From doo-wop to blues, Dion is still going strong - Gusto
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From doo-wop to the blues, Dion is still going strong

Dion might be the only early rock ’n’ roll star still making interesting music – and he’s not through yet.

The Bronx-born vocalist could hardly contain himself talking about his next album of rock and blues.

“I think I wrote my best album coming up. I’m about to go into the studio with 12 new songs, and they’re mesmerizing to me,” said Dion, who turns 75 in July but sounds like he could easily be 25 or 30 years younger.

The bona fide rock ’n’ roll legend – who was the epitome of “cool” – will perform a sold-out concert Saturday punctuated with plenty of his hits at Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.

Dion, whose last name is DiMucci, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 on the strength of songs such as “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby.”

Pop music changed suddenly when the British Invasion arrived on American shores in 1964. That and substance abuse – Dion began shooting heroin at age 14 – put his career on the shelf for several years.

Then, in 1968, Dion found spirituality, which remains a central part of his life. It helped him go clean for good, and he resurfaced that year with the heartfelt, “Abraham, Martin and John.” Dion also moved to Boca Raton, Fla., where he still lives with his wife of 51 years, Susan Butterfield.

Dion’s career would gravitate from folk to contemporary Christian to the blues. Since 2006, he has released the Grammy-nominated “Bronx in Blue,” which included country standards, followed the next year by “Son of Skip James” and in 2012, “Tank Full of Blues.”

It turns out the musician who sang doo-wop on Bronx street corners was a huge blues and country music fan growing up.

“I wanted to communicate like Hank Williams, and I wanted to groove like Jimmy Reed. Back then, for first-generation rock ’n’ rollers, if you mixed country music and blues you had rock ’n’ roll, and that’s what they all did – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino,” Dion said.

He was exposed to country music through a radio station playing out of Newark, N.J.

“I owned 50 Hank Williams records – 78s – by the time I was 15. I was enthralled with him,” he said.

For a lot of people of a certain age, Dion inspired the same feelings. He accepts that, with humility.

“I would just like to be a part of a chain, part of the fabric that passes on that music that comes from the heart,” he said.

Over the years, Dion’s admirers have included Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and the late Lou Reed, who inducted him into the Rock Hall.

“I loved Lou Reed. He had a menacing kind of image, but if you knew him personally he was a really warm guy to be around, a good guy, a friend,” Dion said.

“And when a guy like Bob Dylan comes over to you and says, ‘Man, I like that song, ‘Ruby Baby,’ it just makes you feel good, because to me he was the greatest poet of the 20th century.”

Dion said he’s looking forward to returning to Western New York.

“I’ve froze in Buffalo, in all different times of the year,” he laughed. “It’s a great city. I have a great band, and we’re looking forward to rocking out and enjoying the people there.”


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