Responsible for such hits as “Blood and Roses,” “A Girl Like You” and “Only A Memory,” The Smithereens have been plugging away for decades, both in and out of the spotlight, which has left DiNizio with a wealth of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes dish mixed in with live music, video footage, photos and audience participation. Ticket holders arrive ready to watch a show, but may leave feeling as though they just made a friend.
The Best of Las Vegas recently spoke with DiNizio about his background, The Smithereens and a few of his favorite Las Vegas things.
BOLV: Why do you think “Confessions of a Rock Star” is a good fit for Las Vegas?
DiNizio: I think the show offers the audience something they can find nowhere else. It’s real rock and roll, not watered down by any stretch of the imagination, in addition to being the story of a guy who was a garbage man for his whole life and then woke up one morning and had a hit song on the radio.
BOLV: What confessions do you have to make since coming to Las Vegas?
DiNizio: I’ve never left my hotel room! I’m not much interested in gambling or carousing, I got all that out of my system many years ago when I was on the road 300 days a year for a decade or more with the Smithereens. So my confession is that I am emulating the life of Howard Hughes.
BOLV: Have you ever wanted to do anything else besides music?
DiNizio: I always wanted to be in a rock and roll band and I wanted to make motion pictures. The closest I’ve come directing and producing an ESPN TV special called “Seventh Inning Stretch.” It was about my attempt to play minor league baseball at age 49. I would like to eventually write and direct movies.
BOLV: What was your first job?
DiNizio: The first job I actually had was in the winter of 1963. I was probably 8 years old, and we were snowed in. I was sitting inside the house watching cartoons and my dad said to me, “Grab a snow shovel and go make some money.” So my first job was shoveling out sidewalks and driveways for some folks. I made about $3.
BOLV: Name the last thing you crossed off your bucket list.
DiNizio: I recently retrieved a guitar that I had to sell many years ago to pay the rent. It took 25 or 30 years, but I was able to get it back. It was always in the back of my mind, the sadness of having to sell something I really loved, something that was really important to me, in order to survive in New York City.
BOLV: It’s the holiday season. What song off “Christmas with The Smithereens” best suits Las Vegas?
DiNizio: It has to be our punk/surf-rock version of “Auld Lang Syne,” because of one of the movies that sparked my fascination with Vegas, “Ocean’s 11.” I saw it with my parents at a drive-in movie theater in New Jersey. There was this scene where they’re counting down, and Sinatra and his ex-Army cohorts rob the five biggest casinos in Las Vegas, including the Riviera, when everyone is singing Auld Lang Syne. We named our third album “Smithereens 11” after “Ocean’s 11” and we even worked in imagery from the movie posters on the original album cover. We were into the Rat Pack in Las Vegas decades before George Clooney remade “Ocean’s 11.”
BOLV: Speaking of which, the number 11 has been prominent in your career. The album “11” produced “A Girl Like You;” the latest album of new music is called “2011,” and your show began in November of 2011. That being said, how did you mark 11/11/11?
DiNizio: It’s possible that the day completely passed me by. No, wait, that was Veteran’s Day. I was posting on Facebook to remind people about our veterans who protect us, because we have so many of these poor kids coming back from these wars that we’re currently involved in, and they tend to be forgotten about.
BOLV: What’s the most embarrassing MP3 in your iPod?
DiNizio: For me, or for someone else? Let me open up my iTunes player, because I don’t have an iPod. I don’t even have a cell phone. It’s not embarrassing, but my favorite album is Bing Crosby’s Christmas album. It’s a sentimental favorite. Ironically, there are no Smithereens songs on here. When I had to put together the CDs for the grand opening cocktail party, the folks here at the Riviera asked me to burn a few CDs with Smithereens songs and material from my solo albums, the Buddy Holly tribute and The Beatles tributes, and I said OK. I didn’t tell them that I had to buy my own albums off of Amazon.com, because I didn’t own them. So you can say that was an embarrassing moment for me.
BOLV: As you mentioned, The Smithereens have covered The Beatles, and you produced a tribute to Buddy Holly. Which Las Vegas impersonator or tribute show would you most like to see?
DiNizio: Everyone tells me that I have to go see “The Beatles LOVE” show, but I bought the album and I wasn’t really all that crazy about it. I don’t really see how Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles go together. Everyone loves it that goes to see it, though. I’m not interested in “Jersey Boys,” because it’s too similar to the story of the Smithereens. I read that Shecky Green is working, and he’s telling stories about what it was like being with Sinatra and the Rat Pack and old Las Vegas. I’m intrigued by that, because I like to hear stories. I’m just trying to find a way to see Schecky, because we’re working at the same time on the same days. And as much as I love him, I’m not going to take a day off work.
BOLV: What Las Vegas landmark would you most like to blow to Smithereens?
DiNizio: This is a very tight community, I’d better watch what I say here. What I would rather do is resurrect some of the buildings I remember, or rather elements of the Las Vegas that I enjoyed when I first came here in 1973. We’d never seen such entertainment, it was everywhere you turned. And it still is.
BOLV: What has surprised you most about Las Vegas?
DiNizio: How nice everyone is here. Everyone that I’ve encountered, whether they write for a living about Las Vegas, or they work for the hotels, or whether they’re in shows themselves, everyone is tremendously gracious. Everyone has been absolutely delightful here. A lot of locals are coming to the show, and this is tremendously gratifying to me, heartening in fact. I love meeting people that have relocated here. There’s something about this town that everybody loves, and I’m starting to believe that it’s the people.
BOLV: What is the most surprising request a fan has ever made?
DiNizio: We’ve had people that we never met before, and of which we know nothing of their capabilities, request to play guitar solos on our most famous songs–and we let them do it. And most of the time, they’re great. This hasn’t happened in Vegas yet, but I expect it will happen at any moment–perhaps tonight. I think everyone out here has either been an entertainer or wants to be, you know? I’d better be careful, or someone might steal the show from me.
BOLV: Why do you think the Riviera is one of Las Vegas’ best-kept secrets?
DiNizio: I just think the Riviera is a treasure that people should come and see, to experience what vintage, historic Las Vegas hotel casinos are like. The Riviera, I believe, is intent on preserving that old school feeling, in the best sense of the word, and bringing in interesting new entertainment, the type of which we’re doing in “Confessions of a Rock Star.” They’re very forward-thinking in that regard, but they also respect and realize that the history of this particular hotel is something that to be treasured.
“Confessions of a Rock Star” plays in the “Crazy Girls” Theater, at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Tickets are $29.95 for general admission and can be purchased at the Riviera box office or on Ticketmaster.com.
Published on bestoflasvegas.com