Dennis Diken of the Smithereens in On The Beat
Hello MD! Greetings from our tour bus, which is rolling from St. Charles, Illinois to Youngstown, Ohio. I’m currently drumming on Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever! 2018 tour. The show consists of Ronettes songs from A Christmas Gift For You (the legendary Phil Spector holiday LP of 1963) as well as classics like “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” and others. These tracks, which were originally helmed by the great Hal Blaine, influenced my rhythmic attitude mightily when I was a kid and they continue to inspire me.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredible musicians: Dave Keyes and Bette Sussman on keyboards, Jon Spurney on guitar, and bassist Jeremy Chatzky, who has been Ronnie’s MD for twenty-five years. The Ronettes are the wonderful singers and dancers Gnomi Gre and Zhana Roiya. This gig is so much fun! And it is not lost on me that when I hear that voice coming through my monitor I’m playing with one of my favorite artists. Ronnie is the real deal, a true original.
On a sadder note, many of you have probably heard that the Smithereens’ lead singer, our brother Pat DiNizio, passed away. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already this month. While there will never be another like him, so many of our friends and fans have shown us so much love and support and have made it known to us that you want to see Jimmy Babjak, Mike Mesaros, and yours truly keep the Smithereens’ music and legacy alive. It’s also hard to believe that in March 2019, we’ll be celebrating our thirty-ninth anniversary together as a band. Yet our friendships go back more than fifty years!
Our shows with our longtime pal Marshall Crenshaw as front man have been going over great and early next year we’ll do a run (including a date on January 12 at Sony Hall in NYC) with Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms singing with us. We were happy to learn that he’s been a fan of the Smithereens from way back and he totally gets inside our music.
Also, we recently released Smithereens Covers, a twenty-two-track compilation. Through the years when we had spare time on sessions we’d record songs by other artists that we dug or had an influence on us. We found that we amassed quite a few numbers so we decided to release this collection, which folks seem to be digging.
Recently Mike Mesaros and I participated in a recording master class with John Jorgenson at the Sweetwater Studio in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. John is a gifted guitarist and my favorite bassist and I got to stretch out on a few different bags and feels with him. We plan on finishing up the seven or so tracks we cut soon (including one of my tunes); I’m looking forward to that.
I’m also jazzed to be heading out with Dave Davies again in 2019 (with Dave Nolte on bass). We’re playing the Rock Legends Cruise in February then we’ll do a US tour in April. Dave still rocks and rolls like a seventeen year old and has the soul of a sage old bluesman. The Kinks have been at the core of my musical spirit since 1964 and their music has profoundly informed my outlook on life. It’s a dream come true to play those seismic backbeats on the chestnuts with the man and help to create the grooves to Dave’s new material. And he graciously answers my fan boy questions when I geek out in the van!
On the road I’ve been playing rented gear and the Pearl Performance series kits have been consistently superb. No fooling, the snare I had last night (free-floating maple 5.5×14) was one of the best I ever played, full bodied with plenty of snap, sizzle, and pop. And with an Evans G2 Level 360 batter head and Reso 7 underneath (both white coated), the 9×13 rack tom sang like a bird (I’m very particular about that size for my rack). Recently I took my 1994 Masters Studio birch set out on a local gig. Man, that 16×22 kick makes an almighty, earthy boom. I’ve been endorsing Pearl since 1988 and I just love their drums.
Speaking of anniversaries, I was pleasantly surprised a few months back when I received a certificate commemorating my thirty years with Zildjian cymbals. Wow! Even more head spinning is that I started using Zs twenty years prior to then when I got my first drumkit in 1968. So that’s fifty (gulp) years! I really dig their A Avedis line, which recreates the timeless sounds of cymbals Zildjian made in the ’30s through ’60s. Paul Francis at the company and my tech Steve Lobmeier urged me to try the 15″ hats—now there’s no turning back!
I’d like to give a quick shout out to my dear friends of the “NYC Drum Club.” A bunch of us drummers in the NY area get together for lunch every few months, have a lot of laughs, and try not to talk about gear too much. It’s a lovely group and I tip my hat to Billy Ward, who came up with the idea some years back with the dearly departed Louie Appel, and kudos to RJ Rabin for moving it forward.
I’m looking forward to the New Year, making new music, seeing a lot of you out there, and just playing! Getting up on the bandstand brings something new to learn with every show.
For more on the Smithereens, visit www.officialsmithereens.com.
For tickets for Ronnie Spector’s NYC Christmas show at City Winery click here.
Photo of Ronnie Spector by David Williams Redux