Skip to content

Joey Dee and the Startlighters’ First TV Performance, 1956

November 30, 2011

So I was reading Elijah Wald’s sweet little book The Blues: a Very Short Introduction, which is much more thought-provoking and rich than what otherwise might look like a “beginners'” guide.  On page 76 he discusses Jimi Hendrix’s bridge between rock and blues, and mentions that Hendrix (as “Jimmy James”) worked as a backup player for Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, which I’d read before, but also Joey Dee and the Starlighters.  

Wait-a-minute!  I’ve got Joey Dee and the Starlighters in my book!  They’re one of the rare early acts that had  rockin’ and rollin’ and accordion.  Could that possibly mean that Hendrix jammed with a squeezebox?  It seems unlikely, since the band had a long career with many personnel changes and the accordion was there at the very beginning.  But we can dream.

Nevertheless, here’s Joey Dee, with Starlighter Ralph Fazio on lead accordion and vocals.  Note the guitar player way in the back where he belongs – also note that I for one can’t hardly hear the accordion over the guitar, a portent of things to come.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. diego permalink
    May 22, 2012 1:12 pm

    Please! i need the name of this song

    • May 22, 2012 2:40 pm

      Unfortunately, I don’t know, yet. I’m looking around….

  2. Chris Fazio permalink
    February 25, 2022 9:29 am

    “Don’t Come Barkin’ Up My Tree.”
    My dad is the lead singer. 🙂
    -Chris Fazio

    • February 25, 2022 4:24 pm

      Thanks Chris!

      This blog post was from 2011, eight years later, your dad and the Starlighters got a name-check in my 2019 book Accordion Revolution: A People’s History of the Accordion.

      I couldn’t find much about your dad playing accordion in the band. Was he still in there when they played the Peppermint Lounge and the Twist got famous? I hope I didn’t mess that up.

      All I had is included in in my book’s section: “The 1960s: Garage Bands and the Accordion’s Last Stand.”:

      “Joey Dee and the Starliters were the house band at the dive bar with the most influential dance floor in the twentieth century. The Starliters are remembered as one of the first integrated rock bands, including at one point a young “Jimmy James” Hendrix on guitar. They were also one of several rock ’n’ roll acts that included and then dropped the squeezebox.
      The Starliters’ first TV appearance in 1956 had Ralph Fazio on lead vocals and accordion. He fronted the band, but you couldn’t hear his instrument over the guitar hiding in the back. It was a portent of rock to come—by the time you heard from the band again, Fazio was gone.

      “In 1960, Joey Dee (now singing lead) had them booked at the Peppermint Lounge in New York. The club started a frenzy as high-class socialites struggled for space to dance the twist. The fad dance was born on what Tom Wolfe described as “a dance floor the size of somebody’s kitchen.” The Starliters’ original one-month engagement stretched for more than a year as they played for celebrity twisters like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. Theirs became the most pivotal real estate in pop history, where more than a century of European couples dances split up.

      “The accordion had long since left the band when the Starliters had their flash of fame. Half a century later, avant-garde accordionist William Schimmel recalled that near-miss when he covered the opportunistic Starliters’ million-selling “Peppermint Twist.” ‘I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be great to be a rock ’n’ roll accordionist? It would be a chick magnet! So I began taking my accordion to parties, and no, it was not a chick magnet at all.’”

      I hope I got at least some of that right. My dream has always been that people would see the stories in the book and it would inspire people to correct any errors I made, and to gather more stories about the artists I only got to mention.

  3. Chris Fazio permalink
    February 28, 2022 3:24 am

    Hey Bruce, no, unfortunately. I call my Dad the “Pete Best” of the band, since he left before they made it big. He left in approx. 1958. Got married to my mom in 1959.

    • March 4, 2022 9:52 pm

      Ha! We are all probably “The Pete Best” of something, hopefully in exchange for some other good thing. 😸

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: