Backstage with Ron Onesti: Doo Wop, Dion and Dem Days
Ron Onesti: Doo Wop, Dion and Dem Days
I was recently watching one of those Doo Wop shows on PBS. So many groups that began A Capella on streetcorners of New York and Philadelphia in the late forties and early fifties. Most were comprised of four males with vocals ranging from the low baritones to the high tenors. The “hmmmms,” “ooos” and “ahhhs” echoed through the streets into the wee hours of the mornings.
It began with predominantly African American groups including the Platters, Drifters, The Moonglows, Coasters and Ink Spots. Big songs that became timeless hits include: The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” The Del-Vikings “Come Go With Me,” and “The Five Satins’ “In The Still Of The Nite”.
Soon almost every streetlamp lit groups of guys harmonizing. Remember, this was before “Boom-Boxes,” so vocals AND music were performed by these neighborhood heartthrobs.
One of my faves is Dion & The Belmonts. These guys from the Bronx had that Doo-Wop sound that defined the era for me. “I Wonder Why,” “A Teenager In Love,” “Where Or When,” and many others had teenagers up and “Strolling” in poodle skirts and slicked-back hair.
I had Dion DiMucci at my Oakley Avenue Italian Festival a few years ago. He did not really tour anymore but came here to Chicago as a favor. It was a fabulous night of retro-rock. The joy the audience experienced as they danced on the street asphalt and sang loudly as they re-lived their bobby-socked youth.
I timidly asked Dion about those days. He said they would skip school and be together until 3 am every night. “It was all we did. Maybe a stickball game or two once in a while, but we mainly hung out and made up songs,” Dion said.
I have a seventeen-year-old daughter. I think about the activities she and her friends do on a weekly basis, and the technology they use. I could not imagine she or any of her friends spending each day (and night) harmonizing and Doo-Wopping without texting and instagramming!
By the time those guys made it to the Ed Sullivan Show or any other major live appearances, they graduated to suits and ties. Their musicless-harmonies became melodious 4-piece bands with a lead singer. Think The Four Seasons. It was a time that coincided with the British Invasion of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits and others. They all were in suits at the time, and made statements with their hairstyles.
But think of the timeliness of that music. It is still relevant, still popular and still utilized in commercials.
“16 Candles,” “The Great Pretender,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the list goes on and on. I asked Dion if he ever thought when he was hanging with his buddies that his music would still be a “thing” 65 years later.
“Man, we were just trying to be cool. It was about getting ‘chicks’. I didn’t realize it was music until I began hearing some of the next generations of other music. It was then I realized how good the stuff from the 50s and 60s really was,” Dion said.
I love my Rock and Roll. I love the heavy guitars and the drum solos. But when I really want to be brought back to a meaningful time, and have warm, comforting thoughts, I always depend on my favorite Doo Wop music. The last one always being, “Goodnight sweetheart, goodnight!”