LeftiOnTheNews went on vacation and posted some music, including “Barbara Ann” by The Regents, before he left. This, the original version, is a classic mix of doo wop and rock and roll and got me thinking about another Italian doo wop group from the Bronx, Dion and the Belmonts.
Doo wop was street corner singing. It emerged out of black culture and was people on the stoop outside the tenement building singing. The harmonies, intricacies, and interplay between the voices was often startlingly good, especially considering they had no formal musical training.
The first single by Dion and the Belmonts, “I Wonder Why” is a dazzling classic. There’s so much going on in the song, and it’s made all the more remarkable in that they, as nobodies, walked in off the street and recorded it in two hours. Clearly, they had huge talent.
Dion wanted to do a single, and wanted the best singers. He choose the The Belmonts from members of a rival gang. As a young teenager (“there was no rock and roll then”) he listened to blues and Hank Williams. “For me, putting country and blues together, that’s what I call Rock & Roll.” Indeed.
The Italian doo wop groups from the Bronx did something else, they put doo wop and rock and roll together. The purists may have screamed, but these groups were breaking new ground. They also had serious attitude and were a needed counterpoint to the bland White teen idols of the day.
Dion went through some rough times, including heroin addiction while at the peak of his fame. He spent decades trying to find a spiritual place to call home, and chronicles his search in quite moving terms. Since the 60’s fame, he’s done folk, rock, gospel, and recently recorded a well-received blues album. Clearly, he keeps the creative juices flowing, not content to just do oldies show.
From Lou Reed’s speech inducting Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And then there was Dion — that great opening to “I Wonder Why” engraved in my skull forever. Dion, whose voice was unlike any other I had heard before. Dion could do all the turns, stretch those syllables so effortlessly, soar so high he could reach the sky and dance there among the stars forever. What a voice that had absorbed and transmogrified all these influences into his own soul, as the wine turns into blood, a voice that stood on its own, remarkably and unmistakably from New York. Bronx Soul.
Bronx Soul Music is now the name of one of Dion’s companies. This is music that stands the test of time.