Gary James' Interview With
Joey Dee

You may remember the name Joey Dee. In the early 60's, and at the height of the Twist craze, Joey Dee and The Starlighters rocketed to the top of the charts with a song called The Peppermint Twist. A lot has happened to Joey and music since then. Joey is now President of an organization out of Seminole, Fla., named The Foundation For The Love of Rock 'n' Roll. The goal of this non-profit organization is, "to provide a warm and comfortable setting where members of Rock's elite can relax and share their heritage." It should be pointed out the Foundation's aim is to help those musicians and performers who contributed so much to the world of music, but now for whatever reason(s) are down on their luck.

What's Joey Dee been up to lately? How did The Foundation For The Love of Rock 'n' Roll attract Joey's attention? For those answers and more, we went straight to the man himself - Joey Dee.

Q - Joey, I would imagine there would be a lot of support for your rock 'n' roll retirement center coming from the entertainment world. But, the general public, now that's another story. Most people probably believe that all rock 'n' roll musicians are well off. How do you help dispel this myth?

A - Your assessment of the entertainers willing to support this organization is right on target. We have approximately 150 members now, the latest two being Barry Manilow and Tony Orlando. Now it's also true that the popular misconception by the general public is that the people who made these hit recordings are probably well-off and affluent today. But that's an erroneous assumption because most of these people did not get the residuals or the royalties from their recording contracts or their writer's rights.

Q - Why did so many performers of the 50's and 60's allow themselves to be ripped off?

A - The reason I believe that so many of the performers of the 50's and 60's did not get their just royalties is because you're talking about teenagers going up against corporate America. In most cases, the teenagers didn't sign a very good deal in their favor. Most of the teenagers were from blue collar families who had no knowledge of money or money management or the intelligence to get an attorney to check it out.

Q - Were you ripped off?

A - I faired slightly better because of a kinship with Roulette Records. I did probably slightly better than most of the other artists. But, I'm sure there were occasions when I signed contracts I shouldn't have.

Q - At one time, The Ronettes were in your group, three of the original Rascals were Starlighters, and you hired Jimi Hendrix as a guitarist. What is your recollection of those people?

A - The Ronettes were part of my revue back in the early 1960's. Three of the four Young Rascals were part of my group, and that's an interesting little story. I took three of the fellas from three different groups and they probably would never have met if I hadn't intervened and created a new band of Starlighters. I had Felix Cavaliere who was with the group Felix and The Escorts, and I asked him if he would like to be a Starlighter after my original group disbanded. I got a fella by the name of Gene Cornish from Rochester, N.Y. who played guitar. He was disenchanted with his group that was visiting New York City, and they were going back to Rochester. I asked him if he wanted to hang out in the city and join my band and he agreed. The third member was Eddie Brigati who was the younger brother of Dave Brigati, from the original Starlighters. So therein lies the connection. The only one who wasn't a member of my band was Dino Danelli, although I knew Dino. He was with a group called Ronnie Speaks and the Elrods. So, it's quite an interesting scenario. It is also true that I hired Jimi Hendrix as my guitarist back in the mid 60's. He had just gotten off the road with Little Richard. I lived in Lodi, New Jersey at the time and I had him come out to my garage and audition. After the first 5 minutes I knew he was the guy for my band. My recollections of him were very pleasant ones. He was a wonderful team player, a fine guitarist, similar to Curtis Mayfield. He wasn't experimenting with the guitar sounds and the feedback when he was with Joey Dee and the Starlighters. That came slightly later. He was a wonderful human being and it was a tremendous loss when he died, to the rock and roll community. I have nothing but good thoughts about Jimi. There's a local connection here too, because one of the gigs that I worked with Jimi was at a place called Lorenzo's, right in your backyard of Syracuse, N.Y.

Q - Did you put the Peppermint Lounge on the map with The Peppermint Twist?

A - Actually it was a joint venture. The success and the publicity that the Peppermint Lounge had received in turn created the need for me to write the song "The Peppermint Twist". So, I like to think that we did this venture hand-in-hand and on a par basis. The Peppermint Lounge without the publicity would not have engendered The Peppermint Twist, and without The Peppermint Twist I don't think the Peppermint Lounge would have had the longevity it achieved.

