The Return of The Wanderer
by Robert Silverstein
the early blues giants gave him a foundation to work with, the first
rock and roller to officially go by one name, Dion DiMucci arrived
during the 1950s. The mid 50s was the historic era when
the giants of rock and roll came and brought about the huge musical
changes that emerged between 1958-63. On his 2008 CD Heroes: Giants
Of Early Guitar Rock, Dion celebrates the 50th anniversary of
his first hits while sending out a salute to the early heroes of 50s
rock and roll. While his 2006 blues tribute, Bronx In Blue was
a mostly low-key acoustic based set featuring Dion covering Robert
Johnson, Lightning Hopkins and Jimmy Reed, his 2008 CD/DVD set Heroes:
Giants Of Early Guitar Rock is a solid return to rock and roll,
featuring Dion backed up in the studio by a band featuring guitarist
Bobby Crow Richardson. Dion toured with and was a friend
of the late great rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly and so many of
the artists whose music he now covers on Heroes. As Dion points
out, he may well be the only artist still alive whos fully qualified
to cover these songs under one roof. The 15 track Heroes CD
is accompanied by a 45 minute DVD featuring Dion and Richardson in
the studio jamming and retelling the guitar history and trivia behind
each of these rock and roll classics. For his interview with Robert
Silverstein of MWE3.com and 20th Century Guitar magazine, Dion DiMucci
remembers Buddy Holly, his Martin guitars and the making of Heroes.
MWE3: Dion! Hows Florida?
DION: Were in New York. I live on Wall Street. I mean, I have
an apartment here.
MWE3: Oh yeah?
DION: Yeah, so Im like right across the street from the stock
MWE3: Thats a cool place to live. So I guess youre not
enjoying the weather today.
Nah, I love it. I love New York man. Its liquid sunshine. What,
are you kiddin? Love it.
MWE3: Well I hope things are well with you when you return to Florida.
I dont want to go back there, especially after what happened
after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
DION: That hurricane traumatized me. What are you kidding?
MWE3: My father had no electricity for a week and he was a WWII vet.
DION: It was hard on them.
MWE3: I met you back in 1989 when we both used to go to that same
restaurant down in Boca, the Grainary... Remember that place?
DION: Yes I do! That was a great place. I liked that place a lot.
MWE3: I remember talking with you there once and telling you what
a huge influence Ruby Baby had on me when I was nine years
DION: You know its funny, but a lot of people have told me that.
Elvis Presley loved Ruby Baby. Bob Dylan, when I met him,
thats all he talked about. And when I met John Lennon, he talked
about Ruby Baby. So its an interesting thing. And
I tell you something, the greatest compliment I ever got...I would
put it up, the number one compliment of my life was Little Richards
mother, Leva Mae, when she met me she said, Boy, are you that
boy who sings Ruby Baby? (laughter) I said Yes mam,
she says, Honey you got soul! And, I never forgot it.
MWE3: I remember back in the 90s you said, the 90s was
like the 60s upside down, so clearly this has been a tough decade...
DION: Musically? Well, its different. Politically, the country
MWE3: Are you living in New York now for good?
DION: No, I live in Florida but I have an apartment here. I just came
up because this new album is coming out on September 30th.
On your Heroes album you pay tribute to the architects of rock.
Perhaps the coolest thing about guys like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison,
Bo Diddley was that they were great guitarists to begin with.
DION: They were! They were. The reason why I wanted to do that album...sometimes
people look at that era as kind of light. You know like...one hit
wonders? I explain it on the DVD. But in my eyes there were a lot
of artists back there. A lot of great artists. So, I wanted to bring
that to peoples attention. Just champion the cause. And I think
its because, 50 years ago, from February, Buddy Holly and Richie
Valens died in that plane crash. And its 50 years ago that I
made my first hit record. And, I dont know...maybe my mind just
kind of reflected on where I came from and the great people I knew.
And I just wanted to say something about it.
MWE3: Youre like an encyclopedia of music. There must be easily
a volume two or three to come.
DION: I must say, I recorded an album called Bronx In Blue. It
was songs that I grew up with, that I was listening to. Cause
there was no rock and roll when I was a kid. So Bronx In Blue,
and and that was up for a Grammy in the traditional blues category,
cause I did it was my guitar two years ago. And then last year
I recorded an album called Son Of Skip James where it went
from like the 30s, 40s and 50s. So this album, its
almost like a trilogy. And youre right. I could go back and...theres
so many more songs back there (laughter) god knows. And guitar players.
I wanted to do a Johnny Burnett song cause he had the Johnny
Burnett Trio. He was like the first family of rock and roll. My wife
said, you better put one of your songs on there or Ill
kick your ass! (laughter) But youre right, there are a
lot of great songs. At least I could pick another song from each of
these guys. Cmon, you know what Im saying.
