Dion Releases Incredible Blues Album

Blues With Friends features Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, John Hammond, Samantha Fish and other impressive guests

Dion DiMucci hasn’t exactly been on my radar screen. While I knew and have always liked his early ’60s hits like Runaround Sue and The Wanderer and was aware that he is revered among many artists, I simply didn’t follow him. I also had no idea that Dion had turned to the blues in more recent years – until Friday when I coincidentally came across his new album Blues With Friends, a true gem I could see win blues awards.

Released on June 5, the record features guests like Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer, Sonny Landreth and Samantha Fish. And the list goes on and on. If you’re cynical, you might say, ‘sure, we’ve seen this before, an aging rocker is getting some help from big name friends.’ But once you start listening to the album, this feels different.

To start with, Dion who is turning 81 years in just a little over a month on July 18, still has a compelling voice. He is not outshined by his formidable guests. It’s also noteworthy this record isn’t a collection of blues covers. These are 14 original songs, of which Dion co-wrote 13 tunes, mostly with Mike Aquilina.

And then there’s this excerpt from the liner notes: Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs, these blues songs. He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these Blues songs with him. The author? Bob Dylan. I guess it’s time for some music!

Blues Comin’ On is the excellent opener featuring some sizzling slide guitar action by Joe Bonamassa. All of the tracks I’m highlighting in this post were co-written by Dion and Aquilina. This one has a Gary Moore feel!

Let’s move on to some rockabilly: Uptown Number 7. And who better to have as a guest guitarist on this one than Brian Setzer! “I wanted to write an old-fashioned gospel number in the style of the Golden Gate Quartet,” explains Dion in a press release. “I wanted this one to be about moving forward in the spiritual life… having a goal…facing temptations along the way. So, I put it all on a train, because that’s what New Yorkers do if they want to get anywhere: they take the train.”

One of the sonic highlights on the album, perhaps not surprisingly, is when Jeff Beck does his guitar magic: Can’t Start Over Again. “My earliest influences were country blues, especially Hank Williams,” explains Dion. “Any money I earned I took to the neighborhood record store, where the owner used to razz me about my “hillbilly” tastes. I guess I still have that hillbilly inside. For my last album I wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Go Back to Memphis,’ but I go back there with this number. It’s about love and loss and heartache, the classic themes. I believe it’s a true blues song.”

Next up: My Baby Loves to Boogie, featuring John Hammond on harmonica. “John Hammond and I go back to the ’60s at the Gaslight coffee house in Greenwich Village,” Dion points out. “I’ve always admired John. He’s a dear friend. I played him this song and he said he heard harp on it. Well, friends, now you could hear exactly what he was talking’ about. It sounds like ‘Boogie Beyond.'”

A particular moving and beautiful tune is Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America). “I wrote this tune back many years ago,” Dion recalls. “At first I just had the melody and the refrain ‘Here in America.’ A friend suggested I use an episode from my memoir about walking southern streets with Sam Cooke in 1962. I finished the song, but it felt too personal, so I put it aside. Then in 2019 I saw the movie Green Book and after that I couldn’t shake the song.” Sadly, the lyrics remain relevant in present-day America. Paul Simon proves to be a great guest to help bring the song to life. Here’s the official video for the tune.

I’d like to close with What If I Told You, a great tune featuring hot guitar work by Samantha Fish. “Same old story: suspicion,” comments Dion. “The challenge is to make it new and fresh and I think I did. If I put out the same amount of energy and emotion that Samantha Fish put into this song, I wouldn’t be able to walk for three weeks. EPIC!!!”

“I wanted an album of songs that were strong and memorable and told stories that were worth telling,” says Dion. “The blues have been at the heart of my music since the early 1960s. ‘The Wanderer’ is a twelve-bar blues and I was covering Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed in my early years at Columbia – much to the dismay of my corporate masters.”

Blues With Friends was produced by Wayne Hood and appears on Keeping The Blues Alive Records, a new label started by Joe Bonamassa and his manager Roy Weisman. It’s an offshoot of Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation, Bonamassa’s non-profit that aims to conserve the art of music and the rich culture and history of the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dion DiMucci website; YouTube

11 thoughts on “Dion Releases Incredible Blues Album”

  1. Dion. Wow, good find. Love the guy’s singing. I haven’t spun this yet but I definitely will. A while back I did a series called “The Indispensable 150.” I think it’s before you were following my site. It consists of 150 pre-Beatles songs from the Fifties and early Sixties. So, doo-wop, early rock ‘n roll, soul, girl groups, etc. Dion is represented. I have no idea if any of that stuff floates your boat but FYI.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I noted in the post, sure, I knew Dion as one of the early rock & rollers but really had no idea he’s still as active and now focuses on the blues – and does so incredibly well!

      I’ve already listened to this album several times. It’s a true gem.

      Having famous guests is nice but doesn’t necessarily guarantee a great outcome. In this case, I think it works very well, since they are not overpowering Dion, who seems to be in fantastic shape.

      And all of that after a 60-year-plus career with all the ups and downs including heroin addiction!

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      1. Yep, though I guess you can’t have it both ways. Though the thought of being able to skip this year surely sounds attractive.

        Of course, the caveat is we don’t know yet what’s in store for 2020. I really hope this country is getting its shit together, starting with the necessary cleanup in November!

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  2. I never thought of Dion as a blues singer but man…he is on top of this. The music is right on the mark also…of course he has mega talent backing him. Great tracks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me neither. In fact, he was completely off my radar screen until I did the most recent installment of my Best of What’s New.

      Apart from his still decent vocals, I find it impressive that Dion co-wrote most of these tunes. The man is turning 81 years next month!

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  3. Just listening now. Holy shit! This is fucking great! He’ll be 81. Man, sometimes these guys just come into their prime late. And he was already in his prime 60 years ago! Dion has always been great. I sent a link to one of the videos on YouTube to my sister. Dion is her era but he’s unrecognizable here.

    Liked by 1 person

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