Smithereens keep playing, won’t be only a memory
Pat DiNizio is proud of that number. That’s how long he, Jim Babjak and Dennis Diken have been playing together in The Smithereens.
Mike Mesaros was there for the first 25 years and recently joined his old bandmates for a few East Coast dates in January.
“We’ve never stopped playing,” DiNizio said during a telephone interview. “Ever since we put the band together, we’ve been playing month in, month out for 37 years. Mike hadn’t done a show with us in 12 years, and it was like falling off a log. It really did sound great. His sound and his playing were actually better than I remember. He had a more mature touch and sound coming from the amps. It was much deeper and more resonant.”
Severo Jornacion, who joined the band in 2006, will be playing bass when The Smithereens play The Kent Stage on Saturday with The Motels.
That’s not the only change. These days DiNizio is limited to lead vocals. Nerve damage in his right arm makes it impossible for him to play the guitar, an instrument the 61-year-old musician had been playing since he was 7 years old, before The Beatles ever appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I’m undergoing treatment to try and repair it,” he said. “The band still sounds great with me just singing. Thank God my voice hasn’t failed me.”
Doctors haven’t been able to figure out the cause of his problem. They initially believed it was carpal tunnel syndrome or ulnar nerve damage, but it was misdiagnosed.
“Then I fell on the arm, which made it worse. It’s very difficult for me, so much of my identity is tied up in my being a guitar player as well as a singer-songwriter. It’s difficult for me to just stand there.”
It’s also changed the way he has to write songs. He can do a little work with his left hand on a keyboard, but he can’t do melody or chords on the guitar. DiNizio said he is drawing inspiration from one of his favorite composers, Johnny Mercer, who wrote songs like “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses” without being able to play an instrument.
“These melodies and lyrics came out of his head,” DiNizio said. “He sat down with a piano player or a guitar player and they knew the chords to put underneath … For a songwriter like myself or anyone who does anything creative, if you do it professionally, you’re indelibly stamped with your style. That will come out. It’s part of the challenge, adjusting to these things.”
DiNizio is working on new songs and hopes to have a new album, which would be the band’s first collection of new music since “2011” (released in 2011), out before the end of the year, but don’t expect any of those songs in Kent this weekend. Playing the radio hits that fans expect (“Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Only A Memory,” “A Girl Like You”), deep cuts and covers (the band has released albums of songs by The Beatles and The Who), some headlining dates have been approaching the three-hour mark.
Those power pop songs filled with big guitars, DiNizio’s warm baritone and lyrics packed with cinematic and literary references never led to the platinum album sales and top 40 hits they deserved to be, but they did cultivate a loyal following that DiNizio sees at the shows. And he feels indebted to deliver for them, whether it’s on stage or on record.
“I think we’ve already achieved what we set out to do, have a career that made it for the long run. Obviously, 37 years is a long time to keep four individuals together doing the same things. You can’t keep four individuals together for 37 minutes and agree on the same thing.
“We’ve created a body of work, a collection of albums, we’re very proud of. I can honestly say there are very few clunkers among the greater body of work. We always wanted to be a band that made records like our first heroes … When you bought a Beatles album, you knew it was going to be great from beginning to end. When you get a Smithereens’ album, you get your money’s worth.”