Scott Kempner of the Del-Lords on Songwriting, Dion and the Day the Music Died

Oct 17, 2013 at 3:19 am
Frank Funaro, Scott Kempner and Eric Ambel of the Del-Lords -
Frank Funaro, Scott Kempner and Eric Ambel of the Del-Lords

A band as influential as the Del-Lords always has stories behind the stories. But leader Scott Kempner, who first made a name for himself with New York band the Dictators, found some of his best stories late in life, when punk rock was decades behind him but his songwriting was still waiting for the right vehicle. The Del-Lords provided that spark, as did an unexpected midlife friendship with one of Kempner's personal heroes, Dion Francis DiMucci. Kempner loved the records Dion made in the '60s, but Dion admired the Del-Lords' leader's recordings just as much.

Roy Kasten interviewed Kempner and guitarist/producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel for the print edition this week, as the Del-Lords visit St. Louis on its reunion tour for a show at Off Broadway on Friday night. In these outtakes from the feature, Kempner tells the tale of working with Dion on one of the band's best new tracks, the Buddy Holly-inspired "Every Day (That I'm With You)."

"That song 'Every Day,' was a song from when I first hooked up with Dion," Kempner explains. "Chaz Palminteri had a screenplay in the works for a biopic of Dion, and this was a song that used the full power of my poetic license. It was about when they get to the hotel in Clear Lake [Iowa] and they find out about the Buddy Holly plane crash. Although there is controversy about this, the true story is that Dion actually did turn down the seat on the plane. It was $35, which was the exact amount of money his parents spent for rent his whole life growing up. There wasn't a month that his parents wouldn't fight and fight about how they would come up with that 35 bucks. When Buddy Holly told him how much the fare was, he said he was out. Dion was a guy with a few hit records, but that was a magic number. He was out. After the plane crash, it was this whole idea that this thing that was such torment to him as a child, hearing his parents fight about this every month, was the thing that saved his life.

"The song is based on the idea of how Buddy Holly had given Dion his guitar to take to the next town. They get there and walk into the hotel, and the TV is on and the plane crash is all over the news. So the poetic license is that Dion takes out the guitar in his grief in his hotel room, trying to get his head around what has just occurred, and he's trying to remember this song that Buddy Holly had played, the song 'Everyday.' And in trying to remember that song, this new song comes out.

"It ended up being a song about friendship. But it was really about us; inadvertently it was about our relationships. So it ended up on the record. I wanted something that was free of sarcasm, free of humor and double entendres. I wanted it to be straightforward and simple, a song of friendship."

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