Light still shines on Joey DeeBy Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Joey Dee might not have had a hit in 37 years, but that doesnít mean heís passed his prime.
The leader of Joey Dee and the Starliters, who will perform Saturday in Sharon, and the force behind "Peppermint Twist," "Hey, Letís Twist" and "What Kind of Love is This" turned 60 a month ago and feels that heís singing better than ever.
Dee, calling from his managerís home in New Jersey, said constantly working -- he does 200 shows a year -- has only improved his ability to entertain.
"I find the more I work, the better the sound is," said the native of Passaic, N.J., who said heís "not the retiring type."
"The voice is a muscle," he said. "The more I work it the stronger it gets."
Dee, who lives in Clearwater, Fla., still sings his hits in the key in which they were recorded, while some of his contemporaries have to change keys to accommodate a shift in vocal range.
Dance routines have always been a strong element of Starliters shows, and remain so.
"We still have a lively dancing and good vocal show," he said. "Weíve thrived on getting the people involved in the music, dancing and clapping and stomping their feet."
In concert, Dee sticks close to his hits, which include "Shout," "I Lost My Baby," "Baby Youíre Driving me Crazy," "Hot Pastrami and Mashed Potatoes" and "Dance, Dance, Dance."
"Iím proud of what we did. Iím not looking to get discovered again."
The only new music Dee includes is a parody of rap, a form he derides.
"The beat is wonderful. The message leaves a lot to be desired," he said of rap. "I like harmony. I like vocals. I like to be able to sing along."
The shows also feature Four Seasons tunes courtesy of Starliter Bobby Valli, the brother of Frankie Valli, and Young Rascals songs led by David Brigati, who joined the Starliters before they made it big. His brother, Edward, was a Starliter and went on to become a member of the Young Rascals (later the Rascals). David Brigati sang on many of the Young Rascalsí hits.
Although Deeís name is on the marquee, he never hogs the show. Throughout his career he has harbored performers who went on to bigger and better things, from Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers and actor Joe Pesci to the Ronettes and Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish of the Young Rascals.
Even Jimi Hendrix put in time with his backing band in 1965.
"He came to me after he played with Little Richard and the Isleys," Dee said. "After he left me he went to England."
In London, Hendrix hooked up with producer Chas Chandler, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
While Dee didnít care for Hendrixís singing, he loved his guitar playing, and would give Hendrix the chance to show it off.
"Iíd have him come up, play with his teeth, play behind his back, lay down on the floor and play. My philosophy is if you got talent, come up and show me what you got."
Dee, who was born Joe DiNicola, said he has achieved all his goals in music.
"My dream was to have a hit record and get on ĎAmerican Bandstand.í Iíve gotten to work with all my heroes, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis. My favorite was Jackie Wilson and still is. He could do it all. He was the Sammy Davis Jr. of rock Ďní roll."
It was Wilsonís tragic end that spurred Dee to found the National Music Foundation, which was set up to help his "less fortunate peers."
Based in Orlando, Fla., the foundationís goal is to build a retirement home in Florida for pop and rock stars of yore.
Dee said he got the idea when Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1975 and was in a coma before dying. Although Wilson had had a long career and earned a lot of money for a lot of people in the music industry, "It was like no one cared," Dee said.
The foundationís goal is still a long way off.
"Weíre 11 years closer than we were in 1989."
Saturdayís show will be at 7 p.m. at Sharon High School. Comedian Buzz Nutley will open. The concert is the 11th annual oldies show sponsored by the Sharon firefighters, and proceeds benefit local charities. Tickets: at the fire station or call 983-3213.
For information on the foundation, call (800) USA-MUSIC.
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