Friday, November 09, 2007

Dion is still the toppermost

Dion DiMucci has long been one of my favourite singers. His body of work stretches from the early doowop with the Belmonts, through his brilliant solo recordings for Laurie and Columbia, to his work with Phil Spector, his gospel recordings and on to his more recent albums such as Deja Nu, Bronx in Blue and now Son of Skip James. But regardless of whether it's rock and roll,, blues or gospel Dion is singing, he has always retained a hint of that early New York street punk demeanour.

So it was last night at the tiny Metro club in Oxford Street where Dion played an acoustic set, wearing his trademark back to front cap and dark glasses. At 68 he looks and sounds great and this was definitely THE gig of 2007 so far as I was concerned. This was billed as the launch of his new blues album Son of Skip James but we got a lot more than that. He kicked off with You're The One from his 2005 Bronx in Blue album and followed up with Statesboro Blues from the same album. He moved on to Chuck Berry's Nadine and Hoodoo Man - both from the new album - before returning to Bronx in Blue for Crossroads. In between we got amusing anecdotes about his English wife of 45 years Susan, his first tour of England with Del Shannon in 1962 (I remember seeing that at the ABC Croydon). He said he knew he's getting old because whenever he sees a cute young chick these days he thinks about what a sexy grandmother she must have. A comment about the brave boys in Iraq fighting for our freedom didn't go down quite so well, but that was forgotten as he linked into his classic Abraham, Martin and John, and then on to If you wanna rock and roll.

Dion reminisced quite a bit about some of the artists he shared a piano stool with when he was young, including Fats Domino, whom he said he couldn't understand because he was Cajun (a quick rendition of My Blue Heaven) and Neil Sedaka (a slightly shaky version of Calendar Girl). By now he was well into oldies territory and called up UK doowop group The Room Mates to back him on excellent versions of Ruby Baby, Runaround Sue and The Wanderer. It was back to the blues for Built for Comfort, and then the only real low point of the show: he asked for a backing track for Hoochie Coochie Man (from Son of Skip James) and got My Babe instead, which he struggled manfully through. His final blues song was his own Son of Skip James, before recalling The Room Mates for a rousing version of his very first hit from 1958 I Wonder Why.

And then Dion was gone. It's 45 years since I first saw him perform and 17 years since his two appearances at the Town and Country Club. There's a rumour that he will come to the UK next year with a band, and he gave the impression that he would have preferred that this time, rather than doing an acoustic set. Personally I can't wait, as Dion remains a toppermost act. Thanks to Alan Lloyd for the photo.


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