Joey Dee

Joey Dee and the Starliters is an American popular music group. The group is best known for their million-selling recording “Peppermint Twist”.

Joey Dee (born June 11, 1940) with his group, The Starliters, (also credited as the Starlighters) helped launch the “Twist” craze in 1961 with their hit song “The Peppermint Twist”. He is often billed as “The Godfather of The Twist.” The group’s most notable line up is considered to be Joey Dee, David Brigati, Larry Vernieri (vocals), Carlton Lattimore (organ), Sam Taylor (guitar) and Willie Davis (drums). Actor Joe Pesci played guitar with the group for a time in the ’60’s.

Joey Dee (real name: Joseph Di Nicola) was born in Passaic, New Jersey as the youngest of ten children. When a mere youngster of eight, he taught himself to play the harmonica, and began singing in the local Church Choir. When in High School, he mastered the clarinet, an instrument he borrowed from his sister who played in the School Band. A few months later, little Joey considered himself ripe enough to take a further step; he organized his own Combo” The Thunder Trio” and did well at private parties and School-dances.

When the alto saxophonist left the group, young Mr. Dee took over his chair and he’s been blowing the alto ever since. Originally, Joey Dee’s big goal was to become a history teacher. Every dime he made as a Bandleader went into his studies. But bookings got bigger and better, and since the large Di Nicola family could certainly use the money, Joey decided to make music his profession.

The Thunder Trio morphed into The Starliters group with lead singer Rogers Freeman, Joey Dee and their’ first single was “Lorraine,” backed with “The Girl I Walk To School,” in 1958, distributed by the company Little. That same year, Joey Dee recruited David Brigati for the team after meeting him during a gig at Garfield High School in New Jersey. David and Joey would subsequently share lead vocal honours for the Starliters, with Joey ultimately becoming the primary lead singer. Another early single for the group was “Face of an Angel,” with David as lead vocal, released on Scepter Records; the flipside was “Shimmy Baby.”

In 1960, the Starliters were noticed by agent Don Davis while performing at a Lodi, New Jersey, nightclub called Oliveri’s. The group was booked at an intimate venue on 45th Street in New York City called the Peppermint Lounge for what was supposed to be a one-time weekend gig. During their initial appearance at the nightclub, actress Merle Oberon and Prince Serge Oblinski were dancing much of the night there, which was reported the next morning by columnists Earl Wilson and Cholly Knickerbocker.

The next night, it took barricades and mounted police to keep the crowds in line, which had backed to Broadway, and for several months thereafter, the craze continued at the Lounge. Celebrity visitors, such as Judy Garland, John Wayne, Jackie Kennedy, Nat “King” Cole, Shirley MacLaine, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Liberace, continued to make an appearance.

Dee and company were such a sensation that they became the house band for the Peppermint Lounge for over a year. Dee wrote “Peppermint Twist,” along with producer Henry Glover, as a tribute to the lounge and the song scored #1 on the U.S. charts in early 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. By this time the team had contracted with Roulette Records.

In 1961, Joey Dee and the Starliters filmed the movie Hey, Let’s Twist, starring Jo Ann Campbell and Teddy Randazzo, for Paramount Pictures. Hey, Let’s Twist was a fictional story of Joey Dee (Randazzo and Dino DiLuca played the parts of Joey’s brother and father, respectively) and the Peppermint Lounge; its release capitalized on the current twist craze and made the once-obscure Lounge famous. The movie and soundtrack album did their part in making the Peppermint Lounge a world-famous venue.

In 1962, Joey Dee and the Starliters starred in their second motion picture, Two Tickets to Paris, along with Gary Crosby, Jeri Lynne Fraser and Kay Medford. In December 1962, the original Starliters did their final recording session as a group, producing “Help Me Pick Up the Pieces,” and “Baby, You’re Driving Me Crazy.”

In 1963, Joey Dee recorded an album entitled Dance, Dance, Dance, with the Ronettes as his backup group. During October and November 1963, the Starliters toured Europe, performing one extraordinary night in Stockholm with The Beatles as their opening act. In 1964, Joey Dee toured with various Starliters, including future Young Rascals Gene Cornish, Felix Cavaliere, and David’s brother, Eddie Brigati.

Dee continued to record and issue solo recordings from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. As of 2009 Joey Dee and the Starliters consists of Dee sometimes performing with Bob Valli (brother of Frankie Valli) and original Starliter David Brigati and at other times with the original Soul Survivors Charlie and Richie Ingui, with the three singers taking the lead and performing their own hits as well as covers. Joey continues to travel and make personal appearances with various Starliters.

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