After fifty years in show business, Joey Dee believes in giving credit where it’s due:
To the Shirelles, friends from high school who got him his first recording contract.
To Henry Glover, who spared no expense as the producer of Dee’s million-seller breakthrough hit, "The Peppermint Twist."
To the members of the Starliters who performed with him over the last 50 years as he rode the waves of fame and fortune following his major hit.
And, first and foremost, to the man who wrote and first recorded the song that caused a worldwide dance craze: Hank Ballard.
"I like to give Hank Ballard a lot of credit because this is his 50th anniversary, along with Chubby (Checker) and ‘The Twist,’" Dee said last Friday, on the phone from his home in Florida. "He never got the credit for being the originator of ‘The Twist.’ He (and his band) the Midnighters created the dance and the song. It should be mentioned. He’s the one we should tip our hats to."
Ballard, an African-American, was already a veteran R&B artist when he wrote and recorded "The Twist" in 1959; his previous hits on Billboard’s R&B singles chart included "Work With Me Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby" — both of which had been deemed too risque for play on white radio in the ’50s. Cameo-Parkway, an East Coast rec-ord label, recorded a cover version with one of its artists, a photogenic young man named Chubby Checker, in 1960.
Checker appeared on "American Bandstand," and the twist craze was launched.
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
By 1962 the twist was a sensation with kids, whether white or black, and it was being danced by people of all ages. (For those too young to remember these times, this is the era fictionalized in the pop musical "Hairspray.") Cameo-Parkway re-released Checker’s record, and it became the only song in the 20th century to top the Billboard Hot 100 twice (first in 1960 and again in 1962).
By that time the popularity of the twist had also been fueled by Checker’s 1961 follow-up, "Let’s Twist Again," and his duet with Dee Dee Sharp, "Slow Twistin’," Sam Cooke’s "Twisting the Night Away" and the Isley Brothers’ "Twist and Shout."
But no twist song was bigger than Dee’s million-seller, "The Peppermint Twist," which entered the Hot 100 late in 1961 and topped the chart for three consecutive weeks.
Dee and Glover co-wrote it, and Dee says Glover’s commitment to excellence was "the key" to the song’s success.
"We had some great musicians on that (session) besides my band," Dee said. "Henry Glover got us the best. He was the catalyst as far as my career was concerned."
ALSO ON THE BILL:
* The Angels. Founding members Phyllis and Barbara Allbut welcomed lead vocalist Peggy Santiglia to the group in 1962. A year later the trio topped the Billboard Hot 100 with "My Boyfriend’s Back."
* The Crests. Lead vocalist Johnny Maestro led this interracial doo-wop group through a string of memorable recordings in the late ’50s. "16 Candles" was the group’s all-time biggest hit, but Hawaii also remembers "Six Nights A Week," "The Angels Listened In," "Step By Step" and "Trouble In Paradise" — all of them Billboard Top 40 hits in 1959 and 1960.
* The Dovells. Featuring the distinctive voice of Len Berry, the Dovells hit big with "Bristol Stop" in 1961 and followed up with "Do The New Continental," "Bristol Twistin’ Annie," "Hully Gully Baby" and "You Can’t Sit Down."
* The Orlons. The deep voice of Steve Caldwell provided a dramatic counterpoint to the "girl group" sound of the quartet’s three female members as they enjoyed three consecutive Top 5 hits in 1962 and 1963 — "The Wah Watusi" peaked at No. 2 for two weeks, "Don’t Hang Up" reached No. 4 for one week, and "South Street" rose to No. 3. The quartet’s next two singles — "Not Me" and "Cross Fire!" were also Top 20 hits in 1963.
* The Lovenotes. Pete "Dr. Woo Wop" Hernandez formed Hawaii’s first doo-wop oldies group in the early 1980s and released the group’s first cassette album, "Street Corner ‘Doo-Wop’ Lets Start It Over Again!" in 1983 with founding members Felix Almestica, Dino Macaluso, Rick Wilson, Rufus Harris and Johnny Loprete. Several years later, the lineup was Hernandez, Loprete, Mike Baker, Johnny Bock, keyboard/synthesizer wizard Pat Miguel and John Valentine. Almestica returned as one of the lead vocalists — singing a show-stopping rendition of "Duke of Earl" — in a later version of the group. (Side note: Hernandez is known to another generation of music fans as Bruno Mars’ dad.)
DEE adds another entry to his career tomorrow when he headlines the "Doo-Wop Spectacular" at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. He’ll be joined by the Angels, the Crests, the Dovells and the Orlons — and Hawaii’s original doo-wop revival group, Pete "Dr. Doo Wop" Hernandez & the Love Notes.
Dee (born Joseph DiNicola, a native "Jersey boy," in 1940) was planning to go back to college and get a degree in education, even after he and the Starliters had a couple of regional hits. Then they got booked to play a weekend at a Manhattan nightclub on 45th Street. The next day’s papers reported that celebrities had been seen dancing at the Peppermint Lounge — the rest is history.
Joey Dee & the Starliters became the house band. Almost overnight he was meeting A-list celebrities, including Jackie Kennedy, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Judy Garland.
"You name a celebrity from the (early) ’60s and they were there," Dee recalls.
"One night I looked out in the audience and John Wayne is sitting ringside, Nat ‘King’ Cole is two tables away, Liberace is four tables away. … (It was) just amazing for a kid from New Jersey, a Jersey boy from a blue-collar family playing music in a club that became a mecca, (and) dancing with Shirley MacLaine."
Dee’s success at the Peppermint Lounge led to roles in two movies, "Hey, Let’s Twist," with Jo Ann Campbell and Teddy Randazzo, and "Two Tickets to Paris," which included a memorable love song, "What Kind of Love Is This."
Both films were "fun," Dee says — but he didn’t know how to keep a film career afloat.
"I wish I had known how important they would have been to my career. I would have paid more attention and studied (acting) a little bit more," he says.
As a footnote to film history, Dee notes, Joe Pesci’s first film role was as an extra in "Hey, Let’s Twist": "During the song, ‘The Peppermint Twist,’ he mugs right up to the camera and you can see it’s Joey. We’re still good friends almost 50 years later."
DURING the course of his 50-plus years in the entertainment business, Dee has rubbed shoulders with many significant figures in pop music.
Eddie Brigatti, Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish were members of the Starliters before they left to form the Young Rascals. Dee performed in the Starliters with Eddie’s older brother, David Brigatti.
Dee featured the Ronettes as guests at the club and took them on the road with him before they signed with Phil Spector.
And Jimi Hendrix was playing guitar with the Starliters when Chas Chandler discovered him and whisked him away in London.
The Starliters were "old school, you wore a suit," Dee says, adding that he gave Hendrix time to "be himself. He played with his teeth, behind his back, put the guitar on the floor … and people loved it.
"I was all for giving people the spotlight. If you had talent and you were in Joey Dee’s group, you got your opportunity."
"I was like a steppingstone for quite a few of them," he says, "and I’m so proud of that."
All in all, the twist has been very good to Joey Dee.
"I’ve had a wonderful life," he said. "I raised my family, my children and my grandchildren, all due to the success of ‘The Peppermint Twist.’"