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American Routes Shortcuts: Dion

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Dion and the Belmonts

This is American Routes, following the roots of doo-wop music into rock and roll as part of the life of singer and songmaker Dion DiMucci. Dion was born into a Bronx, New York Italian family in 1939. His father was in vaudeville. Dion gained notoriety as a singer with an appearance on American Bandstand. Back in the neighborhood, he made street music called doo-wop. I asked Dion how an immigrants’ son from the Bronx was able to channel the Southern music of his youth into doo-wop and rock and roll.

Dion DiMucci: Yeah, well you hear “Rip It Up,” and you hear "Long Tong Sally," and you hear "Johnny B. Goode," and that changes your life forever. And within a year I was on the same stage with these guys, would you believe it? One minute I'm sitting in my living room, and I see them dancing across my living room on the Dick Clark show, and the next minute I'm backstage with them becoming friends with Bo Diddley and Little Richard. It was just great for me. I was like–it just opened my world completely.

Nick Spitzer: When you listen back to all your old songs with Dion and the Belmonts, I mean what goes through your head? I mean that’s another time, another place.

DD: Yeah, well sometimes, if I hear “I Wonder Why” like right out of a loudspeaker in a good situation, I immediately think, "Man, those kids are great." You see, that song was a defining moment in my life. I invited these guys from different neighborhoods; I kind of recruited the best street corner singers. They came up to my parents’ apartment, and I gave out some parts, and we were doing four different things. Carlo on the bass, we wanted him to sound like a rivet gun. We were just making up sounds; we didn't have the Internet. One of the guys was an opera singer so he got into the stratosphere with his tenor vocal, and the guy in the middle, he sang in falsetto, but very low, and I was doing lead, so we were doing four different things. And when we hit that song, I felt like I was on a merry-go-round in heaven. I didn't know what happened.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.