Vintage Rock meets blues fanatic Dion, as he makes a welcome return alongside some of his favourite female artists on a brand new collection of songs, Girl Friends, that explores a concept he calls “the feminine genius”

As Vintage Rock catches up with Dion DiMucci to discuss the making of his new album Girl Friends, it’s hard to believe that the distinguished gentleman who greets us is 84 years old. Not only does he cut a fine figure, looking trim and debonair with tinted glasses and white goatee, but he’s also in fine voice as he has deftly demonstrated on the 12 original duets featured on his latest record.

Showcasing a stellar roster of female collaborators such as Carlene Carter, Susan Tedeschi and the UK’s Joanne Shaw Taylor to name just a few, Girl Friends is Dion’s third studio album in recent years released via Joe Bonamassa’s label, Keeping The Blues Alive Records.

Dion Girl Friends
Girl Friends, is out now


“The thing about women is that when they walk in the room something changes,” opens Dion as he contemplates his  new record. “The atmosphere definitely lifts to another level, because I think everybody is trying to do their best to compete for their attention or approval. I have a friend who calls it ‘the feminine genius’, and he is referring to the positive influence that women can have. It is that concept which drives this record.

“On my last two albums, Blues With Friends and Stomping Ground, I’ve worked with incredible artists like Samantha Fish, Rickie Lee Jones and Patti Scialfa. As I had such a good time performing with them, I thought to myself that it would be nice to do some more duets. I listen to so much music and knew the people that I wanted to work with. Because these women are such great artists, making this album was a real labour of love for me. I took my time and just leaned into it. It took about a year, but I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out.”


Reuniting with producer Wayne Hood, all the songs featured on Girl Friends were written by Dion and Mike Aquilina, except Hey Suzy, which DiMucci penned with Scott Kempner. “I decided to write some brand new tracks that were conversational in tone, because I didn’t want to just pick a bunch of traditional songs,” continues Dion. “The first two I had were I Aim To Please [recorded with Danielle Nicole] and I Got Wise [featuring Maggie Rose], which have that back and forth element. From that starting point, I began changing things up so it didn’t get boring.

“Because some of these women are so soulful and dynamic, I had an idea to write a song called Soul Force, which I do with Susan Tedeschi and it opens the album. It has all this mannish Bronx-boy swagger, [sings] ‘I thought that I could dazzle by distraction, and how could she resist my kind of action?’ and it ends, ‘My trademark is my New York City charms, I got a way to get them in my arms. But this girl I can’t seem to impress, excuse me now my ego’s a mess’. So, I really paid attention on the songs. I wanted to bring something a little different to the genre.


“The blues is so guitar-driven and I love how expressive it is. I think it’s the only music that is really heartfelt these days. I find it funny how people think I have only recently got into this style of music because I think the blues has always been my foundation. As I grew up in the Bronx, I always say my songs are Black music filtered through an Italian neighbourhood. It comes out with an attitude.

“I was with Billy Gibbons the other night and he asked me who played on my early records. I told him it was all these great guys who were at the Apollo Theater in Harlem: Mickey ‘Guitar’ Baker, who was always there with his guitar, Teacho Wiltshire on piano, Buddy Lucas on horn, Milt Hinton on bass and jazz drummers like Panama Francis.

“They would all come in to play and encourage me. Without that encouragement I don’t think I would have done tracks  like Runaround Sue, which I think is a cleverly disguised blues song, or numbers like Little Diane, The Wanderer or Born To Cry.”


One of the standout moments on the new album is An American Hero, which features Carlene Carter. The first single lifted from Girl Friends and released last October, the song embraces Dion’s guest’s Americana roots and is a delightful country-tinged track.

“Carlene is a member of the Carter Family and her family grew out of the ground,” explains DiMucci, “she is roots to the core. I’ve always loved this girl’s voice and it so authentic. I knew the song would work because she sings with such heart. I just love the presence she brings to it. 

“The US and the world is in such a state right now. But, when you get down to it and you talk to people, it’s all an illusion of division that doesn’t hold up. We all want the same thing and I thought how we are the heroes… People shouldn’t look to politicians, or Hollywood, or rock stars to save them. We have to look into our own hearts and serve the people around us. If everybody could do that and take responsibility, it would be a beautiful world. So, I wanted to write a song that kind of captured that.”

Dion - Girl Friends
Dion by Allison Michael Orenstein


Many of Dion’s most evocative hits, from his days with The Belmonts and as a solo performer in the early 60s, had a lady at heart. Favourites such as Runaround Sue, Donna The Prima Donna, Little Diane, The Wanderer, and Ruby Baby, all centre on women. So we were curious to know if Dion approaches songwriting differently today and if he learnt anything new about himself, or music, from working with the various women on Girl Friends. “I knew that I had to write from a different standpoint at times,” Dion responds. “Music has a gender and I think I learned more about writing songs because I had to approach it from a different perspective. That pushed me to another level.

“I don’t know how I got into writing about girls. I guess I found it easier to see a character when I used women’s names. As a young guy I was enthralled by women and remember when I met Susan Butterfield who moved down from Vermont. I thought she was so exotic with her red hair. When she entered my neighbourhood, I thought she was from outer space. 

“When I was a kid I would tour with guys like Paul Anka or Frankie Avalon. They had these nice, sentimental songs, such as Put Your Head On My Shoulder and Venus, and I was like, ‘Naaah!, let’s get some women in here with some GRAVITAS!’ Let’s get mad at a few of them!” [chuckles].


