Fifry years later, Dion DiMucci still isn’t sure how he wound up among the more than 50 colorful and familiar faces that make up the iconic collage that is the cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. But from “the kind of guess work I can do about that,” he thinks it probably comes down to a shared reverance for the roots of rock and roll and a shared love of brown fringed suede.
Whatever the reason, Boca Raton’s resident Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and certified musical pioneer is as tickled now as he’s always been to be part of one of pop culture’s most talked-about album covers, right there on the second to the back row, between ‘Dr. Strangelove’ writer Terry Southern and actor Tony Curtis.
And in the company of W.C. Fields, Karl Jung, Mae West, Lewis Carroll, Sonny Liston, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Lawrence of Arabia and Laurel and Hardy.
“I just remember people telling me when it came out ‘This is you on the cover,’” the 77-year-old singer of “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” says, chuckling. “Me being a Bronx guy, I said ‘It’ll probably sell a lot. Put me on the cover, you’ll sell some records.’”
One of only two American musicians who appears on the cover - Bob Dylan is the other - DiMucci thinks the roots of his selection might date back to February 1964, when he ran into John Lennon and Ringo Starr at a New York clothing store. “(Producer) Sid Bernstein brought them over to play at Carnegie Hall. (Lennon) and I ended up buying the same jacket. It’s the ‘Rubber Soul’ (cover) jacket. I still have mine.”
Lennon told DiMucci that they had more in common than just an affinity for fringe.
“He was telling me they always sang ‘Ruby Baby’ when they played in Hamburg, Germany, where they honed their skills as a band. They would play dance music and sneak their songs in there.”
DiMucci had first heard the Beatles earlier in their native England, when he was touring promoting his single “Donna The Prima Donna.” He said that “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” reminded him “of the Everly Brothers electrified.”
Three years later, when “Sgt. Pepper’s” was released, there was DiMucci, in the image from the cover of “Ruby Baby,” which the rocker took as “a little wink to the song or to me.”
He wasn’t obsessive about the Beatles at the time. “I wasn’t running out buying those albums - I was always into the blues guys, so I was buying different stuff…But I thought, especially after that album struck like lightning in the sky, that it was a real honor, or a way of saying ‘Thank you’ for the influence.’”
He also acknowledges the company he’s keeping on the cover. “Bob Dylan and I are the only American rockers on the thing. And they have Einstein, and they have Hopalong Cassidy, my wife’s favorite cowboy.” (Actually, Dion, it’s Tom Mix, not Cassidy.)
Speaking of cowboys, that period of time was apparently the Wild West in terms of intellectual rights. DiMucci laughs when asked whether he got any royalties for his image being used.
“Let’s face it. Put that out today and you would have to notify everyone’s lawyers and their estates. You would have to get a release from every one of those people or at least would have to make the effort,” he says. “Back then, it was so much freer. Nobody asked. But I’m in good company. There’s a lot of good people on that album cover.”
In the years that followed, DiMucci has done a few things with Paul McCartney, and “naturally we talked about Buddy Holly, because I was on that tour when he died. But we never talked about (“Sgt. Pepper’s”). It never came up.”
However he came to be on that album cover, DiMucci says he’s proud to know that so many musicians, from Lennon to Robert Plant to Lou Reed to Paul Simon to Bruce Springsteen, have taken the time to tell him how much his music has meant to them.
“A lot of them come up to me singing my songs. They feel like they know you because they grew up to your song. I feel like the ambassador of goodwill in a way.”
And it’s fun to have another part in rock history.
“At this point, I’ve been around so long I feel like Forrest Gump,” DiMucci says, referring to the movie character’s tendency to unknowingly stumble into important events. “In a good way.”