An early shot of the Smithereens: Jim Babjak (left to right), Dennis Diken, Pat DiNizio and Mike Mesaros. (Photo: Courtesy of the Smithereens)
Pat DiNizio, the lead singer and songwriter of the New Jersey rock group the Smithereens, died Tuesday at the age of 62.
The Smithereens confirmed DiNizio's death in a statement. No cause of death was provided, but the singer had experienced numerous health issues and injuries in recent years.
"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter of the influential New Jersey rock band, The Smithereens - America's Band," the band wrote on Facebook. "Pat was looking forward to getting back on the road and seeing his many fans and friends. Please keep Pat in your thoughts and prayers."
The Smithereens' surviving members Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, and Mike Mesaros added in a statement on their official site. "Today we mourn the loss of our friend, brother and bandmate Pat DiNizio. Pat had the magic touch. He channeled the essence of joy and heartbreak into hook-laden three minute pop songs infused with a lifelong passion for rock & roll. Our journey with Pat was long, storied and a hell of a lot of fun. We grew up together. Little did we know that we wouldn’t grow old together. Goodbye Pat. Seems like yesterday."
Formed in the early Eighties, the Smithereens were best known for rock radio hits like "A Girl Like You," "Only a Memory," "Blood and Roses," "Too Much Passion," "Top of the Pops" and "Miles From Nowhere," all penned by DiNizio.
The band were the musical guest on an April 1990 episode of Saturday Night Live. Although the Smithereens didn't impact the album charts, the band's power-pop catalog gained a cult following among rock fans.
The Smithereens' 1989 debut LP Especially for You also inspired Kurt Cobain, according to the Nirvana singer's posthumously published Journals; the album was so influential on Cobain that Nirvana attempted to recruit Especially for You producer Don Dixon to work on their Nevermind, but after initial sessions Dixon "asked for too much money," the producer later admitted.
Over their career, the Smithereens opened for a mix of artists ranging from Ramones and the Pretenders to Tom Petty to Lou Reed as well as fellow New Jersey rockers Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. "We've played with literally everyone," DiNizio said in 2013. "It seems that if you’re around long enough and if you survive long enough you’re going to wind up playing shows with everybody in every conceivable situation."
In addition to 11 albums with the Smithereens – including full album tributes to the Who's Tommy and the Beatles' Meet the Beatles and most recently 2011's2011 – DiNizio released four solo albums. DiNizio also unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate as New Jersey's Reform Party candidate in 2000, a stunt documented in the film Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington. In 2006, the singer appeared in the ESPN2 reality series 7th Inning Stretch, about his attempts to make a minor league baseball team, NJ.com reported.
Following 1999's God Save the Smithereens, it took 12 years before the band released another album of original material with 2011.
"We'd had a great, 10-year, non-stop run of activity and non-stop touring, playing 300 gigs a year, living on the bus, having hit record after hit record after hit record. And then grunge hit and the bottom fell out of our career and we had to hold on, and we held on, and we held on, and eventually our audience came back," DiNizio said of the band's arc to Downtown West Palm in 2013.
"Those same nice folks that gave us a career and a life worth living came back because their kids were now in college. Their kids were out of the house, and they always loved rock and roll. What the kids don't understand is that their parents' generation that grew up on rock and roll, inside they're still 16 or 17 and they still love to go out and listen to loud rock and roll. But when you get married and have children and have a real job in the real world some things take priority and you become less active as a record buyer and a concertgoer. We've found though sheer persistence we've been able to continue to do what we do."