Dion at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury

Mike Perciaccante BY

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NYCB Theatre at Westbury
Westbury, NY
July 11, 2015

Midway through his sold-out performance at Long Island's NYCB Theatre in Westbury, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer, Dion paused and announced, "I had a group called Dion and the Belmonts. In the '50s, the criteria of a good name for a group was that it had to work on three levels. It had to be a great name for a bowling team, a gang and a rock 'n' roll group. Dion and the Belmonts. We were in." When the crowd laughed, Dion also chuckled and added, "You couldn't call yourself Strawberry Alarm Clock. At that time, it just wouldn't have worked."

As one of the first wave of rock 'n' rollers, Dion has seen and done it all. He began his career in the late '50s and along with his friends, Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano, and Angelo D'Aleo (the Belmonts) scored three Billboard Top 40 hits ("I Wonder Why," "No One Knows" and "Don't Pity Me") in 1958. As a result, in 1959, Dion and the Belmonts found themselves performing on the "The Winter Dance Party" tour along with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) and others. On the night of February 3, 1959, after the concert in Clear Lake, IA, rather than take the cramped and cold tour bus, Holly, Valens and Richardson decided to charter a plane to the next tour stop. Dion was invited to accompany the trio but decided that the cost was too much (as lore has it that the cost of the flight was the same as his parents paid in monthly rent). Dion was lucky. By skipping the flight, he avoided the plane crash that killed all on board. Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot Roger Peterson all perished.

Born Dion Francis DiMucci on July 18, 1939, the singer-songwriter, known to all simply as Dion, has created a musical canon that incorporates elements of doo-wop, rock, blues and R&B. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he scored more than a dozen Top 40 hits. In the ensuing decades, Dion has remained busy and vital. In the late '60s, Dion scored a Top 5 hit with "Abraham, Martin and John." In 1985 he was nominated for a Grammy for his I Put Away My Idols album (DaySpring Records, 1983) and in 2007, his blues album Bronx In Blue (SPV Records, 2006) was also nominated. In 1988, Dion's autobiography, written with Davin Seay, titled The Wanderer: Dion's Story (HarperCollins) was published. The singer was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2011 he released another book, The Wanderer Talks Truth (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and he continues to release new music—Tank Full Of Blues (Blue Horizon Records, 2011) being his last collection of originals. In early 2015, he released the critically acclaimed acoustic set Live At The Bitter End, 1971 on Omnivore Recordings. Over the years, his classic tracks and albums have been reissued on a number of labels including The Orchard, Collectables and Capitol Records.

On this warm July evening, the Bronx-born Dion and his band treated the Westbury, NY faithful to what can best be described as a career-spanning hometown performance. Though many of Dion's hits are now almost 50 years old, the singer performed an hour-and-a-half set that showcased the music that was created in each facet of his legendary career. Not only did he perform songs from the first portion of his career (the late '50s and early '60s), he performed songs from his second act (the late '60s and early '70s) as well as selections he released during the '90s and through to the current day.

Dion treated the middle-aged crowd in the packed-to-the-gills venue to the show that they had hoped to see. It was an evening of fun rock with great stories told by one of the creators of the genre. At the time of the performance, Dion was a week shy of his 76th birthday. Though his voice doesn't have the exact same timbre that it had in the late '50s, his vocals were still strong and vital. Dressed all in black with a cabbie's cap perched backward atop his head and wearing sunglasses while brandishing a vintage Fender Telecaster, Dion and his five-piece backing band opened with a rockin' version of "I Got My Eyes on You." After the opening number, the crowd's applause was both loud and long. Dion stepped forward and addressed the crowd by saying, "Wow! You guys must have had a good week!" While the crowd applauded again, the band proceeded to play the doo-wop hit, "Donna the Prima Donna."

In addition to the legendary and classic tunes ("Love Came To Me," Ruby Baby," "I Wonder Why," "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer"), Dion and the band worked their way through some choice covers. Tribute was paid to Buddy Holly ("Rave On"), Eddie Cochran ("Summertime Blues"), Bill Haley ("Shake, Rattle & Roll"), Neil Sedaka ("Calendar Girl") and Fats Domino ("My Blue Heaven"). Each song came with a fantastic story. The best of the lot centered around talking to and playing piano with Sedaka at Annette Funicello's Sweet 16 party. Junior Wells' "Hoodoo Man Blues" was introduced with the hysterical quip about how he was "watching the Tour De France in my hotel room. On drugs, Lance Armstrong won seven Tour De France competitions. On drugs! On drugs, I couldn't find my bike."

One of the highlights of the evening was the new song "Apollo King" which was dedicated to saxophone giant Big Al Sears, the player he used to love seeing at the Harlem's Apollo Theatre when he "was just a kid. He was amazing. This one will be on the new CD which will be out later this year." His late '60s hit "Abraham, Martin and John" was dedicated to "those young men and women fighting to protect our way of life."

As the night wound down, Dion introduced his band (Al Karosy on guitar, keyboardist Dennis DiBrizzi, Arno Hecht on sax, Eddie Denise on bass and Gary Weiss on drums) and rocked the crowd with a powerful version of "King of the New York Streets" from 1989's Yo Frankie! album (Arista Records). They followed that with "Drip Drop" featuring additional vocals by Dion's long-time friend Stan Zizka from the Del-Satins. Revving it up a notch, Dion and the boys closed the show with a trio of songs that had the audience dancing in the aisles—"Runaround Sue," "The Wanderer" and a spectacular version of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock and Roller."

The show was hot...and cool. It rocked. The audience was thrilled by the commanding performance. It was also obvious that Dion was thrilled to be there. He smiled and joked and danced his way through the concert, showing the moves, voice and skills of a much younger man. His charm and vitality was infectious. The audience left the venue smiling and singing, not wistfully reminiscing, but in that happy to be alive glow that can only be achieved through the healing powers of music. And on this evening, Dr. Dion DiMucci soothed his audience's collective souls.

Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon .

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