Remembering Pat DiNizio - by Colin Gawel
I remember the night I first met Pat DiNizio. In 1995 Watershed played the Cubby Bear in Chicago and our A&R man for Epic records, Frankie LaRocka, was flying into see the show. This was odd for two reasons, we never played the Cubby Bear before or after that night and there was really no reason for Frankie to fly from New York to see this gig. Our album Twister had been out for a couple of months and there really wasn't much going on. His job was more or less done. But Frankie was a rock and roller's rock and roller and so he looked after us long after other corporate executive types would have quit caring.
“Hey, Biggie, tell these guys not to suck tonight. I’m bringing somebody to see them. It might lead to something, it might not, so don’t make a big deal out of it. But don’t suck either”.
During the show, despite the cold temperatures outside on Addison St, I remember sweating profusely on stage. I was consciously thinking, “Is it just me or is it really hot up here?”
Turns out it wasn’t just me, early in the gig Biggie accidently spilled a beer into the Cubby Bear light board he was manning. The good news is that it didn’t short out. The less good news is that every light locked on into full brightness for the entire show. However, other than that, nothing about the show was noteworthy. I suppose we must have played OK because after the show Frankie invited us over to a booth in the back of the bar and said, “Fellas, I want you to meet my friend Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.”
Pat said hello and asked, “How would you feel about going out on tour to open for the Smithereens?” I can only assume our jaws dropped open as we nodded in the affirmative. “Great. Biggie, go get some more drinks for my new paisans.”
We sat and bullshitted into the late hours and I remember at one point our good pal Lou Brutus, who was working in radio in Chicago at the time, pulling me aside and saying “I cannot believe I am sitting in a booth drinking with fucking Pat Dinizio and Frankie Larocka.” I was surprised by how excited Lou was. Being a major DJ, he had met practically everybody in rock n roll. Hell, it’s wasn’t unusual for him to field a call from Gene Simmons while having breakfast on a Tuesday morning.
But for Lou, spending an entire night boozing with Pat and Frankie was just one rung below partying with Springsteen. Lou was born and raised in New Jersey. These two are rock royalty in his world.
Anyway, when we told everybody at Epic and our agents at Pinnacle the good news, they were decidedly lukewarm. “Why would you go out with those guys? They are washed up. You should hold out for something better.”
Hold out for something better? Ever since we had signed with a major booking agency, our dates had dwindled to nothing. It was the classic major label tale: “No reason to go out until something is going on. Be patient.”
We came at it from the opposite view. We had always been DIY from the beginning. So our attitude was, "We need to get out and make something happen.”
We fired our agent and took the Smithereens tour. It was the best decision we ever made.
This wasn’t like 5 shows. It was a bunch. Off the top of my head-- DC / Baltimore / Raleigh / Greenville / Wilmington / Charleston / Louisville / Detroit / Indy / Chicago / Memphis / Vinton / Little Rock/ Houston / Dallas/ Amarillo / San Antonio / El Paso / Phoenix / LA / San Diego / Vegas.
I’ve never had so much fun. Really. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Every show was a blast. I enjoyed the Smithereens every single night. It never got old. And the 'Reens guys and crew, Ira and Chopper, were all like big brothers to us. I don’t know how other tours work but we would hang out together, stay in the same hotels and they would even invite Watershed guys to ride on their bus between some shows. It was a nice break from the van to sit up front in the bus watching Chinatown with Pat and the fellas. I’m pretty sure most headliners don’t do that for the opening act. By the end of the tour we had a bit during "Blood and Roses" where Jim walked into the crowd, and I would grab the guitar and take over the lead part as a “random fan,” (ala Bill Black from the Scotty, Bill and Elvis years) The crowd loved it. Like I said, it was fun every night.
Needless to say we got to know them pretty well. If they were a group of family siblings Pat was the brilliant, entitled first born. He was the ringleader, which has its pros and cons for any family. Next was Jim. The Dave Davies-esque hellraising younger brother to Pat. Dennis was the studious one. You could always count on him. Steady as his tempo. And Mike was the firery and athletic baby bro. Sick of taking shit from his older “brothers,” there was an aura of danger around him. But he brought fire to the stage every night. I liked all of them very much.
Sometime after the tour, Pat was doing a solo thing and asked if Watershed would back him up at a show at Ludlow’s in Columbus. Hells yeah we would. So Herb, Joe and myself along with our pal Andy Harrison boned up on the material and the show was a smash. What an honor to stand next to Pat onstage playing all those great tunes. It was also the night I met my lifelong friend Brian Phillips for the first time.
We would stay in sporadic contact with Pat through the years and it was always a pleasure when we would reconnect. And he never lost his ability to write a catchy song and sing it in his distinctive style. Go play any Smithereens record today and you will find that it would sound great in any decade. Nothing sounds dated. It sounds fresh and classic and the same time. How rare is that?
And don’t sleep on their last studio release, the amazing 2011. Produced by Don Dixon and recorded by Mitch Easter. (WOW!) It sounds as cool as any in their amazing catalog.
We lost some big names in 2017, but nobody touched me like Pat Dinizio. I am forever in his debt for writing those amazing tunes but more importantly, inviting a little band like Watershed into the world of the Smithereens. It was an honor. - Colin Gawel (click here for Colin page)
Below are a couple of Smithereens tunes for your pleasure.
The first Smithereens song I heard or more likely saw on MTV. Always crushing.
From Smithereens 2011. 24 years after their debut.
A Date with The Smithereens is my favorite Reen's record. It didn't hurt that this is the tour we did but I still think it's their most consistent top to bottom. Dig this little gem.
This clip shows off the diversity of Pat's songwriting and the Smithereens. And it's always fun to see Belinda Carlisle of The Go Go's.
This full show from MTV catches the band in all their young garage band glory. Early hits with a dose of Surf , Kinks and The Who. Wow.
The awesome Blood and Roses. It was breathtaking every time they played it. This clip was filmed around the time we were touring with them. This is how I remember The Smithereens. RIP Pat DiNizio.
Colin Gawel founded Pencilstorm, plays in the band Watershed and fronts The League Bowlers.