Dion: Blues Taught Me How to Live; Part Two

By Don Wilcock

On January 24, 2012, 1950s rock and roll star Dion Di Mucci released the third CD in his blues trilogy, Tank Full of Blues. The first two, Bronx in Blue and Son of Skip James, were largely covers of classic delta blues songs. On Tank Full of Blues Dion discovers his own blues voice and on one cut in particular, “Bronx Poem,” he creates a deeply personal statement that transcends the current definitions of rock and roll and/or blues.

At 72, he cuts away all artifice and produces a musical statement that underlines Willie Dixon’s definition of the genre: truth.  Add Dion to the short list of fellow icons Dylan and Cash in his ability to turn a microscope on his life under a spotlight so sharp and clear that it hides no imperfections. On “Bronx Poem,” Dion does not blink: ‘Yo! When I’m inside a song I’m strong. I can’t go wrong. That’s where I belong. Come along. It’s good. It’s bad. Who said it was perfect?’”

Two people in his life gave Dion permission to look inside his songs, Blues Foundation Director Jay Sieleman and music journalist Dave Marsh.

“Jay said to me, ‘Back in the day, Robert Johnson had a story. There was some kind of narrative and some kind of genius about his writing,’ and I said, ‘You know, I tell ya, Jay. I’m gonna lean in on the stories.’ So, I started leaning towards stories and really drawing pictures. I love drawing pictures with words.’”

“Jay told me about the story in the blues, and Dave Marsh told me about being the most creative and relevant over all these decades. He said, “You’re truly an artist for the ages.” Then, after those two remarks from Jay and Dave Marsh I thought, you know, let me express who I am within this genre. Let me start expressing who I am and what I can do in this musical form ’cause I loved the blues. I never realized how it was everything to me until I did Bronx in Blue. When I went in I cut that album in two days. I thought, ‘This is really what’s the center of my being.’ I never knew it. I kind of overlooked it because of the era I came from.”

Dion has travelled light years since “The Wanderer” and “Ruby, Baby,” but one consistency is that he’s always been what he calls a rhythm singer.

“It’s a rhythm that takes you along, that connects everything, and it’s the rhythm of the streets and the rhythm of the city.” In part one of our interview Dion said, “I think anybody could sing rock and roll, but I don’t think anybody could sing the blues. You need something in the blues. You need that feeling. There’s something about it. You need to be connected to it. I don’t think you can learn it.”


Don Wilcock for Blues411: Tank Full of Blues is the third record in what you’re calling your trilogy.

Dion Di Mucci: Yeah.

B411: Does that mean it’s your last blues album?

DD: Absolutely not. I just wanted to, like I said, express who I was within the genre because I had done songs from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s on the last –  stuff that I consider classic, and I wanted to express – really show who I was with my voice sort of up front. I wanted to express myself within that form.

B411: Okay. When you look at some of our blues heroes like Buddy Guy and B. B. King, they’re older than we are, but then you also look at people we’ve lost in the last year or so like Honeyboy Edwards and Willie Big Eyes Smith and Clarence Clemons. Does that force you to look at your own mortality? How does it feel to be 72 and getting into the blues?

DD: Like I was saying, I’ve never felt more relevant, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’m very blessed in that respect because – at my age – I feel a lot of gratitude for that because I have a good mind. I have a good perspective, a good bird’s eye view of where I came from and the music, and how it evolved and the friends I have. I’m just very grateful because this music opened my whole life to travel, to meeting people and everything we think.

It all works itself in relationships. Without relationships, you got yourself. That’s pretty boring. So, I’m very grateful. In fact, to a large degree, the blues taught me how to live, the music, the feel and all the nuances in between the words, you know, reading between the lines and everything, good and bad. It taught me how to live and survive and move forward. I wrote a book and in the Bible they have the Psalms, and those are songs, and if they had to retitle the Psalms, they’d call them the blues.

