Comeback Baby, Comeback Dion Launches Fourth Career Revival With Rock 'N' Roll Album

Posted: July 05, 1989

NEW YORK — In the high reaches of the Hilton Hotel, lunching on a basket of peanuts and Saratoga water, Dion DiMucci says with a laugh that "I've made a whole career out of comebacks."

After the Belmonts, he came back solo. After the British Invasion, he came back with "Abraham, Martin and John." After the drugs, he came back with gospel albums. He came back to rock 'n' roll with his famous 1986 Radio City concert. Now he has come back with his first new rock 'n' roll album in many years: "Yo Frankie," a collection of good old rock 'n' roll songs like ''King of the New York Streets," "Drive All Night" and "Written on the Subway Walls."

"We were doing the video for 'Subway Walls' in the subway the other night," he says. "Paul Simon was there. We had about 15 cops and 20 Guardian Angels. Joan Jett and Lou Reed came by, Dave Edmunds on guitar. It was wild."

Dion's now getting his band together for a tour, he says, and while those folks won't be in it, they're among a large group of rock 'n' rollers who have boosted Dion with an extraordinary measure of respect. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January, Reed introduced him as a man who had the chops "and practically invented the attitude."

Reminded of this, Dion laughs. "Lou's been great. I just go around telling people he's right."

One of the nice things about Dion's new album is that the attitude remains, along with the voice. This isn't a record about being a happy grownup; it's full of restlessness and introspection, underscored by his remake of Tom Waits' "San Diego Serenade."

"I wanted to change that from a waltz. So I asked Dave (Edmunds), 'How should I do this?' and he said, 'Dion, if you can't figure out how to sing this, we might as well all go home.' Tom Waits called the other day and said he liked it. That was good."

The music and the attitude have always been intertwined, Dion muses. "We were Italian guys basically singing black music," he says. "Even then, my hero was Hank Williams and I wanted to call myself Tommy Reed and sing 'Cold, Cold Heart' and 'Jambalaya.' But I wasn't really doing Hank Williams. I was doing his songs with that Italian attitude, coming through the black music I'd heard. In the Bronx then, there were these songs you knew, but you had no idea where they came from.

"I remember a building superintendent named Willie who used to sing songs that blew my mind. We'd be cooling off under a hydrant and he'd be singing 'Don't Start Me To Talkin'.' It wasn't until years later I found out it was a Sonny Boy Williamson song, or his other songs were by guys like Lightnin' Hopkins.

"But when we put the Belmonts together, all this came into it - with the harmony groups and everything. We tried to figure a way to use the guys' voices as a horn section, 'cause we couldn't afford a real one.

"It's the same on 'Yo Frankie.' On 'King of the New York Streets,' I end up singing like a saxophone - that comes from Big Al Sears, Red Prysock, the great sax players I heard in the '50s."

Dion smiles, pops a peanut. He's a happy man these days, he says. He likes what he used to do, he likes what he's doing now. And if something doesn't work out, he'll just come back again.

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