Born in the Bronx area of New York on 18 July 1939, Dion Dimucci was hailed as one of the the finest singers of the 1960’s, yet he never quite lived up to his reputation.
He started his singing career with a group called The Timberlanes in the mid 50’s. With them he recorded one single – The Chosen Few.
It wasn’t until the end of the decade, fronting The Belmonts, that he hit the jackpot with a series of classic rock & roll singles including I Wonder Why and Teenager In Love – his first British hit in 1959.
The Belmonts were slick besuited Italians (Dion Dimucci, Angelo D’Aleo, Carlo Mastrangelo and Freddie Milano) who rivalled the black harmony groups that dominated the era, enjoying nine hits in two years.
Dion left for a solo career in 1960 and had immediate success in the USA with Lonely Teenager. In 1961 he topped the charts with the million-seller Runaround Sue (Dion’s wife at the time was indeed called Sue, but the song was actually originally written about a girl named Roberta), hastily followed by other smash successes including The Wanderer (about an itinerant, womanising tattoo collector), Donna The Prima Donna, and Ruby Baby.
During the mid-60’s Dion turned away from music and began to drift towards drugs. Between 1964 and 1968 he had a very serious heroin addiction problem which he eventually kicked. In 1968 he returned to the US charts with Abraham, Martin and John heralding something of a metamorphosis of his career.
He then settled down to sing folk music and became one of America’s most respected singer/songwriters, although his acoustic-based records were commercial disasters.
In 1973 The Belmonts re-formed for a reunion concert at Madison Square Garden which was recorded for the live album, Reunion. Two years later, Dion joined forces with Phil Spector who produced Born To Be With You (1975) and set about transforming his career once more.
In trademark style, Spector included three drummers, umpteen guitarists, three bass players and a host of horns and strings on Born To Be With You – then saw it all dismissed as a dirge by critics. Later, fans as disparate as Pete Townshend and Primal Scream‘s Bobby Gillespie proclaimed its brilliance.
Dion became a devout born-again Christian and recorded sporadically, releasing Christian albums including Inside Job and Kingdom Of The Street. He returned to rock & roll in 1988 playing with Bruce Springsteen and released the Dave Edmunds-produced album, Yo Frankie.
Eager to reclaim his turf, DiMucci updated songs like The Wanderer and Runaround Sue in the form of King Of The New York Streets, and it worked magnificently. He also toured the UK where he always found an enthusiastic cult following.
Dion was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and in January 2006 he released Bronx in Blue, an album of blues and country standards, which was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Grammy.
These days, Dion pursues prison ministry to men going through addiction recovery.