MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for and 20th Century Guitar 




Continued From Home Page


The Return of The Wanderer

by Robert Silverstein

While 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 1950’s. 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 who’s 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 and 20th Century Guitar magazine, Dion DiMucci remembers Buddy Holly, his Martin guitars and the making of Heroes.

MWE3: Dion! How’s Florida?

DION: We’re in New York. I live on Wall Street. I mean, I have an apartment here.

MWE3: Oh yeah?

DION: Yeah, so I’m like right across the street from the stock exchange.

MWE3: That’s a cool place to live. So I guess you’re not enjoying the weather today.

DION: Nah, I love it. I love New York man. It’s liquid sunshine. What, are you kiddin’? Love it.

MWE3: Well I hope things are well with you when you return to Florida. I don’t 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 old.

DION: You know it’s funny, but a lot of people have told me that. Elvis Presley loved “Ruby Baby”. Bob Dylan, when I met him, that’s all he talked about. And when I met John Lennon, he talked about “Ruby Baby.” So it’s 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 Richard’s 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, it’s different. Politically, the country is so...

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.

MWE3: 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 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 people’s attention. Just champion the cause. And I think it’s because, 50 years ago, from February, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens died in that plane crash. And it’s 50 years ago that I made my first hit record. And, I don’t 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: You’re 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, it’s almost like a trilogy. And you’re right. I could go back and...there’s 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 I’ll kick your ass!’ (laughter) But you’re right, there are a lot of great songs. At least I could pick another song from each of these guys. C’mon, you know what I’m saying.

MWE3: It’s great to chronicle some of those heroes as it looks like they’re slowly being forgotten.

DION: Well, people don’t make records like this anymore. Great lyrics, great rhythm, the guitar playing... You see what I’m 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 you’ll see the rock was all there. Some of the magazines these days, people believe that rock and roll started with The Beatles or something. That’s 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.

MWE3: 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 wasn’t 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. There’s a web site that has all those pictures, yeah. I was playing a Strat. But you know, it’s funny. There’s not a lot of pictures of me playing guitar. It’s funny because the record company didn’t 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 weren’t as guitar conscious. It seemed to be more about the song, the singer and the sound.

DION: That’s 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’s almost like a opera. And that’s why I think there’s a misconception. That’s 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 don’t know. How old are you?

MWE3: I’m 54 now.

DION: 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 guy’s 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, that’s 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. It’s 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 I’m doing on this album, Heroes, were aware of guys like Lightning Hopkins and John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed. So I’m 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 it’s 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 I’m one of the only guys who could probably do it because a lot of the guys are self-righteous. I should say they’re angry and they can’t see straight. They don’t see what I see. You follow me? I think I’m aware and I’m conscious of what I’m doing here so that’s 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. They’re all gone except Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers.

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 sound.

DION: Absolutely. Blues is just the foundation of where I came from but what it kind of pokered me into was what you’re 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?

DION: 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 guitar?

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, it’s 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 that’s 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: I’m sorry. James Burton. I’m writing and I’m 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 Heroes album?

DION: I played very little electric. Crow did most of the playing as far as lead. And he’s another guy who is very fact on the DVD I said he’s the lost Picasso. He’s like James Burton. He flew under the radar. I don’t even think his mother knows he plays guitar!

MWE3: You did such a great job on “Runaway” and you had the whole farfisa thing down too.

DION: I’ll tell you how I know I did a great job on that song. My wife rarely says anything about anything I do ‘cause she’s so used to it. She’s 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 you! (laughter)

MWE3: Heroes echoes a more innocent era in America.

DION: This is definitely an uplifting album. “Summertime Blues” has such a sense of humor. “I’m gonna take a week, I’m gonna have a fun vacation. I’m going to take my problem to the United Nations. I called my congressman and he said quote, I’d like to help you son but you’re 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, I’m a rhythm singer. If I was born these days, I would have been a rapper. But I’m a rhythm singer and I know where to place words to let the thing rock. And I don’t do it consciously. It’s very intuitive. It’s like instinct but I just know where to put it. And if you say one word off, it’s like it don’t go anywhere. Its’ got to be right on otherwise it don’t rock, it don’t move, it don’t groove.

MWE3: I’m 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” don’t have a guitar solo. But when I think of Buddy Holly, I think of guitar. And it’s amazing!

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, I’d 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 I’d like to do? I’d like to champion the cause of all the guitar players that flew under the radar.’ And I said I’d 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 he’s from Sweden or Norway. But he’s totally into this. Huge Eddie Cochran fan. And you know who loves all that stuff? Conan O’Brien. 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.

MWE3: All the New York guys like Paul Simon and Lou Reed were weaned on your early stuff.

DION: I’m glad I did this album. I’m just so grateful that I had the opportunity to do it now.



Thanks to Dion @ and to Jolyn Matsumuro @ Brookes Company





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