The Roots Report: An Interview with Dennis Diken

In December of last year, Pat DiNizio, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the band The Smithereens, died at the age of 62. The Smithereens have had hits with songs such as, “Blood and Roses,” “Only a Memory” and “A Girl Like You.” DiNizio’s untimely passing was not only an emotional blow to the band, but it put their future in jeopardy. In January of this year they turned an already scheduled show into a tribute to DiNizio. At that concert several guest vocalists/musicians joined the band and among them was Marshall Crenshaw. He is known for his hits, “Someday, Someway” and “Whenever You’re On My Mind.” Besides those songs and others he played the role of Buddy Holly in the film LaBamba and began his career as John Lennon in Beatlemania. Crenshaw will be filling the vacant vocalist spot along with the surviving members of the Smithereens: Dennis Diken, Jim Babjak, and Mike Masaros when they come to the Greenwich Odeum on Saturday, November 17. I spoke with drummer, Dennis Diken about what has been going on with the band.

Dennis Diken (Smithereens): Hey, John, it’s Dennis Diken from the Smithereens
John Fuzek (Motif): Hi, how are you? Thanks for calling!
DD: I am good, how are you doing, man?
JF: I am good, so you are playing a show at the Greenwich Odeum next week, it’s a nice venue, have you ever played there?
DD: It does not ring a bell but it’s been a long time we’ve been touring, it’s possible but I don’t think so
JF: Maybe you played the Narrows last time that you were in town? I am not sure, I just know that I have missed your show every time you play!
DD: I don’t think we have been to RI in a while.
JF: Well, the Odeum is a very nice venue. I have played there before. Very nice 400 seat theater, people are great there. So, I have always been a fan of the Smithereens, way back to “Blood and Roses”, loved the groove of that song, actually really liked most of your music, though I never saw you perform live I did see a video of a show that was filmed at Infinity Hall in CT.
DD: Oh, yeah, that was a couple of years ago
JF: I think I actually saw it just around the time that Pat died, that really sucked, I’m sorry.
DD:Yeah, man, I know, thank you
JF: You guys were together for 30 years…
DD: Actually closer to 40, it will be 39 years in March that the band has been together, it’s a long, long time
JF: It’s always tough when you lose a front man, too, not only losing a friend, that is the biggest part of it, but when you lose a front man for a band it’s very hard, I kind of can see the fit of Marshall Crenshaw in the band, I did a gig with him back in the 90’s, I can hear the similarities in the music, you both have that strong pop style in your music, but I am curious how you got together?
DD:Well, we’ve known Marshall for a long, long time, we used to open for him going back to ’81, ’82, and so we shared a record producer, a guy named Alan Betrock, who produced his first recordings and he did some of our earliest recordings, we’ve know him a long time, as a matter of fact he played on some cuts on our first album, he used a pseudonym, he called himself “Jerome Jerome”, but he played umm, on “Strangers When We Meet”, he played Hammond B3 (organ) on that and “White Castle Blues” he played six string bass, we’ve know him a long time and considered him a member of our extended family, what happened though, how it came for us to notice it was a good fit was in January of this year we did a tribute show for Pat, it was initially booked as a Smithereens show long before Pat passed, and Little Steven, Steven Van Zandt was the producer of the show, it was at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Back, New Jersey, when Pat passed away in December Steven said “well look, let’s do this, let’s keep the date and let’s honor Pat, let’s bring in a bunch of vocalists to sing with the three surviving Smithereens and so we did, we had a number of great singers, Freedy Johnson, Ted Leo, Marshall Crenshaw, Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms, he will also be doing a bunch of shows with us, there were so many of them and that night it seemed right, even though Marshall’s voice is VERY different from Pat, it was never our intention to try to look for a sound alike or a look alike, we just wanted to continue and we wanted to work with someone who go the music and the spirit of the music and could deliver the songs and that is how it came about
JF: I was a fan of Marshall back in his early days but I lost track of his career along the way, anyway, is he a Jersey boy, too
DD: No, he is originally from Michigan, Detroit area
JF: OK, I thought that judging from the Little Steven connections and that show that he might have been from Jersey, too
DD: We knew him from New York, he was on the scene and he lived in NY for a long time
JF: Pat was your primary songwriter, right? What is the future of the band as far as material?
DD: We plan on making a record, Jimmy (Babjak) has written a lot of great songs for the band, I’ve been writing, I actually released a solo album almost ten years ago, and Mike is starting to write, too, some really cool stuff, at some point in the new year we’re going to be making a new record, it will be different, that’s for sure, but we’re going to continue making new music
JF: Will you have several vocalists for that project or settle on one?
DD: It really remains to be seen
JF: At this show at the Odeum will you do a mix of Smithereens and Marshall Crenshaw music?
DD: No, we just do Smithereens music. It was our concept and Marshall wanted to keep it that way so that’s what we do
JF: I was under the impression that you would be doing music by both because Crenshaw had previous hits, when I have seen other bands who have replaced members their music is sometimes incorporated into the mix
DD: There’s a lot of different ways to consider moving forward but right now it’s the way we think it’s best for us.
JF: You do have enough of a catalogue of material. That was just a question that I am sure that people were curious about. Anyway, tell me about your music, you mentioned that you have some solo stuff out.
DD: Well, I could send you a link to some of the songs if you want to hear them (link for Dennis Diken’s music here:
JF: Will you be performing any of these at the show?
DD: No, we are sticking with Smithereens material for the time being, and we do covers, too
JF: What type of covers do you do?
DD: We do some Beatles’ cover, we recorded “Time Won’t Let Me” the Outsider’s song, many years ago for the movie Time Cop
JF: Yes, I remember that!
DD: There will be a few other surprises
JF: You had mentioned one of the other members has solo material out as well
DD: Yes, Jimmy put a solo record out many years ago. so we’ve all been writing, Jimmy actually co-wrote some song with Pat as well, and Mike has been writing now, too. (link to Jim Babjak’s music:
JF: I am not familiar with who wrote all of the songs on past Smithereens’ albums, did you contribute songs or was it purely Pat?
DD: Yes, I did.
JF: Will there be an opening act for you at the Odeum?
DD: I don’t know actually
JF: Is this a long tour or just a couple of dates?
DD: This is an isolated weekend, we doing a lot more shows in January and February, we’re going to Los Angeles and that area, we’re also playing in Virginia, but that’s later
JF: How has the audience response been to the line-up, have they take to Marshall as a front man for the band?
DD: They have, it’s been remarkable, really, people made it very clear to us, especially after Pat passed away and especially when we did the show in January, they saw the band, and our fans really want to see the band continue
JF: Do you think you will make this a permanent arrangement or keep it loose
DD: Can’t say right now, I know Marshall’s enjoying it, we’re enjoying it, for the time being we’re just moving ahead, and we will be doing some shows early next year with Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was a MAJOR fan of the Smithereens, he did that show in January and he made it very clear to us that if there was ever a chance to do any shows with you guys with me as the singer I’d really be into it and he is passionate about the band, very cool
JF: I am glad that the Smithereens are continuing and it’s very sad that Pat passed away
I have enjoyed talking with you, thanks for taking the time to chat!

The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw will be performing at the Greenwich Odeum on Saturday, November 17 at 8pm. For more about this show, “Gotti” over to:

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading.

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