Like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, Joey Dee was a Jersey boy. He was born Joseph DiNicola on June 11, 1940 in Passaic, New Jersey. He was musical in high school, learning the clarinet and playing in the school band. Also, it didn’t hurt that he was going to school with girls that would later become the Shirelles. Like the Shirelles, when he got out of school, he signed a recording contract with Scepter Records. He created the Starliters to back him up, but the personnel changed frequently during those early years.
At the time of the “Peppermint Twist,” the Starliters were David Brigati, Larry Vernieri, Carlton Lattimore, Sam Taylor and Willie Davis. David Brigati’s brother Eddie later became a member of the group the Young Rascals (later just the Rascals.) Two other singers started with the Starliters and ended up being part of the Rascals, Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish. Jimi Hendrix even toured with the Starliters for a time before he hit it big.
Joey and the Starliters got their big break when they were hired to be the house band at the famous Peppermint Lounge in New York City. Some say the Peppermint Lounge was the first disco. What Studio 54 is today in New York, the Peppermint Lounge was in 1961. This was the “in place” to be in New York City. Every movie star and famous person you could name went to the Peppermint Lounge. That’s where many of the dances of the early Sixties got their start. That’s where they came to Twist. Chubby Checker had made number one with “The Twist” the year before. Joey thought they might be able to do the same thing, so he and producer Henry Glover sat down and wrote “The Peppermint Twist.” It was tribute to the Peppermint Lounge.
The song was four minutes and five seconds long, so when they pressed the record, they split in two and put Part 1 on one side and Part 2 on the other. It was the Part 1 side that became the hit. The lead singer for the group changed from song to song and I have found two sources, one which says Joey was the lead on the “Peppermint Twist” and one which says David Brigati was the lead. I’m not sure which is right. After playing the song at the lounge, the media went nuts and Joey knew he had to record the song. They literally took bids on who would press the record and Roulette Records won, so they put out the record. Of course, it went to number one.
Joey would play in two films after this, Hey, Let’s Twist which starred Gary Crosby and Two Tickets to Paris which starred Charles Nelson Riley. He and the Starliters would continue to chart for the next couple years, having a total of five Top 40 records. Their last was “Hot Pastrami and Mashed Potatoes – Part 1” which peaked at number 36. That was their last hit and as you can tell, another dance song.
Joey is still living today, as far as I can tell. He lives in the Bronx, New York and often appears on oldie concerts.
“Peppermint Twist – Part 1” entered the pop chart on December 4, 1961 and spent three weeks at number one. “Peppermint Twist – Part 1” was Joey and the Starliters only number one song.