and the Belmonts parted ways with no animosity in 1960. Dion began a solo career and soon could lay claim to a number of Top 10 hits. After several modest successes he produced the multimillion seller Runaround Sue in 1961 and the equally successful The Wanderer the following year. Between 1962 and 1964 the singer placed numerous songs on the charts, including Lovers Who Wander, Born To Cry, Little Diane, Sandy, and Come Go with Me. Then the Beatles and the Rolling Stones arrived in America, and the music of entertainers like Dion began to seem simplistic and old-fashioned.

A lot of people thought the British thing [the Beatles, Stones, etc.] blew a lot of people away, Dion said in Where Have They Gone? Rock rí Roll Stars. I dont remember it that way. It didnt knock me on the roadside. I remember stopping. It was a very conscious decision. It wasnt like anything overtook me. In fact, the singer was simply ready to explore new kinds of music, especially folk and blues. He disappeared from the concert scene and began performing at small halls in the Bronx again, practicing acoustic guitar until he became a master of the instrument. He also began to face the facts about his drug use, finally quitting heroin and alcohol in 1968.

That same year a new Dion emerged on the pop scene. The singer recorded a Dick Holler song, Abraham, Martin and John, a folk tribute to three of the nations slain leaders. The piece was an enormous success commercially, but more important, it accorded Dion more respect among critics. In the Rolling Stone Record Guide, Dave Marsh suggests that Abraham, Martin and John is perhaps the best, and certainly the best received, protest song of all, adding that the album from which the single came revealed enormous artistic growth. Dion followed this success with a powerful anti-drug song, Clean up Your Own Back Yard.

Some critics feel that Dions work in the 1970s was hampered by lack of vision on the part of his producers. As Marsh puts it, the singer was trapped in the companys pop-rock production mill, with shoddy backup and lackluster promotion burying his albums. Dion found a new audience in the 1980s and early 1990s, however. A religious experience in 1979 gave him the incentive to apply his brand of soft rock to gospel music. I used to think God only liked organ music, he told People, but religion puts God in a box. From what I read in the Bible, God doesnt like religion. God talks about having a personal relationship with Him. I feel comfortable with that.

From his home base in Boca Raton, Florida, Dion continues to write and record soft-rock inspirational music. Theres a real enjoyment I get out of life today that I never had before, he told People. Dion is not a regular on the oldies revue circuit by any means. When he performs live, it is more likely to be fresh material from recent albums rather than just another tired rendition of Runaround Sue. Still, the singer has not forgotten his roots, the excitement of rock n roll that made him a music fan in the first place. He concluded in People: I show rock and rollers how to grow old gracefully. I want to rock till I drop. I love rock and roll music. It keeps you young.

Selected discography

Solo singles

Lonely Teenager, 1960.

Havin Fun, 1961.

Kissin Game, 1961.

Runaround Sue, 1961.

The Wanderer, 1961.

Lovers Who Wander, 1962.

Little Diane, 1962.

Love Came to Me, 1962.

Ruby Baby, 1962.

Sandy, 1963.

This Little Girl, 1963.

Come Go with Me, 1963.

Be Careful of Stones that You Throw, 1963.

Donna the Prima Donna, 1963.

Drip Drop, 1963.

Johnny B. Goode, 1964.

Abraham, Martin and John, 1968.

Purple Haze, 1968.

Both Sides Now, 1969.

If We Only Have Love, 1969.

Clean up Your Own Back Yard, 1970.

Sunniland, 1971.

Sanctuary, 1971.

New York City Song, 1974.

Hey, My Love, 1976.

Queen of 59, 1976.

Young Virgin Eyes, 1977.

LPs; with the Belmonts

Presenting Dion and the Belmonts, Laurie, 1960.

Dion and the Belmonts, Laurie, 1960.

When You Wish Upon a Star, Laurie, 1960.

Together with the Belmonts, ABC, 1967.

Sixteen Greatest of Dion and the Belmonts, Laurie, 1971.

Everything You Always Wanted To Hear by Dion and the Belmonts, Laurie, 1973.

Dion and the Belmonts Reunion, Laurie, 1973.

So Why Didnt You Do That the First Time? (previously unissued recordings), Ace, 1987.

Solo LPs

Dion Alone, Laurie, 1961.

Runaround Sue, Laurie, 1961.

Lovers Who Wander, Laurie, 1962.

Dion Sings His Greatest Hits, Laurie, 1962.

Ruby Baby, Columbia, 1963.

Dion Sings to Sandy, Laurie, 1963.

Dions Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Laurie, 1966.

Dions Greatest Hits, Volume 2, Laurie, 1966.

15 Million Sellers, Laurie, 1966.

Dion, Laurie, 1968.

I Wonder Where Im Bound, Laurie, 1968.

Sit Down, Old Friend, Laurie, 1970.

Youre Not Alone, Laurie, 1971.

Sanctuary, Laurie, 1971.

Suite for Late Summer, Laurie, 1972.

Dions Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1973.

Ruby Baby, Columbia, 1973.

Streetheart, Warner Bros., 1976.

Return of the Wanderer, Lifesong, 1978.

Kingdom in the Streets, Word, 1985.

Abraham, Martin and John, Ace, 1987.

Alone with Dion, Ace, 1987.

Velvet and Steel, Word, 1987.

Yo Frankie, Arista, 1989.

Sources

Books

DiMucci, Dion and Davin Seay, The Wanderer: Dions Story, Beech Tree Books, 1988.

Lillian Roxons Rock Encyclopedia, Grosset, 1978.

McColm, Bruce and Doug Payne, Where Have They Gone? Rock N Roll Stars, Tempo, 1979.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Rolling Stone Press, 1979.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, revised edition, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1971.

People, November 21, 1988.

Anne Janette Johnson

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