Q - Is it true that you helped extend the Twist craze for at least six months longer than it might have otherwise lasted?

A - That's probably true. But, the Twist lasted a whole lot longer than six months, 'cause if you've been to a wedding lately or any kind of family function, you'll see people are still dancing The Twist. So, it's still alive and well in some enclaves in the country.

Q - Did you get rich from The Peppermint Twist?

A - Well, we made some money but we did not become millionaires by any stretch of the imagination.

Q - Do you recall any of the famous people you met at the Peppermint Lounge?

A - I can recall quite a few: Shirley McLaine, John Wayne, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford from England, and many notable people who were columnists and people in the media.

Q - You did a couple of movies, Twist Around The Clock with Chubby Checker...

A - I never did that. Chubby did his own movie. I did two movies. One was called Hey, Let's Twist and the second was called Two Tickets To Paris. These films can still be seen occasionally on the late, late, late, late show. They're still out there. Paramount owns the rights to Hey, Let's Twist, and Columbia Pictures owns the rights to Two Tickets To Paris.

Q - Was your record "Hot Pastrami With Mashed Potatoes" a big hit for you?

A - Yes, it was a big hit for us. The reason it came out as a single was because while I was appearing in Europe, Morris Levy, the owner of Roulette Records, became aware that the group The Dartels did a clone of our recording. So, he decided to put our version out, and it was quite successful for us.

Q - Is it true, by late 1963, you and The Starlighters were just another lounge band?

A - By late 1963 I was still appearing in Europe. I didn't get back till December 1963. As a matter of fact, while I was working in a place called King's Tennis Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, The Beatles were my opening act. I would say, in the later 60's, Joey Dee and The Starlighters, because of the English Invasion, just like many other American bands, were relegated to lounge bands.

Q - Is your son Joey Jr. still involved in music?

A - He's involved in the writing aspect only. But he is recording with my other son Ronnie Dee, who just went in and recorded four songs. The name of the group is Ronnie Dee Nation. Shortly, they should have a recording deal with a major label. We're waiting for a final agreement to be drawn up.

Q - You opened a nightclub called The Starlighter in 1964. Whatever happened with that venture?

A - It was a performer's dream as far as I was concerned. And I hired only the people that I enjoyed listening to. I had people working there like Jackie Wilson and King Curtis. So, when I went to work, I couldn't wait to get there because of the fine entertainment I knew who was gonna be there when I arrived. It was quite a successful venture for me. Unfortunately, I was able to go out and make more money as an entertainer then as an entrepreneur. So, I stayed in the nightclub business for slightly more than one year.

Q - Dick Clark said that you sang lead on the Peppermint Twist, only because the original lead singer couldn't get the right feel. Is that true? And is it true that up till that point, you'd never been a lead singer?

A - Dick Clark was right on the money when he said I sang lead on the Peppermint Twist after the original lead singer Dave Brigati couldn't get the exact feel that the producer Henry Glover wanted. And the reason I think I got it a lot quicker is because Henry Glover and I were the co-writers of the song. I immediately felt the exact way it should feel. And after about 2 takes, Henry decided this is what he was seeking. We went with my version of the Peppermint Twist. Up until that point, I had been mostly a background singer and I played alto sax for Dave Brigati and Roger Freeman who were my two lead singers. But I did sing an occasional lead like 'You Must've Been A Beautiful Baby' and 'Ya Ya'. I just had a good feel for certain songs and I still feel that same way, that certain, particular songs, I can sing better than anybody else.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Joey Dee and the Starlighters placed five songs on the Billboard Hot 100.
"Peppermint Twist" (#1 - 1961), "Hey, Let's Twist" (#20 - 1962), "Shout - Part 1" (#6 - 1962),
"What Kind Of Love Is This" (#18 - 1962), "Hot Pastrami With Mashed Potatoes" (#36 - 1963)