Many readers are undoubtedly familiar with the inspiring story of Dion DiMucci, “the Wanderer”, coming back to the Catholic Church and speaking up and out about his faith. I had the pleasure of meeting Dion and talking to he and his wife for a while at EWTN a few years ago; he is an unassuming, gracious, and witty man. Dion, who is now 72, continues to produce music; in fact, he continues to produce really excellent music, especially if you enjoy blues and rootsy rock. His new album, “Tank Full of Blues”, will be released next week; an interview with Dion appeared in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. Here are a couple of snippets:
Your new album, “Tank Full of Blues,” showcases your love for that music. When did you start filling your tank?
Way back at Columbia, John Hammond [the legendary producer who helped launch the careers of greats from Billie Holiday and Count Basie to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen] pulled me into his office. He had this big grin and said “Dion, you seem to have a flair for the blues.” I left there with an armload of albums by Furry Lewis, Leroy Carr, Fred McDowell—and Robert Johnson. I never wanted to imitate those guys like Mick Jagger did—”I followed her to da stay-shun.” I thought if I did that I’d get killed at the Brooklyn Fox where Howlin’ Wolf and all the greats used to play. I met Bo Diddley at the Fox. He scowled at me and said “Where’d you learn to play blues like that?” I thought he was going to kill me. I said, “I listen to records.” He said, “Me, too.”
What did the Delta blues have to say to a 1960s pop idol?
That music comes direct from God. It’s three chords you can use to express any human emotion. The funny thing is, I could sing about feeling lost and abandoned in a bar and they’d ask me to sing it again. You can sing about how you feel all day and get applause; but if you ever talked like that—oh man, my baby done left me and I feel lost and broken and abandoned and I can’t stop crying—you’d get a fist right in your skull. Blues lets you sing about things you’d never say to a stranger. It feels good to sing about feeling bad. …
The real-life wanderer—you—settled down and married his teenage sweetheart, a girl named Sue. Only she wasn’t the runaround—you were. You two will celebrate your 50th anniversary next year. Why did she stick around for a guy who liked to roam around?
I met Susan when she was 14 and I was about 16. We were both playing at the St. Martin’s school Thanksgiving dance. I was singing with a band — Eddie the butcher on bass and Little Roach on drums—doing “Shake Rattle and Roll” and some Carl Perkins songs. She was singing “Lollipop” with Joan & Joan—Susan and two girls from the neighborhood named Joan. I saw her up there—”ooo lala lala lollipop”—and I was struck dumb in love. When I had some success I did a whole lot of stupid things; I thought I was really something special. I’m just lucky she didn’t give up on me. We always loved each other; I just had to grow up a little.
You were friends with Frankie Lymon [“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”], who was famously ripped off by music executives who exploited countless musicians over the years. Do you feel bitterness?
I didn’t get hurt as bad as a lot of people. With “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” I reaped next to nothing in terms of cash. I got lucky after that. I had a guaranteed contract for $100,000 a year from Columbia. But look at guys like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Did they get beat? Yeah they did. And bad. Muddy ended up with nothing. But you got to factor in that they got 50-year careers doing something they love. The record companies, yeah, they weren’t honest, and yeah, they didn’t pay you right. I was angry when I got ripped off. But they gave me something that meant I didn’t have to walk around destroying myself with anger. They took a shot on me. They gave me a career in music that allowed me to go around the world. I was blessed. I’m 72 now and I’m still singing and recording. The life I’ve had, the people I’ve known, the woman I love, the music I’ve made, the faith that fulfills me—it’s all a grace and a gift.