Thursday, January 17, 2013

Classic Rock’s Favorite Jersey Boys Get Ready To Blow BB King’s To Smithereens…Again!

By: Anne M. Raso

The Smithereens annual BB King’s Times Square concert is coming up this Saturday, January 18th at 8PM and it’s always a bit of a homecoming concert for the Jersey born and bred band who are one of the few that are in their prime in every way after close to 33 years of pretty much the same lineup—Pat DiNizio on lead vocals/guitar, Jim Babjak on lead guitar, Severo “The Thrilla” Journacion on bass (who replaced original bassist Mike Mesaros when he retired to be a chef in 2006) and drummer Dennis Diken. You can go to for tickets and more details but one thing is certain—the famous club is lucky that it’s roof is still intact one the ‘Reens have blown the place to (you guessed it) Smithereens.
The Smithereens

Of course, the band plays the hits like “Blood & Roses” and “A Girl Like You” but there are plenty of surprises along the way including tracks from their much-coveted Beatles and Who cover albums and it is the one show of the year that the underrated Babjak brings out the famous 1961 Rickenbacker that he recorded most of the band’s 80s and 90s material on. (He told me it doesn’t travel well, but I still think it should be brought out more often—it’s jangly sound is really a trademark of a lot Smithereens hits we have come to know and love.)
Diken in front of Kenny’s Castaways in October 2012
I chatted with the affable Dennis Diken about what fans can expect on Saturday night (including his famous “drum impersonations” spotlight where he channels the likes of Keith Moon and John Bonham) and also tried to get him to reveal details about the recording of the band’s new album—as well as his personal projects. He is not only a sought-after session drummer but he is also a WFMU deejay and rock historian/journalist.

Q: Will there be any surprises this time at BB King’s like an added keyboard player so that you can play the material that originally featured keyboards? I know that last year you had Andy Burton from Ian Hunter’s Rant Band—but who also gets “borrowed” from other touring classic rock artists--guesting with you at the show.

Diken: It was a pleasure to have our friend Andy Burton on keyboards with us last year at select shows--since that time he was called for the current Rufus Wainwright world tour. I've done many gigs with him through the years; he's a fantastic player with an encyclopedic knowledge of music and is a blast to work with. This year we're focusing on digging back into our catalog and revisiting songs we haven't played for some time. Our fans often ask for a wide variety of numbers from our albums and EPs. Some requests are most interesting! we think it will be fun for them and it's an adventure for us to go back and dust off tunes we once played regularly in our shows.

Q: I noticed that in recent shows you did "drum impersonations" of famous drummers like Keith Moon and Ginger Baker that were really entertaining. Will you be doing that again?

Diken: That's Pat's gracious and playful way of spotlighting me with nods to my percussive influences in introducing "Room Without A View," a song in which I take a little blast at the end. I never know quite where I'm going to go until we hit that specific bar of the tune but sometimes at that moment I'll flash on a favorite drummer from whom I've taken inspiration. Channeling a drummer I dig can spark an idea that could set my solo in an exciting (hopefully) direction!

Q: Has work started on the new album and if so, what is the direction of the material?

Diken: Though the writing process has begun it's hard to answer this question right now. we never quite know what shape the material is going to take until we hit the studio. We may try several different bags or grooves for a given track before settling on which we feel is best. Sometimes an idea can take a completely different course from where it may have started once we get together to record. So it's too soon to really say…but melody is king, we always try to keep a good hook the focus.

Q: You are a "drummer's drummer" who has worked with a range of people from Ronnie Spector to new indie acts and even guested on the recent Joey Ramone tribute album that came out last year. Which artists have you guested with lately? Also, what other side projects do you have besides being a WFMU deejay?

Diken: I'm excited to be on (New Jersey artist) Chris Bolger's first real album which will be released this year. Chris is a talented friend who plays guitar with me in Bell Sound and lots of other projects. He's also a world-class songwriter who has penned hundreds of wonderful tunes through the years. I'm happy that people outside our immediate circle will soon be able to hear his music. I drummed on the tracks, played percussion and sang some backup. the great Graham Maby is on bass and Steve Gaechter and Ed Alstrom do some very cool keyboard work as well. I'm hoping to do more writing (prose and music) this year and I'll be cutting a new Bell Sound long player. Also, I plan on cleaning/organizing my office room soon! (Laughs.)

Q: Is there any secret to staying together for almost 33 years?

Diken: Love what you're doing and do it well with like-minded souls.

Q: The annual BB King's show is always a sellout and packed to the rafters. Would you say that there is something special about a NYC crowd?

Diken: BB King's is the perfect, centrally located venue for folks to converge and see The Smithereens. it also happens to be smack dab in the middle of the world, in Times Square, NYC! I've noticed that, unfortunately, some artists don't always have good luck "coming home"--that is, they may not always enjoy success in their old stamping grounds. I'm happy to say that this is not the case for the Smithereens. We're fortunate to have warm, loyal fans all around the country but our friends "close to home" are special--and very vocal! In a way, I think we all feel that we grew up "together," with a sense of shared cultural experiences and local identity. Many of them saw us and hung with us when we played clubs in our scuffling years during the 80s. In our hearts we'll always be guys from NJ who wanted nothing more than play guitars and drums, write songs and have fun playing music that we really dig. The fact that we can do this is a dream come true and our fans are the ones who helped us fulfill our dream. We're sincerely grateful that year after year they are always there for us. When we play BB's we're "theirs"--and they are "ours"!

Photos: Anne Raso, Leighton Media

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