Joey Dee and The Starliters are an American pop music group from the 1960s. Best known for their 1961 hit recording “Peppermint Twist,” the group was founded by Joey Dee, born Joseph DiNicola in Passaic, New Jersey on 11 June 1940. With lead singer Rogers Freeman, Joey Dee and The Starliters’ first single was “Lorraine,” backed with “The Girl I Walk To School,” in 1958 on the Little label. That same year, Joey Dee recruited David Brigati for the group after meeting him during a gig at Garfield (New Jersey) High School. David and Joey would subsequently share lead vocal honors for The Starliters, with Joey ultimately becoming the primary lead singer. Another early single for the group was “Face of an Angel,” with David on lead vocals, released on Scepter Records; the flipside was “Shimmy Baby.” An album entitled The Peppermint Twisters and credited to “Joey Dee and The Starlighters” was subsequently released on Scepter as well.
Various members of The Starliters, such as vocalist Freeman and drummer Don Martin, came and went over the next few years; the most famous lineup of Joey Dee and The Starliters is considered to be Joey Dee, David Brigati, Larry Vernieri (vocals), Carlton Lattimore (organ), and Willie Davis (drums). Later members of the touring group would include Eddie Brigati (David’s brother), Gene Cornish, and Felix Cavaliere – three-quarters of The Young Rascals – as well as guitarist Jimmy James (later known as Jimi Hendrix) and Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers.
In 1960, The Starliters were discovered by agent Don Davis while performing at a Lodi, New Jersey nightclub called Oliveri’s. The group was booked at an intimate venue on 45th Street in New York City called the Peppermint Lounge for what was supposed to be a one-time weekend gig. Joey Dee and company made such a smash that they ended up becoming the house band for the Peppermint Lounge, remaining onboard for more than a year. Joey penned “Peppermint Twist,” along with producer Henry Glover, as a tribute to the lounge and the group took the song all the way to the top spot on the U.S. charts in late 1961. By this time the group had signed with Roulette Records. The Lounge became world famous during The Starliters’ tenure, attracting celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy, Truman Capote, and Judy Garland.
One night in 1961, a trio of pretty teenagers were waiting on line outside the club hoping to be allowed inside. Dressed in matching brightly colored dresses, they looked like professional entertainers (which in fact they were) and in a case of mistaken identity, thinking they were the dancers he’d hired, the manager of the Peppermint Lounge ushered the girls – Ronnie and Estelle Bennett and their cousin, Nedra Talley – up to the stage and told them to dance. The Ronettes spent the rest of that night dancing and singing along with Joey Dee and The Starliters, and the reaction from the group and the crowd was so positive that the club manager, having realized his error, offered the girls a job on the spot. Every night, The Ronettes would dance and perform along with The Starliters at the Peppermint Lounge, even traveling with them to the club’s Miami, Florida location in early 1962.
Also in 1961, Joey Dee and The Starliters filmed the movie Hey, Let’s Twist, starring Jo Ann Campbell and Teddy Randazzo, for Paramount Pictures. Hey, Let’s Twist was a fictional portrait of Joey Dee (Randazzo and Dino DiLuca played the parts of Joey’s brother and father, respectively) and the Peppermint Lounge; its release capitalized on the current Twist craze and brought the once-obscure Lounge into the forefront. The movie and soundtrack album did their part in making the Peppermint Lounge a world-famous venue. Hit singles spawned from Hey, Let’s Twist were the title track and “Shout – Part I,” which became the group’s second-biggest selling record. Other albums released during this time period were Doin’ The Twist At The Peppermint Lounge, which was recorded live at the venue, and All The World’s Twistin’ With Joey Dee & The Starliters.
In 1962, Joey Dee and The Starliters starred in their second motion picture, Two Tickets to Paris, along with Gary Crosby, Jeri Lynne Fraser and Kay Medford. One of the songs from this film, “What Kind Of Love Is This,” penned by Johnny Nash, was released in September of that year and became a Top Twenty hit. In December of 1962, the original Starliters did their final recording session as a group, turning out “Help Me Pick Up the Pieces,” also composed by Nash, and “Baby, You’re Driving Me Crazy,” written by Joey Dee and Henry Glover. In 1963, Joey Dee recorded an album entitled Dance, Dance, Dance, with The Ronettes as his backup group. In spring of that year, Roulette released the track “Hot Pastrami with Mashed Potatoes,” from the previously issued live album, as a two-part single; the record made the U.S. Top Forty. The label later released “Ya Ya” and “Fannie Mae” from the same album. In November of ‘63, The Starliters toured Europe with The Beatles as their opening act. During 1964, Joey Dee toured with various Starliters including Cornish, Cavaliere, and Eddie Brigati. Other group members at different times included Hendrix, Neville, drummer Jimmy Mayes and singer Tommy Davis.
Joey Dee continued to record and issue solo recordings from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, as well a song he wrote with original Starliters David Brigati and Larry Vernieri entitled “How Can I Forget” in the late 1960s which was released under the name Joey Dee and The New Starliters. During the 1980s, Joey lived for a short time in Florida before moving back to New York, to The Bronx. He continued to travel and make personal appearances with various Starliters.
These days, Joey Dee and The Starliters is comprised of Joey with Bob Valli (brother of Frankie Valli) and original Starliter David Brigati. The group tours and plays at various venues from Connecticut to New Jersey to Florida to Las Vegas, doing well over a hundred concerts per year. In 2001, the group was featured on a PBS special, Rock, Rhythm and Doo-Wop, and in 2005 they appeared on the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. Joey Dee resides in Florida, while Brigati and Valli remain Jersey boys.