In 1963, DiMucci married that exotic red head from Vermont and 60 years later he namechecks her on the new track Hey Suzy. The couple now have three daughters who in turn had four more girls. “I met my wife on the streets of New York and I’m still in love with this girl,” offers Dion when asked if the women in his life influenced the new album in any way.

“My three daughters only really care about me being attentive to them. There was a time in my life when I thought if I did something like make a hit record they would be really impressed, but they couldn’t care less [laughs]. They only want you to be there for them… to be a good dad or be a good friend. Of all the stuff I’ve learned over the years, the biggest lesson is how to listen. Never take women, or the relationship you’re in, for granted.”


So, Vintage Rock wondered what wisdom the Dion of Girl Friends would share with the fresh-faced Teenager In Love of his youth… and if his younger self would even listen?

“Are you kidding me?,” laughs DiMucci, “he wouldn’t listen to anybody. He knew everything! I think relationships can be rough, you know, they’re not easy. First of all, you’ve got to get along with yourself. There was a time in the 60s when I was an absolute trainwreck. I was a heroin addict and at death’s door. I would do drugs with my friend Frankie Lymon and, when he died in February 1968, it turned my life around. Losing him made me decide to do this thing right and I have been sober ever since.

“When I was a kid I remember being told, the highest life is the one in pursuit of wisdom, cultivating the life of the mind. I think the real deal is right here between your ears. I’ve been involved in a 12-step programme for 55 years and it really opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. I’ve never been the same since. 

“Up until that point all the pressure was on me. Back then I didn’t know God from a hole in the wall, but faith has allowed me to let go. That’s why I really enjoy doing these albums, I don’t have that same pressure that I used to have. Going into the studio when I was a kid was agonising. I thought I had to keep trying to impress people. It all changed once I stopped drinking, drugging, and doing myself harm. I think that’s why I’m still around today.”


Following such a thought-provoking admission, Vintage Rock was intrigued to find out if Dion believed divine intervention might’ve prevented him from boarding the plane which claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson, The Big Bopper, on that fateful day in February 1959.

“I have no idea,” ponders Dion. “I can’t explain that. After I won a coin toss to get on that plane they said it would cost me $36 so I got back on the bus because $36 was a whole month’s rent and I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money. I said ‘Ritchie, you go’ and I don’t know how to explain that… I know relationships never end. It’s like an Old Testament scripture which says: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever’… Well, forever is a long time, so I figure I will see those guys again. I want to make them proud of me every day, because they were great friends, great musicians, great artists, my brothers. I learned so much from them, and I miss them on a lot of levels.”


Girl Friends includes liner notes by another good friend to Dion, Darlene Love, of the girl group The Blossoms. She commented: “I’ve been a huge fan since I was a young girl… I’m a bigger fan today. I’m thrilled with these new collaborations. This is just what the world needs now.”

The feeling is mutual. “Darlene is a force of nature,” smiles Dion. “She gets up at six in the morning and kickboxes for two hours. We’ve been friends from way back when we worked in theatres like Brooklyn Fox and the Brooklyn Paramount and she still looks as beautiful as ever. She said when she sang He’s A Rebel she was thinking of people like me and said I was the rebel king! So, she has put that in her liner notes.

“I loved those girl groups of the 60s. The Blossoms, Shangri-Las, and Crystals, all had great records and we were so enthralled with what Phil Spector was doing. That sound resonated and took you places… it was transcendent. Those girls were beautiful, talented, and had personalities that were off the charts. They knocked you out on all levels. I’ve always noticed that ‘feminine genius’ that I talked about earlier. I saw Darlene just recently on TV singing with Stevie Van Zandt’s Disciples Of Soul and man, she killed it. She’s as strong as ever.”

Dion by David Godlis


When he’s not playing with his Disciples Of Soul or filling stadiums around the globe with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Van Zandt has been working as a music consultant on The Wanderer, a new musical based on DiMucci’s life. 

Directed by Kenneth Ferrone and based on Charles Messina’s book, the stage production played the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, and is expected to arrive on Broadway later this year. “They’re looking at a theatre right now,” reveals Dion. “I can’t really say too much, but it will be the perfect capacity. I didn’t want it too big where people are sitting up in the heavens and can’t get impacted by the play. Stevie and I were the musical advisors for the show and we wanted it to be authentic. Rock’n’roll and Broadway is like a shotgun marriage, but we’ve managed to keep the play on track. It takes you through the history of rock’n’roll and there’s a love story and a lot of laughs.


“It’s amazing the way this kid wrote this play and put my music into it. I was sitting there watching it and thinking how everything I’ve ever done seems to be for this show. The way he uses the music, it looks like I wrote the music for the play. It’s just incredible.”

“There’s a scene in it where this kid playing Dion meets his future wife on the streets,” continues Dion when asked how he felt seeing his life on the stage. “It evoked such a powerful memory and it really touched me. I just hope the play takes people into that same place of enchantment, into this place of delight, where they walk out wowed by the spectacle. It’s got to be real and, you know, I think we captured something special.”

Dion’s new album, Girl Friends, is released via Joe Bonamassa’s KTBA Records and out now. To order click here.

If you enjoyed this interview check out our Ricky Nelson & The Rise Of  The Teen Idol feature