MWE3: Its great to chronicle some of those heroes as it looks
like theyre slowly being forgotten.
DION: Well, people dont make records like this anymore. Great
lyrics, great rhythm, the guitar playing... You see what Im
trying to say on this album is, Fender guitars were invented in the
Fifties. Les Paul guitars were invented in the Fifties. The whammy
bar on the Gretsch by Bigsby. He invented that in the Fifties. Grunge,
sonic boom was invented in the Fifties with Link Wray. Twang was invented
in the Fifties with Duane Eddy. And if you listen to The Train
Kept A Rollin by Johnny Burnette youll see the rock
was all there. Some of the magazines these days, people believe that
rock and roll started with The Beatles or something. Thats why
I said that I believe there are two decades when giants walked the
Earth. Fifties, which was like the Chuck Berry thing and the Sixties,
which was the Beatles thing and the Jimi Hendrix thing. And everything
is kind of a spin off from that I think.
Being you were a little younger than those guys, was it ever intimidating
rubbing shoulders with giants like Buddy Holly?
DION: Never intimidating. No. I had a Bronx attitude and we were all
in it together. There wasnt any intimidating feeling cause
we were all inventing it together. We were all into each others music.
I traveled with Buddy Holly for five and half weeks. Two of those
weeks were on the Winter Dance Party. The tour that...the fatal plane
crash when he died. Buddy Holly and I and Richie Valens had the first
Fender guitars and we were in a contest to see who would make them
ring the longest. We were just having fun and creating this stuff.
And we sang in the back of the bus for like two weeks. I wish we had
a tape recorded of all the stuff we did back there. It was great.
We had a ball. We were more like brothers. Or like, we discovered
each other. It was like a mutual admiration society.
MWE3: So you were playing those Fender guitars on the Winter Dance
Party tour in 59?
DION: Well you could access those pictures on that web site. Theres
a web site that has all those pictures, yeah. I was playing a Strat.
But you know, its funny. Theres not a lot of pictures
of me playing guitar. Its funny because the record company didnt
want me to. Even though I played on all my hit records there were
very few pictures of me playing guitar. I did play it in person though.
MWE3: A lot of the early 60s bands werent as guitar conscious.
It seemed to be more about the song, the singer and the sound.
DION: Thats why I did this album. Because I felt it was about
guitars. I felt like Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore, and James Burton
and Paul Burlison, who played Johnny Burnette. Cliff Gallup played
for Gene Vincent. And Luther Perkins had played with Johnny Cash.
Carl Perkins and myself and Shannon... All these guys were great guitar
players and great songwriters. Runaway is a great...its
almost like a opera. And thats why I think theres a misconception.
Thats why I wanted to do this album. To get all these guys under
one umbrella. To show the artistry of...The Everly Brothers had a
guy called Joe Maphis who played for them. And Chet Atkins. Come on!
Being that Rolling Stone started in 67... I dont know.
How old are you?
MWE3: Im 54 now.
So, I did this album for guys like your age and younger. Guys a little
younger than you, the furthest they go back... I was talking to a
guy 45 years old and he said Dion, and this guys
a record collector who knows a lot. He said The furthest I go
back, is I know that Jimi Hendrix for B.B. King. And I Well,
thats not far enough. You should know all the guys that
Clapton and Jeff Beck idolized. Jeff Beck is total Cliff Gallup fanatic.
He did a whole album on Cliff Gallup. So I think I made an album here
that is a bit different. Its to champion the cause or showing
a lot of the stuff that happened in the Sixties, all the ground work
was laid in the Fifties. And those guys that Im doing on this
album, Heroes, were aware of guys like Lightning Hopkins and
John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed. So Im doing something a little
different because I think, once in a while Rolling Stone will write
an article on somebody. Like maybe Scotty Moore or something but its
never put under one umbrella where it says, hey the 50s were
chock filled. And my idea of the Fifties is like up to 63. And
to say that hey, these guys were awesome poets. Eddie Cochran, Chuck
Berry...come on! And they were great guitar players. And I knew them
and I wanted to champion the cause. And I think Im one of the
only guys who could probably do it because a lot of the guys are self-righteous.
I should say theyre angry and they cant see straight.
They dont see what I see. You follow me? I think Im aware
and Im conscious of what Im doing here so thats
why I think I could do it instead of just being angry at not getting
paid royalties. And I gotta tell you man, a lot of guys on that album
are gone. Theyre all gone except Chuck Berry and The Everly
MWE3: You mentioned revisiting the blues on your other recent CDs,
but I think your heart is really in the late 50s rock and roll
DION: Absolutely. Blues is just the foundation of where I came from
but what it kind of pokered me into was what youre talking about.
