Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Late Great Pat DiNizio

Pat DiNizio, the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter of The Smithereens, died yesterday at the age of 62. No cause was death has been given, but he had suffered from a series of health problems since 2015.

Pat DiNizio was born on October 12 1955 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Pat DiNizio developed an interest in music while still young. He became a lifelong fan of The Beatles upon seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show. He later became a fan of heavy metal band Black Sabbath and only a little later discovered the work of Buddy Holly. It would be the work of Buddy Holly that would have a particular impact on his music. It was not long before he was writing his own songs.

Pat DiNizio was working in the family's garbage collection business when he placed an advertisement in The Aquarian Weekly for a drummer to play on a demo tape. The advert was answered by drummer Dennis Diken of Carteret, New Jersey. Mr. Diken later introduced Mr. DiNizio to Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros, with whom he had been playing music since high school. The four of them formed The Smithereens. They made their live debut in March of 1980 at Englander's in Hillside, New Jersey. That same year they released an EP on the small D-Tone label entitled Girls About Town.  A second EP, Beauty and Sadness, was released in 1983.  They also occasionally played as a backing band for the legendary Otis Blackwell.

Eventually Pat DiNizio sent a cassette tape of The Smithereens' material to Enigma Records, an indie label with a distribution agreement with Capitol Records. One of the executives at Enigma had known the band when he was a disc jockey in college. After around five years together, The Smithereens were signed to Enigma Records. Their first LP, Especially for You, was released on March 1 1986. The album peaked at no. 51 on the Billboard album chart. Their first single, "Blood and Roses", reached no. 14 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Their second single, "Behind the Wall of Sleep", went to no. 23 on the same chart.

Over the next several years The Smithereens would have modest success. Their second album, Green Thoughts, went to no. 60 on the Billboard album chart. If anything some of the singles from the album performed even better than the LP did. "Only a Memory" went to no. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The second single from the album, "House We Used to Live In", went to no. 14 on the same chart. The third single, "Drown in My Own Tears", went to no. 34 on the chart.

It would be with their third album that The Smithereens would reach the peak of their success. The album 11 went to no. 41 on the Billboard album chart. The first single from the album, "A Girl Like You", would prove to be their biggest hit. It peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, no. 3 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, and no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100. The following singles from the album also performed relatively well.

Unfortunately, The Smithereens' success would prove to be short lived. Their fourth album, Blow Up, only reached no. 120 on the Billboard album chart, although two of its singles ("Top of the Pops" and "Too Much Passion") performed relatively well. Their fifth album, A Date with The Smithereens, also did poorly, reaching only no. 133 on the Billboard album chart. It produced their last somewhat successful single, "Miles from Nowhere", which reached no. 17 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

It would be five years before The Smithereens released their next album, God Save The Smithereens. There would be another eight years before they followed it with Meet The Smithereens!, a Beatles tribute album on which The Smithereens played the songs from The Beatles' album Meet The Beatles. That same year, 2007, the band released a holiday album, Christmas with The Smithereens. In 2008 they released B-Sides The Beatles, in which they covered the B-Sides of various Beatles singles, and in 2009 they released The Smithereens Play Tommy, on which they played The Who's rock opera Tommy. Their last album of all original material, 2011, was released in 2011.

Pat DiNizio recorded four solo albums. The first, Songs and Sounds, was released in 1997. It was followed by This Is Pat DiNizio in 2006 on which he covered songs by The Beatles, Glen Campbell, The Beach Boys, and others. His third solo album, Pat DiNizio, was released in 2007 and saw a return to original material. He released one last solo album, Pat DiNizio Sings Buddy Holly, in 2009.

Mr. DiNizio also directed and starred in the 2004 independent film King Leisure, S.O.B. In 2009 he released an audio book, Confessions Of A Rock Star.

Alongside Cheap Trick and The Posies, The Smithereens are one of my favourite American power pop bands. I am then very saddened by the death of Pat DiNizio. He was an extremely talented songwriter, capable of turning out hook-laden power pop songs that also had a good deal of depth. Indeed, while the music of many bands in the genre tends to be happy, jangly, and upbeat, The Smithereens were known for songs that could be somewhat gloomy in their outlook. Arguably Pat DiNizio wrote some of the greatest power pop songs of all time, including "A Girl Like You", "Drown in My Own Tears", "Behind the Wall of Sleep", "Blood and Roses", and many others. While The Smithereens may have never had a great deal of success on the charts, they developed a cult following that they maintain to this day.

As to Pat DiNizio himself, my brother actually got to meet The Smithereens. According to my brother Mr. DiNizio was very nice and possessed a quick wit and a good sense of humour. He seemed less like a rock star than an ordinary guy who just happened to be very talented at composing and performing music. Pat DiNizio may have achieved stardom in a way most of us never will, but he always remained true to his small town roots.

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