By Ryan Gueningsman
GREENFIELD, MN A national recording artist made a Greenfield man’s night when he dropped by his home for a concert in his living room.
Pat DiNizio, lead singer for the band The Smithereens, stopped by the home of Brian Kinnerk and his wife, Catharine Sangers as a part of DiNizio’s “Living Room Concert Series.”
The Smithereens were a standard name in the rock scene of the 1980s, after spending most of that decade attempting to progress its way up the charts.
A debut record was released in 1986, titled “Especially For You,” to positive reviews. The song “Blood and Roses” found its way into the MTV roster, and gained the band a national following. A major-label record deal with Capitol Records soon followed.
A follow-up album to “Especially For You” titled “Green Thoughts,” gave fans the hit “Only A Memory,” which also became a college and modern rock hit. The band’s taste of big time success, however, came with its third album “11,” a heavier guitar sound, and the song, “A Girl Like You.”
The band switched labels and found a home on RCA for an album in 1994, and since that time has stayed busy touring and recording.
“I’ve been a big fan of The Smithereens for a long time,” Kinnerk said. “I’ve always kind of followed their careers, and one of the things Pat DiNizio started to do was this living room tour, and it intrigued me, so I tried to figure out how to get on the list.”
Kinnerk said DiNizio announced last summer applications would again be taken for the living room series, and the day it became available, Kinnerk added his name to the list of hopefuls for a concert.
“I think I was the second or third guy to get on there,” Kinnerk said.
“They just have a great sound,” Kinnerk said. “DiNizio, as the frontman, is a great lyricist, you can hear the influences of The Beatles, The Kinks, The Byrds, and I’ve just grown up with it. Music is a very personal thing.”
During his concert at Kinnerk’s home, DiNizio stressed the point Kinnerk made, while DiNizio was likely somewhere between Mantorville and Greenfield, that music is, indeed, personal.
He talked about playing his first gig at the age of 14, singing “Proud Mary,” and having the party’s guest of honor a girl celebrating her 13th birthday put on a Steppenwolf record while DiNizio was still playing.
“We all hated her, but it was a gig,” DiNizio said with a laugh. “It was our first gig.”
He played the band’s hit “Only A Memory,” and then spoke about the late great Buddy Holly. DiNizio recently recorded a Buddy Holly Tribute album, and explained it’s another way of keeping music close to his heart.
“It’s as good a song as anyone ever wrote,” DiNizio said. “It still holds up after all this time.”
He recalled meetings with Holly’s widow, and sang a song he wrote in her honor, called “Maria Elena,”
In between his songs, he peppered in stories of recording the song with Belinda Carlisle at a studio in California, writing a song for his daughter, calling it “a permanent record of how much I love her.”
He said when the band was in its heyday, she hadn’t been born yet.
“She really missed the boat,” DiNizio said with a laugh. “It’s never going to be 1986 again for any of us. She missed The Smithereens on Saturday Night Live. That would have been cool for her to see, but she wasn’t born yet.”
DiNizio also talked about parties with industry giants, and his connection to The Beatles. Someone in the audience yelled “Beatles” and DiNizio broke into “I’ll Be Back” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”
Growing up on the east coast, DiNizio’s personality was evident in many of the songs he performed that night.
“You ever see The Sopranos?” DiNizio asked. “That’s who I am. I’m Tony Soprano without the murderous instinct.”
He performed the band’s top two songs, “Blood and Roses” and “A Girl Like You,” the latter of which he dedicated to everyone in attendance at Kinnerk’s home.
DiNizio took a break in between his sets to meet with Kinnerk’s guests, sell CDs, and crack a few jokes.
“We need more humor in the world,” DiNizio said. “We need more events like this. That’s what people used to do in the old days. Thank you for bringing all your friends together it has more meaning than you think.”
Before coming to Greenfield, DiNizio performed in Mantorville, and after playing at Kinnerk’s home, he had to make four more stops in Minnesota.
Kinnerk, the president of Unitron Hearing of Plymouth, said his company manufactures hearing aids, and funds raised from the event will be given to the Better Hearing Institute, of which Kinnerk serves on the board.
“It’s a nice evening with some friends, food, and some nice music in an intimate setting,” Kinnerk said.
DiNizio learned of the living room concert concept through his involvement with a Jim Beam grant program.
“Jim Beam had this beautiful grant program for many years and I was the spokesperson,” DiNizio recalled. “We gave away a lot of money every year to emerging music artists.”
He borrowed an idea from an artist he met through that program. This is his second annual living room tour, and it will end in May when he’ll be kicking off some Smithereens tour dates.
Taking some time to reflect on music these days, DiNizio said it’s hard not to get defensive, and he said it’s hard to figure out what people want to hear.
“I don’t know honestly what anyone wants to hear anymore,” DiNizio said. “It’s hard for me. I try not to get defensive. Honestly, when Time Magazine calls Lucinda Williams the best songwriter in America and puts her on the cover, there’s something wrong. She’s a good songwriter, but she’s not the best songwriter in America. How they can qualify like that and call anybody the best songwriter in America, is absurd. Is she the best? On Monday I might be the best. On Tuesday she might be the best.”
DiNizio is proud of his songwriting talents, but said critics may not recognize his band because they’re not “on the radar anymore.”
“I keep putting out new albums, keep coming up with interesting projects for the fans, and doing things that will be fun for the fans and general public, but what can you do?” DiNizio said. “You do what you do and that’s all you can do.”
The Smithereens have been touring consistently, and have been on the road non-stop for 20 years. The group’s last studio album came in the 1990s, but in the past two years, DiNizio released among other things a soundtrack for an ESPN special, a piano and vocal album of standards from his era, a Beatles tribute album, the Holly tribute album, and a Christmas project.
“That’s eight or nine records inside of two-and-a-half years,” DiNizio said. “You gotta just keep moving forward. My philosophy is let everyone else take five years between albums. We’re going to put out what we feel like.”
After hearing DiNizio’s voice, it’s not typically one that would be associated with Beatles tunes.
It works. There’s love there,” DiNizio said. “We care. There’s passion in what we’re doing.”
For more information on DiNizio, visit www.patdinizio.com or www.officialsmithereens.com.