Everybody in the Bible is broken and damaged. We’re all so imperfect. We were talking off the subject for a second, but we were talking about our dads, my kids, I know they love me. I got a great relationship with my kids. But yeah, I’m not perfect. They gotta roll with some of my little quips and quirks and all that kind of stuff.

B411: I’ll bet your wife takes care of that.

DD: [Laugh] Yeah, we’re a good team. She runs interference for me.

B411: Yeah, I can see that interaction working. Blue Horizon (Tank Full of Blues is the first CD on the new Blue Horizon label) was one of my favorite labels from England in the ’60s, and of course they  went belly up, and I think they tried to get back on their feet10 years ago or something, and that didn’t go over either. Do you feel at all responsible for renewing the vitality of that legacy?

DD: No, Seymour Stein and myself, we’re good friends, and so we go out for dinner. Man, you’d love to be there. These guys, I love to be there because Seymour Stein is like an encyclopedia because he sings all throughout the meal. I mean he’s great to go out with. He just sings songs you wouldn’t believe. I mean, he knows everything. I can’t begin to tell the songs he pulls out of a hat and knows beginning to end. I mean in everything including Hank Williams, Luke The Drifter, his narrations.

So, no, I don’t feel responsible. You know what? I feel like it’s a good fit. I feel like the album’s good. I don’t think of – I’m too busy creating and living and enjoying life to think – and I’m a believer. So like the 23rd Psalm says, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever. So, I’m changing addresses somewhere along the line. That’s about it.

B411: In 2007, this is a direct quote from you, “Sometimes white guys are trying to get inside the blues. Blues guys are trying to get out.

DD: [Laugh]

B411: When I reread that quote today I was thinking back to about a year ago I went with Danny Kalb to this jail in Burlington, Vermont, where he played the blues for these inmates, and I felt that dichotomy between them trying to get out and him trying to get in. Can you define what you meant by that?

DD: Well, you know, I might redefine it because I always said you don’t have to be a young, black guy to have the blues, and in the ’30s walking to the crossroads because John Paul II had them. He was born in Poland under the Nazis, under Communism. His friends were dying on the streets so the guy had the blues. It just was a letter – maybe he didn’t define it like we’re talking. He didn’t have the form, the three cords, but he had it. You know what I mean?

B411: Yeah.

DD: So, I don’t know. I might almost take that quote back.

B411: [Laugh] You’re wiser and older now. You don’t think the same way.

DD: Now, I don’t think –

B411: How would you say it today?

DD: I’m just meaning some like black kids today that don’t even know rock and roll has black roots. They think it’s white music, so I don’t know. I’m relooking. I’m taking a new look at this stuff, you know?

B411: It’s evident in your writing.

DD: ’Cause you had the blues growing up, and I had the blues, and I don’t know how you want to cut that up, or you can’t see it on a graph or anything, but you get it. You have it.

B411: Here’s another quote from 2007, “Freedom and license are two different things. License is giving your will permission to do anything you want to do with total disregard for your family, country, yourself and God. But freedom is the ability to choose the good and its ability to totally be free.”

DD: Yeah, yeah.

B411: That still works. That quote still works.

DD: That’s the truth because I thought freedom was doing anything you want, and it’s not. It’s really not. Like I never had the freedom to choose God’s best. I was in bondage. I was using drugs. I was drinking. I’m talking about years ago when I thought I was free and cool and hip and slick. Now, all the stuff I thought was lame I found out is cool.

B411: Does rock and roll make you free?

DD: Listen, music is such – uh – it won’t take you all the way there, but it’s a gift from God, man. Without it, we would total spiral inward and self destruct. If you and I, with the shit that was going on in our lives, if we didn’t have music to express stuff, I don’t think we’d be talking to each other today. So I think in a way it’s a handle to salvation for sure, you know what I mean? It gives you a handle to a higher reality. I think God gave it to us to express ourselves on the journey, to get it out. So I think it does. It’s definitely a handle for me. It definitely pulls me out, upward and forward.

B411: I love the album. The album is an amazing step forward.

