December 12, 2017 – Pat DiNizio (The Smithereens) was born October 12, 1955 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where he actually lived his entire life. As a youngster, he was inspired by the pop music emanating from his transistor radio in the ‘60s and the hit tunes being written by his musical idols Buddy Holly, The Beatles, and The Beau Brummels among others.
He began playing music with several local bands in the early 1970s, but got serious around 1975 when he joined three classmates from nearby Cateret High School – guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken and formed the Smithereens. That lineup would remain in place for nearly 25 years.
Honing their chops at club shows that made them regional heroes, they released several EPs in the early 1980s to mild success and they played as a supporting band on the oldies circuit. Then in 1986 the Smithereens issued their debut album “Especially for You” on Enigma. The hard-rocking yet pop-savvy set included the breakout radio track “Blood and Roses,” and climbed to No. 51 on the U.S. charts. Its successors, “Green Thoughts” (No. 60, 1988) and “11” (No. 40, 1989), contained similarly styled material that heartily echoed the sounds of the ‘60s British Invasion. Though never a major success, the quartet acquired a loyal following, especially with college kids. Their early albums as their brand of rock classicism could be heard in such fan favorites as “Blood and Roses,” “Strangers When We Meet,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Only a Memory,” and “A Girl Like You.”
In a 1990 interview when asked about his life with the Smithereens in the LA Times, Dinizio said: “I love it. It beats picking up garbage, like I used to do. We’re self-employed – beyond the fact that we get to do what we love for living.”
With the advent of such phenomena as grunge and Nirvana in the early ’90s however, the Smithereens faded from public consciousness. The group continued releasing albums for Capitol (“Blow Up,” 1991) and BMG (“A Date with the Smithereens,” 1994) which both failed to crack the top half of the charts, and never came remotely close to their previous success.
After 1999 and the release of “God Save the Smithereens,” the group recorded only sporadically even though the band continued to play concerts to a sizable cult following well into the 2000s.
DiNizio branched into solo work in 1997 with “Sounds and Songs.” He recorded five solo sets, the most recent of which was another backward-looking set of covers, “Pat DiNizio/Buddy Holly.” Though none of DiNizio’s solo releases was a major hit, he remained a much-loved figure in the New York/New Jersey region, and was a compelling performer even when armed with an acoustic guitar.
In 2000 he introduced a new concept of home entertainment when he came up a unique touring concept: for $2,000, he would drive his van to a fan’s house, unload his guitar and a keg of beer, and play Smithereens requests for a private audience. He logged several thousand miles and crossed the country on this endeavor!!
After a layoff in the early years of the millennium, during which DiNizzio pursued political ambitions, a radio/sports career and an ESPN stint , the Smithereens regrouped, indulging their Anglophilia in albums of cover material: “Meet the Smithereens!” (a track-by-track remake of the Beatles’ first U.S. album), “B-Sides the Beatles” (covering the Fab Four’s single flip sides) and the self-explanatory “The Smithereens Play Tommy.”
In 2011, Pat brought his “Confessions of a Rock Star” multimedia revue to Las Vegas at The Riviera Hotel. “Confessions of a Rock Star” was the next step in the evolution of The Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio. Part rock raconteur and part power pop pioneer, he continues to expand the boundaries of rock and roll concerts. Pat’s show has grown from its original “one man, one car, one guitar” concept into a compelling example of multimedia performance art.
A pair of falls in 2015 left DiNizio with serious nerve damage and continuing health issues curtailed his public activities. After further injuries forced the cancellation of planned Smithereens shows in 2017, Pat DiNizio died unexpectedly on December 12, 2017. He was 62.
Among the bands they influenced, with their heavy but melodic sound, were Nirvana, who reportedly had just one cassette in their van —with Especially for You on one side and heavy metal band Celtic Frost on the others — in the days directly before they recorded their debut album, Bleach.
Another highlight came when Tom Petty personally asked The Smithereens to open some shows for him, in 2013. “I asked Tom, personally. I said: ‘Is it bullshit? ‘Cause they’re telling me that you asked for us.’ And he said, ‘No, no. Of course I wanted the Smithereens.’ “He heard their song ‘Sorry’ on the 2011 album and he loved the song.”
March 2018 Update:
The Township of Scotch Plains, NJ has announced the first in a series of events to honor their native son, the late Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens.
Scotch Plains, which is just to the south west of New York City, was DiNizio’s home throughout his childhood including graduating from Scotch Plains-Farnwood High School.
On Monday (March 26), the Smithereens posted a statement from the town announcing the renaming of the corner of Montague Avenue and Westfield Avenue in DiNizio’s name. A ceremony will be held on Tuesday, April 17 beginning at 5:30 PM.
DiNizio, along with Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros and Dennis Diken, formed the Smithereens in 1980. Over the course of their career, they released over a dozen albums with Pat putting out four of his own solo discs.
Pat fell in 2015 and suffered a number of ongoing medical issues that ultimately led to his death on December 12, 2017.
The official statement from the Township of Scotch Plains:
THE OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE TOWNSHIP OF SCOTCH PLAINS
DATE March 26, 2018
The Township of Scotch Plains invites residents and fans to the first of several events honoring native son Pat DiNizio. On Tuesday, April 17, Montague Avenue at the corner of Westfield Avenue will be ceremoniously named Pat DiNizio. The ceremony will begin at 5:30 pm. A new street sign will be unveiled at that time near Pat’s family home.
The local music legend who rose to fame with his band, The Smithereens, during the 1980s, died unexpectedly on December 12, 2017.
Pat was proud of his roots in the community and was a 2015 inductee into the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Hall of Fame (Class of 1973). His group, The Smithereens, featured DiNizio on vocals and guitar, Jim Babjak (guitar and vocals), Mike Mesaros (bass and vocals) and Dennis Diken (drums). The band was best known for the hit songs “Only a Memory” and “A Girl Like You,” which peaked at #38 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“It was a pleasure and a privilege to see Pat perform in Scotch Plains this past summer, said Mayor Al Smith.
Since his unexpected death in December, the Township has received many requests to honor Pat’s legacy.” Pat DiNizio Way will forever stand as testament to the man who loved his hometown of Scotch Plains.”
Township Manager Al Mirabella said, “Pat was a personal friend. He never missed an opportunity to say how proud he was of his home town of Scotch Plains. Naming a street in his memory is only one of the tributes we will pay to this hometown treasure. Join us on June 30 at the Scotch Hills Golf Course for a pre-fireworks concert featuring Pat’s former band, The Scotch Plainsmen, and special guests.”