MWE3: You really are the right guy to do this.
DION: Well thank you.
MWE3: What guitars are you using on on the Heroes album?
I use my guitars. I have a Heroes model which I use on the DVD and
I have the signature black guitar that Martin made me. Actually you
can see it on my web site. I use that and then Crow, my guitar player,
he used that Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model. He also has a 1966 Fender
Mustang. Then he has a 54 Tele, some Vox amplifiers and he has
these old Fender amplifiers.
MWE3: Is there a story about hooking up with Martin for the signature
DION: Dick Boak from Martin called me and just wanted to do that for
me. To be honest with you man, I was blown away. I was just blown
away because all my life, when I was a kid, watching Hank Williams
play that Martin, its all I ever wanted. Crow has a J200 Gibson
that he played and a D45. He has guitars that, you could lust after
them. He just had a gang of guitar there. Different Strats. He has
one Strat thats like Stevie Ray Vaughan, you know three pickups.
We just used whatever sounds best.
MWE3: You played your Martin way back on Ruby Baby so
you go back a long way with Martin.
DION: Absolutely. Like I said, I grew up looking at Hank Williams
playing that Martin. Even as a kid, even though I was a friend of
Ricky Nelson and we hung together at different times, even as close
as we were, I would watch Ozzie & Harriet just to see the last
four minutes of him holding whatever guitar he was going to be holding.
And a lot of the times they were Martins. And to see Scotty Moore
rocking out back there.
MWE3: You mean James Burton.
DION: Im sorry. James Burton. Im writing and Im
talking... Yeah, the great James Burton right?
MWE3: Do you keep in touch with Scotty or James Burton?
DION: I saw James Burton. He just was inducted into the Rock And Roll
Hall Of Fame. Sounds great. Good guy.
MWE3: You mentioned the Strat. Are you playing the Strat on the new
DION: I played very little electric. Crow did most of the playing
as far as lead. And hes another guy who is very much...in fact
on the DVD I said hes the lost Picasso. Hes like James
Burton. He flew under the radar. I dont even think his mother
knows he plays guitar!
You did such a great job on Runaway and you had the whole
farfisa thing down too.
DION: Ill tell you how I know I did a great job on that song.
My wife rarely says anything about anything I do cause shes
so used to it. Shes kind of deaf to it. But when I played Runaway
in my studio, I got home and played it, she came in and she said,
Dion, you nailed. Del is smiling down and is proud of
MWE3: Heroes echoes a more innocent era in America.
DION: This is definitely an uplifting album. Summertime Blues
has such a sense of humor. Im gonna take a week, Im
gonna have a fun vacation. Im going to take my problem to the
United Nations. I called my congressman and he said quote, Id
like to help you son but youre too young to vote.
MWE3: These are some of the songs that people are going to remember
in fifty years.
DION: The other thing is, Im a rhythm singer. If I was born
these days, I would have been a rapper. But Im a rhythm singer
and I know where to place words to let the thing rock. And I dont
do it consciously. Its very intuitive. Its like instinct
but I just know where to put it. And if you say one word off, its
like it dont go anywhere. Its got to be right on otherwise
it dont rock, it dont move, it dont groove.
MWE3: Im a huge fan of yours and Buddy Holly...
DION: I just wanted to say one thing....about Buddy Holly. Great guitar
player and all his songs were guitar driven. But he never had a guitar
solo on any of them. Rave On dont have a guitar
solo. But when I think of Buddy Holly, I think of guitar. And its
MWE3: How did you hook up with Saguaro Records?
DION: Well Saguaro Road came to me and said Dion, would you
do a doo-wop album for us? And I said, Man, Id love
to. There are so many great songs. Doo-wop songs that I just
love. That are just part of my DNA. As I thought about it, these songs
started emerging from my psyche. And I called them and I said, Listen,
you know what Id like to do? Id like to champion the cause
of all the guitar players that flew under the radar. And I said
Id like to make a DVD with it and talk about some of these guys
that I knew. And I presented it to them and they said, Go with
it. So maybe the next one will be something different. And the
guy, Bas Hartong who is the a&r man there was totally into all
this. I think hes from Sweden or Norway. But hes totally
into this. Huge Eddie Cochran fan. And you know who loves all that
stuff? Conan OBrien. I was with him for about a half hour yesterday.
Man is he into all that stuff. He has guitars in his office. He impressed
me. He really is a record collector.
All the New York guys like Paul Simon and Lou Reed were weaned on
your early stuff.
DION: Im glad I did this album. Im just so grateful that
I had the opportunity to do it now.
to Dion @ www.diondimucci.com
and to Jolyn Matsumuro @ Brookes Company