DD: They wanted to know what song to go with. I didn’t have the slightest idea. My favorite song on the album is probably everybody’s least, but I like “You Keep Me Crying.” [Laugh] I don’t know. I was happy that (Rolling Stone Publisher) Jann Wenner liked (“I Read It in Rolling Stone”)’cause like whoa!

B411: Yeah, ’cause in 2007 when you and I talked, you said those guys at Rolling Stone didn’t believe there was any rock and roll before 1967.

DD: Right, well, it’s true.

B411: It is true.

DD: Well, they have a few guys they champion. You know how it is. With every era there’s about five guys that shine, but then there’s a lot of people that you and I know, especially in the blues, that are under those five monumental guys. Like a B. B. King will be like the biggest guy, but I don’t listen to B. B. King near as much as I listen to other guys.

DD: I love rural blues. I’m a good friend of John Hammond Jr. We go out a lot, and I just love him. The biggest compliment was when he did one of my songs, “If You Wanna Rock and Roll.” Oh, man, that was it. Of course, I’ve known him since The Village in the mid-’60s.

B411: Yeah, I know John, too, and I’ve been following him since the first Vanguard album. I was there when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Blues Foundation in 2011.

DD: Oh, man.

B411: What a thrill it was to see him get that.

DD: He’s a monster. He is a monster, that guy. I love what he does, and he’s the sweetest guy, man, very helpful and encouraging.

B411: Agreed, agreed. There’s another guy who didn’t like his father.

DD: Yeah, well, I talk to him a lot about that because his father certainly – you know, his father’s greatest legacy is him, was John, Jr.

B411: Oh, I’d have to think about that one for a while. He brought just about anybody that was anybody from 1930 to 1970 into the public eye. So, I don’t know if I’d agree with that statement.

DD: You may not, but I think his greatest legacy is John.

B411: Wow, that’s an honor for you to say that about him.

DD: I told John Hammond, Jr., “Your father was a head with a heart. You’re a heart with a head.”

B411: Interesting, interesting. I like the way you do the yin and the yang in your songs. I forget which song, I think it’s the last one on this album were you talk about a woman making you sane instead of insane. I like that.

DD: That’s my wife. You know it’s funny. I did a Huckabee show, and he said, “Man, you write, and you really love this woman, your wife that you’ve been married to.” You know me.” I go, “You know, Governor, this woman not for one minute, nada, nothing. In all the years I’ve known her, she hasn’t given me one ounce of sympathy.

B411: [Laugh]

DD: So, the audience is looking at me in horror, but it’s all in the nuances of what I’m saying. I said, “She loves me, and she gives me, you know, plenty of compassion and understanding and empathy, but no sympathy.” Then I had to go look up sympathy and found out it was something good. I used to think it was something bad. It’s good.

No wonder they were looking at me in horror, but it was all in the nuance of what I was saying, you know? I think he got it because I was saying she always says, “If you want sympathy, you’ll find It in the dictionary,” because I was feeling self-pity, and she never bought into it. She was like, F*** you!” I mean she doesn’t say that, but (you know what I mean.)


photos of Mr. Di Mucci provided courtesy of Joseph A. Rosen http://www.josepharosen.com/other photos courtesy of artist

We at Blues411 are thrilled to have this in-depth conversation with Mr. Dion Di Mucci provided to us by Mr. Don Wilcock. Don is well known in the music world as an author and journalist with 40+ years of experience. We believe that his contributions to Blues411 are a giant step in providing you, our readers, with the most talented and insightful writers around today. We would also like to extend thanks to Mr. Joseph Rosen for his soul capturing photos of Mr. Di Mucci.
To read the first part of this interview go to: http://blues411.com/?p=3199
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2012

Chenango Blues Festival Just the Best One Day Festival Around !

Well here I sit, recovered from another exhilarating Blues festival in Norwich, NY. In it’s 19th year of all volunteer festival sponsorship Eric Larsen & crew shows what can be accomplished when activism and dedication take to the front.

