Pat DiNizio, vocalist-guitarist-songwriter for the tough yet tuneful New Jersey rock band the Smithereens, died Tuesday. He was 62.
The group announced his passing on their web site. No cause of death was given, but the musician had been beset by health problems in recent years; in 2015 he was sidelined after losing the use of his right hand and arm following a pair of falls that incurred serious nerve damage.
The Smithereens, who had canceled three tour dates earlier this year after DiNizio injured his back and neck in another fall, had scheduled new tour dates beginning in January.
Founded in Carteret, NJ, the Smithereens were among the most widely admired power-pop units of their era. DiNizio was the group’s principal songwriter; he specialized in melodic yet tough tunes that won the band comparisons to precursors like the Who and contemporaries like England’s Rockpile.
Though never a major success, the quartet acquired a loyal following with their early albums for Enigma Records. 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.”
After a layoff in the early years of the millennium, 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.”
“I love it,” DiNizio said of life with the Smithereens in a 1990 Los Angeles Times interviews. “It beats picking up garbage, like I used to do. We’re self-employed – beyond the vfact that we get to do what we love for living.”
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.”
DiNizio was born Oct. 12, 1955, in Scotch Plains, NJ, and lived all his life in his Garden State hometown. In 1975 he began playing with three classmates from nearby Cateret High School – guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken. That lineup would remain in place for nearly 25 years.
Honing their chops at club shows that made them regional heroes, the Smithereens issued their debut album “Especially for You” on Enigma in 1986. 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. 41, 1989), contained similarly styled material that heartily echoed the sounds of the ‘60s British Invasion.
Major label releases for Capitol (“Blow Up,” 1991) and BMG (“A Date with the Smithereens,” 1994) failed to crack the top half of the charts, and the group recorded only sporadically following 1999’s “God Save the Smithereens.”
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 branched into politics in an unsuccessful Reform Party campaign for a New Jersey seat in the U.S. Senate. The following year, he began a stint as the host of an XM Radio station devoted to unsigned talent. He appeared on ESPN’s “7th Inning Stretch,” a reality show that followed his attempt to join a minor league New Jersey baseball team, in 2006.
Information about DiNizio’s survivors was not immediately available.