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MarketWatch: Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Dion’s motto as an artist? ‘Take the money out of the decision’

Dion DiMucci is best known as the rock ‘n’ roller who rose to fame more than a half-century ago with such hits as “I Wonder Why,” “Teenager in Love” and “Runaround Sue.” And, of course, there’s his signature song, “The Wanderer,” a number that spoke to the Bronx-born artist’s gutsy attitude.

But his wandering didn’t end there.

Dion, as he’s simply known, has maintained a vibrant presence on the musical scene through the years. He had a folk hit in 1968 with “Abraham, Martin and John.” He has recorded a number of blues albums, including the Grammy-nominated “Blues with Friends” (2020). And now, he’s making his mark in the world of theater — helping to produce the musical “The Wanderer,” an autobiographical show that is currently playing at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, with the hope of moving to Broadway in the not-too-distant future.

The story of the 82-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is also a story of survival: Dion, who now calls South Florida home, battled drug addiction in his youth, but found his way to sobriety and embraced his Christian faith. He now spends part of his time counseling people in need of spiritual guidance or help with recovery.

MarketWatch recently caught up with Dion to talk about his current and past endeavors and to hear his views on life and money. Here’s some of what he had to say.

On his musical style

Dion is the first to admit his career has covered many genres – pure rock, doo wop, folk, blues, even a little country. But he says there’s a tie that binds. “I sing Bronx,” he explains, referring to his home — specifically, the famed Belmont section. “It’s like Black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood.” He also explains of his early hits: “There was a toughness about the music….it had an attitude.”

A scene from the musical ‘The Wanderer’: Mike Wartella (left) plays Dion, while Christy Altomare plays Susan.

Jeremy Daniel

His recent move into theater

Dion didn’t plan to develop a musical about his life. Rather, the idea came from playwright Charles Messina, who went on to write the book for “The Wanderer.” As Dion explains of the show’s genesis, he and Messina were having lunch and Messina asked, “How does an Italian kid from the Bronx get inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?” The question almost begged for a deeper theatrical dive so Messina set out to write the musical, which features more than 20 songs from throughout Dion’s career. Dion says he has encouraged the cast to have fun with it: “I told the kids in the play, ‘This is a two-and-half-hour trip to a place of enchantment.’”

How he puts art ahead of money

Throughout his career, Dion has rejected opportunities to pursue lucrative ventures in favor of doing the music he loves most, especially roots-influenced styles such as the blues. He says it was something that came out of a conversation with his future wife, Susan, in his early performing days when he had the chance to earn $10,000 — “A lot of money” back then, he explains — for a music project that seemed “trite and silly.” Her advice: “Take the money out of the decision.” Once he did that, he knew he had to turn down the gig — and he’s followed that approach ever since.

What he spends his money on

Dion says he lives fairly modestly, down to the basic truck he drives. “I don’t like spending money on stuff to impress people,” he explains. “I just like a practical way of life.”

The one exception? “The thing I love spending money on is having a great dinner with friends,” he says, adding he makes sure to tip waiters generously, since “they have families to feed.”

A favorite possession

Not surprisingly, it’s his Martin guitar. It’s the tool that allows him to communicate, he says: “I feel like I have a gift and I want to share it with people.”

When he might retire

“That’s a good question,” Dion says. He doesn’t really have an answer, but he instead refers to a recent conversation he had with fellow bluesman John Hammond, who brought up the subject of his own potential retirement. Dion’s response? “I said, ‘John, you are the greatest acoustic blues guy on the planet. How could you retire? It’s a sin. You can’t hold this gift back from people.’” The more he talked to Hammond, the more Dion says he realized he could be talking about his own path and career. At the very least, he’s got a bunch of concert dates coming up this summer, including some in the New York City area.

In other words, Dion is still rocking on.

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