Starting in 2003 with headliners Anson Funderberg and Sam Meyers, thru 2003 featuring Shemekia Copeland, Guy Davis, and Little Charlie & The Nightcats up to the present day with Doug MacLeod, John Hammond, Ana Popovic, and NMAS Duo, the Chenango Blues Festival consistently puts out great shows, and always has the Friday of festival weekend free for the community. THANK YOU !

My top five (OK I’m gonna try this again): No I won’t, everyone was so damn good…..

#1: Ana Popovic

Just a strong performance. Ana and band ripped her way through the set as if they were possessed. the temperature of the infield stage and area went up several degrees as she hit the stage with such a jolt that the crowd looked like they were not quite ready for what she was bringing. A dear lady who is talented and kind and proving her worth as a blues lady !


#1: James Cotton Band
What ! I must be crazy. Well I did see them two weeks ago in Delaware, so. But again they are so professional, dynamic, and thrilling to watch. Each of these guys could front a band of their own (and some have and still do). Mr. Cotton was very much right on again, harp playing beyond what anyone could expect, he rightly holds on to the title of Superharp. I cannot say enough about how good the band is.

#1: Mississippi Heat

Goodness gracious, what a wall of sound and energy from this Chi-town based International collection of artists. Mr. Pierre Lacoque (harp) and Ms. Inetta Visor are as good a duo as one can find. Yikes they blew away the crowd Friday night – for free !


#1: Tas Cru
A shout out to one of the most interesting songwriters around. With his full band he charmed the audience  and proved he is more than just a clever songwriter, he is a true bluesman. Great free show on Friday with a full band and sweet toned ladies on vocals!

#1: Honey Island Swamp Band

Funky, Louisiana swamp boogie music is this bands specialty, and they do it damn well.  Their appeal crosses over from generation to generation, with guitar driven grooves and some of the funkiest rhythm from drums, bass, and keys you got a gumbo of good times. People, check them out.


#1: Gina Sicilia
A dynamic up and coming singer song-writer, Ms. Sicilia has grown immensely in her chosen field over the last few years. Her releases capture the passion and soul of her live performances as well as any out there. Joined by Dave Gross, who plays anything ever made, and is also a fine producer, and the best travelling rhythm pocket (Tom Papadatos on drums and Scot Hornick on bass).

#1: John Hammond

Mr. Hammond was electric, no not in the plugged in sense, but in the field of energy way. His guitar playing, singing and harmonica work wowed the crowd, who screamed for an encore. His stories behind the songs were wonderful insights into this legend and his travels on the Blues Highway. Goodness, he was just grand.

#1 North Mississippi All-Star Duo
Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson brought the music of the North Mississippi to the hills of Central New York State. It was visceral, intriguing, and were fun to see. Young folks flocked in to see them, and by doing so, either knowingly or unknowingly, are now exposed to the Blues and will be lifelong fans. Great to see these two young men do their thing. They closed out the show and left us all excited for next year’s 20th anniversary.

#1: James ‘Super Chikan’ Johnson I have seen Supe many times before, but not as a solo act. He was wonderful. His ability to turn the tent stage into his front porch with stories, tales, anecdotes and just good sippie-seekan-saw music was a treat for everyone, plus his hand made guitars are true American folk art.

#1: Doug MacLeod

Doug played three times (at least) that weekend. Once for the Veterans, once for the community at the Library, and once in the tent stage. there were many folks who saw all three and they never tired of his story telling, songwriting skills and musical ability to make a venue small and intimate. His message of hope and the positive life-affirming val;ue of the Blues was well received by everyone there. His genuine love and beliefs seamlessly float from him to the audience and we all leave remembering to pack our sense of humor first thing in the morning. If I have to pick a true #1 it would be Mr. MacLeod (as would many others). Thank you, ‘Dub-las’

A special shout out to Suspicious Hats, the one local band. They opened up the tent stage on Saturday. Comprised of Todd Rutan, Tim Andrews Nick Andrews and Nate Collins brought a relaxed congenial vibe to us all.

