Surprise reunion as Scotch Plainsmen salute Pat DiNizio at Crossroads

From left, Jim Babjak, Bruce Pike, Rick Winowski, Dennis Diken, Kristin Pinell and Kurt Reil pay tribute to the late Pat DiNizio at Crossroads in Garwood, Feb. 25, with a photo of DiNizio above them.

It wasn’t announced ahead of time, since the Smithereens drummer wasn’t sure he was going to be able to make it. But Dennis Diken was a surprise guest at the Scotch Plainsmen’s tribute to the late Pat DiNizio that took place at the Crossroads nightclub in Garwood, Feb. 25.

And it wasn’t just for a song or two, either: He played with Smithereens guitarist Jim Babjak and members of the Scotch Plainsmen and the Grip Weeds on eight Smithereens songs: “Blood and Roses,” “A Girl Like You,” “Only a Memory,” “Drown in My Own Tears,” “Somewhere Down the Line,” “She’s Got a Way,” “Strangers When We Meet” and “Afternoon Tea.”

“It still hasn’t hit me,” said Babjak of DiNizio’s death, in December, at the age of 62.

This was the third and, at this point, last New Jersey tribute to DiNizio, followingones at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, in January, and the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, earlier this month.

All the venues had special significance. DiNizio had been planning to perform with The Smithereens at the Basie in January; the show turned into a tribute after his death. The Smithereens often performed at the Court early in their career.And DiNizio often presented low-key, informal shows with his Scotch Plainsmen band at Crossroads, which is located close to where he lived, in Scotch Plains.

Scotch Plainsmen singer-guitarist Rick Winowski, stepping into the frontman role, talked about how strange it felt for them to be doing the show without their boss.

I, unfortunately, was not able to get to the nightclub for the tribute’s early sets, but arrived as the Scotch Plainsmen began the last set on their own, playing the kind of classic-rock covers that DiNizio often performed with them at Crossroads: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “From the Beginning,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’ ” and so on.

“Beatle Tommy” Frangione joined them for a mini-set of Fab Four songs such as “Dear Prudence,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and “Norwegian Wood,” and Jim Monaghan and The Grip Weeds’ Kristin Pinell duetted on the Smithereens/Belinda Carlisle collaboration, “Blue Period.” Babjak joined the Scotch Plainsmen for several songs before Diken arrived, including “Behind the Wall of Sleep” (sung by Joe D’Urso), “House We Used to Live In” and “Deep Black.”

Kurt Reil of The Grip Weeds provided some of the strongest lead vocals of the set on “Drown in My Own Tears,” “Only a Memory” and “A Girl Like You,” though Scotch Plainsmen bassist Bruce Pike was also a standout on DiNizio’s anguished signature song, “Blood and Roses.” Babjak and Diken left the stage for the show’s final number, leaving the Scotch Plainsmen alone for a well-chosen capper: Warren Zevon’s bittersweet “Keep Me in Your Heart,” sung by the band’s guitarist, Sam Fairley.

All proceeds from the show went to DiNizio’s mother.

So what’s next for Babjak and Diken? Well, one more show is official: They’ll play Smithereens material, with Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms singing lead, as the opening act of a show by Dave Davies of The Kinks, in April, in Illinois. Beyond that, they haven’t said, and may not yet know.

But after hearing their musical rapport, once again, at Crossroads, it’s hard to believe they won’t find a way to play together, at least occasionally, in the future.

Here are some videos from the show:

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