He’s a believer
Local man channels music legend Neil Diamond
By Jennifer Cho Salaff
If there is a formula to capture the essence of Neil Diamond, musician and Alta Loma resident Dean Colley might include the following on a list:
-A dozen hand-made sequined shirts
-Black leather Italian boots, a la “Captain Kirk”
-Nail those moves
-Encourage audience participation
-Don’t forget the occasional grunt and groan between sets
Of course, it also helps if you look like the legendary singer-songwriter. For Colley, that was the easiest part. His thick, bushy eyebrows, cleft chin and black hair — fashioned in a classic Neil Diamond haircut circa 1976 — are a dead ringer for superstar’s. Colley’s speaking voice even resembles Neil Diamond’s famous baritone.
“That’s my natural hair, I’ve always worn it long like that,” Colley, 45, said of his uncanny resemblance to Neil Diamond. “I’ve got the bushy eyebrows, the sideburns. I guess I was born to play the part.”
HOT AUGUST NIGHT!
What: Neil Diamond tribute show, part of the city of Diamond Bar’s “4th of July Blast” celebration.
When: Sunday at 6 p.m.
Where: Sycamore Canyon Park, 22930 Golden Springs Drive, Diamond Bar.
Information: (909) 980-2033, (909) 839-7070
At the urging of a concert promoter and after many comments from friends and co-workers, Colley formed a Neil Diamond tribute band called “Hot August Night!” in 1998. Since then, Colley and his band have performed in Las Vegas, Japan and at clubs, casinos and parks across Southern California, including Sunday’s “4th of July Blast” celebration sponsored by the city of Diamond Bar.
Though he was a seasoned musician (Colley played guitar and sang in local bands for more than 20 years), the transformation from struggling musician to “international pop star” called for endless practice and study. When Colley first started “Hot August Night!” he practiced using several Neil Diamond concert videos.
Colley would watch videos like “Neil Diamond: Love at the Greek” and “Neil Diamond Greatest Hits Live” and mimic Diamond’s hand gestures, his mannerisms, the way he stood and the way he interacted with the audience. He practiced, practiced, practiced.
“I would drive around town in my Dodge van and sing to Neil Diamond songs. I would play it over and over, fast-forwarding and rewinding, back and forth,” Colley said. “Nowadays, I don’t rehearse as much. Maybe two or three days before the show. I kick my family out of the house, I sing at the top of my lungs and practice. Once you’ve mastered the character, it’s like a Broadway play — you’re performing the same role every night.”
The first time Colley was exposed to Neil Diamond’s music was when he and his wife Laurie first started dating, 19 years ago.
“She had that (Neil Diamond) tape in her car and she would play it all the time, I was pound ed with that music,” Colley re called. “We would be driving back from the beach at sunset, it would be a nice quiet time on the freeway. It really got you lis tening. It really opened up to me.”
Besides the physical and vocal resemblance to Neil Diamond, Colley found similarities in their backgrounds. They were both born and raised in rough neighborhoods (Diamond was born in Brooklyn; Colley was born in Baldwin Park). Neil Di amond dropped out of New York University during his senior year to pursue a career in mu sic publishing. Colley dropped out of USC during his senior year to pursue a music career. Both were preMed students. Off stage, both men are shy, intro verted and keep to themselves. On stage, they come alive.
Colley’s fans are pleased.
“I saw Neil about 15 or so years ago, and I have to tell you, though on a smaller scale, the energy level and talent was shockingly close to that night many years ago,” fan Stacy Tuttle writes on Colley’s Web site, www.hotaugust.com
Inside the Colley home are memorabilia sent over the years by enduring fans — a Neil Dia mond wine bottle, a miniature figurine, a decorative platter, rare video and CD box sets, vi nyl records. Colley even keeps some women’s underwear that fans have thrown on stage in his top drawer.
The Colleys also keep personal correspondences from Dia mond’s aunt Sylvia, who saw a “Hot August Night!” perfor mance last summer.
“She saw an ad … and was curi ous, so she and some friends drove out to Laughlin to see us,” Colley said.
After the show, Sylvia Diamond, 92, visited Colley backstage and expressed her delight. She held Colley’s face in the palm of her hands with tears in her eyes and exclaimed, “Dean, you have captured the look, the sound and every move of my nephew.”
Several weeks after the show, the Colleys received a thank- you note from Neil Diamond himself. It was handwritten on personal stationery.
“Dean and Laurie — Just a word of thanks for being so spe cial to my Aunt at the show in Laughlin. She was over the top about the whole experience. Dean, I hope your show is going well and don’t ever tire of my songs. I hope to meet you per sonally somewhere along the road. Until then, I remain yours, Neil Diamond.”
“I thought it was a cease and de sist letter from Neil Diamond’s management company, I freaked out,” