Diamond still loves to dazzle
By Paul Stewart
August 29, 2004
Neil Diamond loves Australia. Paul Stewart in Los Angeles reports with yet another tour taking shape.
By his own reckoning, music superstar Neil Diamond would not cut it in today’s television pop star competitions.
“I would have failed miserably,” the 64-year-old laughs here in his private Los Angeles studio where he’s talking up his first Australian visit in six years.
“My voice developed the more I wrote songs, actually. I never went into this game thinking of myself a singer, I just wanted to write songs. My voice was never classically trained.
“The only problem with these Idol-type shows is that everyone is encouraged to be the same, and I think an individual voice is a much more interesting thing.”
Now acknowledged as one of popular music’s biggest concert drawcards, the musician says a stage career had never really entered his mind.
“I can still remember leaving New York for my first shows in Florida, wearing a new suit, a few dollars and a new set of guitar strings,” he recalls.
“Now, I just love performing. I love making people feel good. I love making them laugh. I will stop at nothing to ensure they get the best out of each show. I am shameless, really, as I will do anything to ensure this.
“I can honestly not remember one night I have played that has not been saved by the magic of the music.”
Diamond was born in Brook lyn, New York, in 1941 and later attended university on a fencing scholarship to study medicine.
Diamond says the music bug bit him hard in the early 1960s and he dropped out of university to work as a songwriter on Broadway for $50 a week.
“I was a complete and utter failure at it for eight years,” says the songwriter who has sold 115 million albums worldwide.
“The best thing about the job, though, was it allowed me to make demo tapes of my own songs, so I learnt how to arrange, produce, play various instruments and record.”
The big break, he says, came with the little-known composition Summer And Me recorded by Jay And The Americans. “It made the charts, which meant I now had a calling card that would get me in for a meeting with people.
“Then, luckily for me, The Beatles and Bob Dylan kicked in the doors and changed everything and a lot of record companies were suddenly for the first time keen to buy the services of singer-songwriters.”
With sudden attention and support, the fledgling musician hit his straps and in no time turned out such classic singles as I’m a Believer, Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon, Sweet Caroline and Song Sung Blue.
A major personal turning point, he reveals, had been writing Solitary Man, which was later covered by Johnny Cash.
“I was actually going to call that song Solitary Boy,” he laughs. “Can you image Johnny Cash up there singing Solitary Boy? I don’t think so!
“That song came at a time when I realised that with a wife and a baby on the way I was no longer just a boy. It was a very conscious thing to change the title to Solitary Man to reflect my new sense of maturity.”
Hanging in with Diamond on the Oz tour will be the same backing band that he’s worked with for 30 years.
“I have so much respect for those guys,” he says.
He’s determined, however, to work on new material despite the fact that many people just wanted to hear his familiar hits.
“I’ve been in the studio for more than a year working on new stuff,” he says.
“Honestly, it’s some of the best material I have come up with. I’m keen to get it out.”
Diamond acknowledges the huge support base he has in Australia and the strong affinity he feels for this country.
His private office has a huge boomerang on the wall painted in Aboriginal designs and many Australian platinum and gold records line his office walls.
He’s still “amazed” one in eight Australians have a copy of his classic album Hot August Night.
“I have always felt there were a lot of kindred spirits for me in Australia. My first visit was in 1976 and I fell in love with the place. I am very close to a lot of people there now.”
He adds: “My girlfriend is from Brisbane so I am kept up on all the news from back home.”
Diamond is quite happy to talk about his children and ex-wives.
“My three kids are all great.
I actually now have two grandchildren, with a third one on the way. I’m a terrible grandfather because I let my two get away with murder.”
Neil Diamond. Sydney SuperDome March 11, 2005. Internet pre-sale noon, Friday, September 3 to noon, Monday, September 6. Tickets on sale September 7. www.ticketek.com or 9266 4800.
The Sunday Telegraph