By David Werther.
Dion, Heroes: Giants of Early Guitar Rock (Saguaro Road Records, 2008)
In the memorable words of Muddy Waters, “The blues had a baby and they named it Rock and Roll.” Before he became a rock and roll teenage sensation, Dion was listening to the blues. In recent years he has released two blues CDs, Bronx in Blue, and Son of Skip James. Heroes: Giants of Early Guitar Rock is their baby.
The Heroes package includes a CD in which Dion and Robert “Crow” Richardson cover some of the greatest rock and roll songs, including: “Summertime Blues,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Who Do You Love?” Rock critic Dave Marsh, who wrote lines notes for Heroes, rightly indicates that covering these songs is very risky business. Anyone who tries to compete with the likes of Scotty Moore (guitarist for Elvis Presley), Cliff Gallup (guitarist for Gene Vincent), Carl Perkins, and Bo Diddley, sets himself up for a colossal fall. Dion and Richardson take a wiser and more interesting approach; they eschew imitation in favor of capturing the original intent and passion of these rock and roll classics.
There is passion aplenty here, pouring out of Dion’s deep love and respect for the early rock and rollers. A DVD, included along with the CD, documents Dion’s memories of the greats: worrying about the reaction of Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley when they walked in on him playing the blues; singing country songs with Del Shannon; trading song writing tips with Ray Orbison; pointing out the brilliance of Cliff Gallup — a guitarist admired by Jeff Beck — who would not tour and worked as a maintenance man for thirty years.
Dion’s most poignant memories are of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. It will be 50 years ago on February 3, 2009 that a plane carrying Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper crashed, leaving no survivors. Dion talks about the guilt he felt, encouraging Valens (who was suffering from the subzero weather of a Midwest winter) to ride with Holly in the plane, and then walking into a hotel lobby the next morning and seeing a television report of the fatal plane crash.
The Heroes CD includes Valens’ “Come on Let’s Go” and two Holly hits, “Oh Boy!” and “Rave On.” On both the CD and DVD, Dion raves about his heroes; his energy and enthusiasm are contagious. Rave on!