We have a good selection of photos (145 or so) from this fest, to see them go to:

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2011
photos: Courtesy of Leslie K. Joseph

19th Annual Chenango Blues Fest: August 19-20, 2011

Now in it’s 19th year, The Chenango Blues Fest has repeatedly presented it’s attendees with the higest quality Blues performers available. In 2010 it gave us John Nemeth, E.G. Kight Watermelon Slim & Marica Ball. Back in 2007 Janiva Magness, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers and Eric Lindell.  Ok so go back to 1997 Koko Taylor & CoCo Momtoya….folks it doesn’t get much better than this.
With Friday a free night for the community and music fans, and Saturday featuring two stages all for the ridiculous price of $20 advance and $25 at the door (I suggest paying $25, they can use the extra $5) it is by far one of the best values around.
Not only do they offer this festival, they provide 5 free community concerts in the all too short summer season.
So if you are on the East Side of town, say from Hunter Mountain area, Albany, Peeksill, Buffalo, Rome, to Toronto, New Hampsire, Vermont and the like, get yerself down to what has been aptly monikered ‘the best one day festival, anywhere’.

19th Annual Chenango Blues Fest: August 19-20, 2011, By Blues Fans For Blues Fans  

Bands for Friday
August 19, 2011
Guernsey Library

6:00 – 7:00 pm
Doug MacLeod

Chenango County Fairgrounds – Tent Stage

7:15 – 8:15 pm
Tas Cru
8:30 – 10:00 pm
Mississippi Heat

Bands for Saturday
August 20, 2011

Chenango County Fairgrounds – Infield Stage

12:00 – 1:00 pm
Gina Sicilia
1:40 – 2:50 pm
Honey Island Swamp Band
3:50 – 5:00 pm
Ana Popovic
6:10 – 7:30 pm
James Cotton
8:40 – 10:10
North Mississippi Allstar Duo
featuring Luther Dickinson & Cody Dickinson

Saturday August 20, 2011
Chenango County Fairgrounds – Acoustic Stage

1:00 – 1:40 pm
Suspicious Hats
2:50 – 3:50 pm
Doug MacLeod
5:00 – 6:10 pm
Super Chikan
7:30 – 8:40 pm
John Hammond

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2011

Amuse Bouche – 32nd Blues Music Awards

Those of you who are familair with my writings migjht remember a little over a year ago when I first put fingers to keyboard to capture my experiences at the Blues Music Awards. Well I’m at it again. With these little snippets or ‘amuse bouches’ (happy mouths in French Culinary terms) I will give you the opportunity to read and hopefully ‘see’ some of the action that went on at the 32nd Blues Music Awards in Memphis. This is by no means a fully fledged account of what went on but more of being at a moment in time and holding on to it and giving it to you to read.

So here we go . . . .

The array of talented musicians all located in one place, it is almost, I say almost, an overload situation. Actually I might have hit the overload button Thursday night while standing outside the main room when Scott Burnett walked over and said hi to me and I totally blanked on who he was. I’ve known Scotty for about four years, see what I’m saying.

Speaking of Scotty, during one of the frequent stints in the hotel bar, I look over and see Scotty’s boss-man, Captain Roger Naber, busy working on his computer while seated on a bar stool in the corner. He was busy working on calming the turbulent waters surrounding the LRBC’s decision to move the October cruise to Puerto Rico – as opposed to it being a West Coast Cruise. A few words of encouragement and I hi-tailed it outta there. Roger works hard on getting the best for these cruises and this proved it once again.

About 1,600 blues fans just being themselves all week long !

The ‘peacocks’ in all their fine attire, and the lovely ladies.

The opportunity to re-connect with Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges, who was nominated in two categories this year, Soul Blues Album (Solomon Burke) and Soul Blues Artist (Solomon Burke). Eugene enthralled us with his story on flying to the USA from Australia and driving from Texas to Memphis, complete with police stops and camera assisted speed documentation to prove he was NOT driving over the limit, right on bro ! Later that night Mr. Bridges showed the audience why he was nominated in two categories !

