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TRIBUTE: Popular Smithereens Leader, NJ House Concert King: Pat DiNizio, 62

Requiescat in pace, Pat DiNizio. Photo Credit: Tim Jackson
DiNizio performs "Cigarette," from the Smithereens first album, "Especially For You," in E minor, the saddest key of all, at a house concert.
DiNizio performs "Cigarette," from the Smithereens first album, "Especially For You," in E minor, the saddest key of all, at a house concert. Video Credit: audiovidya
Tim Jackson shot this number at a 2016 Memorial Day BBQ
Tim Jackson shot this number at a 2016 Memorial Day BBQ Video Credit: Tim Jackson

He led one of New Jersey's most popular bands in history -- and at the same time became king of the house concert: Singer-songwriter Pat Dinizio, the supreme talent behind the Smithereens, died Tuesday at 62.

Band members who'd previously been preparing for a January tour with their silver-voiced frontman confimed Dinizio's death early Wednesday.

"Our journey with Pat was long, storied and a hell of a lot of fun," fellow Smithereens Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, and Mike Mesaros wrote on Facebook. "We grew up together. Little did we know that we wouldn't grow old together."

Other musicians, including R.E.M.'s Mike Mills, posted tributes of their own.

"Heartbroken to hear of the passing of my lifelong pal," wrote Richard Barone, another New Jersey rock icon by way of Hoboken.

Dinizio, on his Facebook page, said he'd been convalescing at his Union County home after several falls that caused nerve damage, limiting the use of his right hand and arm.

"I learned a long time ago that life is a series of constant adjustments," he wrote Saturday, "and with that in mind, we are doing our very best to deal with current medical issues to get me in shape for our upcoming gigs.

"I have been receiving very good care and several physical therapy sessions at home each week here at Hollingsworth House in Scotch Plains (a Victorian farmhouse built in 1885 that I purchased 20 years ago - I am only the 3rd owner of the house!) and rest assured I am receiving the best medical care and attention possible to repair the damage done to my neck and back in my recent falls.

"I have been getting a lot of gratifying and encouraging emails and Facebook postings from so many of you regarding my health and I want you to know that your interest and concern truly means the world to me."

It's easy to recite the titles of Smithereens hits: "A Girl Like You," "Behind The Wall Of Sleep," "Only a Memory" and "Blood and Roses," among them.

But there was much more to the story of the Carteret band that came together in 1980.

"Aw, man," wrote Ted Leo, who led his own band, The Pharmacists. "Knowing that The Smithereens were a staple at my hometown's Dirt Club early on, actually helped me understand that good songs, hard work, and a love of playing music can be a path to making some kind of life out of it."

In what for them was a relentless climb but to others seemed an overnight success, the Smithereens went from playing legendary shows at the legendary Court Tavern in New Brunswick and the Dirt in Bloomfield to 20,000-seat arenas, with countless colleges and venues of various sizes in-between -- including Joey Harrison's Surf Club in Ortley Beach.

They released their first album, "Especially For You," in 1986, after DiNizio reportedly sent a casette of it to Enigma Records.

The Smithereens eventually claimed a leading position among New Jersey's greatest musical performers -- headed by Springsteen, Sinatra, Whitney Houston and Bon Jovi -- and half-jokingly called themselves "America's Band," thanks in part to multi-platinum album sales.

At the same time, DiNizio -- sometimes with bandmates -- continued playing New Jersey-area house concerts, some in Passaic County and elsewhere in the tri-state area, some at his own home.

It began with the "Living Room Tour," a five-month spree in 2000 of request-only songs. DiNizio and fans enjoyed it so much that he never stopped.

He also released solo recordings, including "This is Pat DiNizio," a 3-CD collection of cover songs -- many from the 60s, including several Beatles tunes, as well as Smithereens tunes -- arranged for piano and vocals.

DiNizio ran for the U.S. Senate on the Reform Party ticket in 2000, getting less than 1% of the vote -- chronicled in the documentary "Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington."

A year later, he became one of the first musicians to toute XM Satellite Radio, hosting and directing the "Unsigned" station.

A 2006 ESPN2 reality special, "7th Inning Stretch," focused on DiNizio trying out for the Somerset Patriots minor-league baseball team despite the nervous disorder.

DiNizio also released an audio book, "Confessions Of A Rock Star," which he condensed into a live show in Las Vegas for three months, beginning in November 2011.

As Smithereens drummer Diken wrote, DiNizio had the “magic touch,” with “hook-laden three minute pop songs.”

Mark McGrath, the Sugar Ray frontman, called him "a man who learned from the greats and could craft an effortless, classic pop song."

"One of the greatest voices in rock and roll ever," longtime local fan Tim Jackson wrote. Pat Dinizio, along with the Smithereens, made many in NJ proud.

"I am devastated and know that he is in a far better place now."

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