Thursday SXSW Interview: Dion
Dion11pm, Victorian Room at the Driskill
"'Runaround Sue' was a cleverly disguised blues song," says New York rock & roll pioneer Dion. "When I did [2006's acoustic blues covers LP] Bronx in Blue, some guy asked me, 'Is this a stretch for you?' I said, 'No! 'Teenager in Love' was a stretch for me!'"
Not that the man born Dion Francis DiMucci in the Bronx 76 years ago doesn't love and appreciate his 1959 No. 5 doo-wop hit with the Belmonts and its staying power. "I think my foundation in the blues informed my reading of it. You bring it to everything you do, those kinda roots. It's the foundation for everything."
Including the vital LP he just issued, New York Is My Home. Enlisting heavy hitters like Paul Simon on the title track's shared vision of street corner a cappella, and Conan O'Brien bandleader Jimmy Vivino's SRV-meets-B.B. King licks, Dion should be playing Antone's. His many classics – "The Wanderer," "Ruby Baby," "Drip Drop" – had a root soul.
"I wanted to communicate like Hank Williams and groove like Jimmy Reed," he says.
Emulating horn players in his phrasing led to one of Home's most potent tracks, Chuck Berry-esque rocker "The Apollo King," about Fifties R&B legend Big Al Sears.
"The first night I went to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Sears walks on, and he was like the original Clarence Clemons! He had a white hat/suit/shoes/vest, and a big gold horn. He came out to the middle of the stage and oh, man! I went outta my mind!"