The often strange but always funny ‘secret calls’ between musician’s who have used them to identify each other in crowded venues and rooms. Quite similar to those ‘cool high fives’ that athletes use – each different yet each one specifically tailored to match their personalities.

The overwhelming and palpable excitement from the ‘new kids on the block’ such as Karen Lovely, The Vincent Hayes Project, The Chris O’Leary Band and others who made it here for the first time and were floored by the whole experience.

OK, so just to prove that last statement Vincent Hayes texted me “I just met Robert Cray !” Karen Lovely and Lori Haynes commenting on how they (we all) are fans first, and how they felt they were walking on a cloud or in a dream of sorts. Karen later at the Awards performance just blowing the roof off the convention center at 1:30 in the morning to a thinned out crowd.

The pre-party which featured Eden Brent, Chris O’Leary Band, and The Vincent Hayes Project – the tone was set for the night !

Steve Miller opening the ‘official’ portion of the awards, and being so perfect it could have been a recording.

Mr. Eddie Turner being, Eddie Turner.

Tony Colter being the ultimate professional – working the live feed broadcast back to listeners and being spot on. I have heard nothing but praise for your efforts!

Rick Estrin displaying ‘hand’s free’ harmonica, while being accompanied by the smooth Kirk Fletcher on guitar. Y’all gonna have to buy the DVD to see this baby !

The tribute for Robert Johnson’s 100th Birthday and his son and family being there to share with us.

Reba Russell and band just ripping us out of our seats with what was one of the hottest sets of the night. You go girl !

Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith being just the most humble and sweet man.

Buddy Guy being — Buddy Guy !

Buddy being genuinely touched by each of his five awards.

A rumour being circulated that the new name for the BMA’s will be the Buddy Music Awards.

The Janiva Magness Band along with Tony Rogers playing ‘The Plan’.

A roomful of tears (both sorrow and joy) for Robin Roger’s winning Best Female Vocalist and Tony’s speech. Also for the other sweet and graciousfemale artists who promoted voting for Robin during their shows. Thank you ladies, the spirit lives within you all.

Buddy Guy telling us he was gonna play us something so funky that we could taste it ! And then doing just that !

The professionalism of Janiva Magness shining through when her mic was not working – her singing over the band so we could hear her and then burning a spot in our souls when the mic came back to life.

Bob Corritore winning the award for Historical Album (Harmoinica Blues), and all the work he has done over the years. SWEET !

Derek Trucks doing stand-up comedy – who knew !

The Nighthawks FINALLY winning a BMA for Acoustic Album with their ‘Last Train To Bluesville’ release.

Mitch Woods unscheduled ‘sex-change’ and the reinstatement of his ‘hood as he cranked out some fine boogie woogie piano.

Candye Kane in a stunning blue and yellow Kewpie doll outfit, insuring that no one else would be wearing the same outfit, as had happened once before.

Mr. John Hammond, following up Buddy Guy’s set, armed with an acoustic guitar and his voice, just calming and quieting the crowd with one helluva outstanding performance. I am not sure anyone else could have done it, cos Buddy’s set was killah. Did I mention John winning the Award for Best Acoustic Artist.

Matt Hill – Best New Artist – creating havoc with the final performance of the long night. Not only wining over the crowd but he had the ladies in the palm of his hand !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos: courtesy of  Leslie K. Joseph, Aigars Lapsa.

I would like to thank Aigars for sharing his photos with us on Blues411, to see more photos from Aigars please visit:  http://www.aigarsphoto.com/
To read earlier interview with Karen Lovely visit: http://blues411.com/?p=299
To read interview with Vincent Hayes click: http://blues411.com/?p=1204
both of these interviews were conducted before the BMA’s were even announced, read about how we called it back then for these two amazing artists who were nominated for BMA’s.

©Blues411.com 2011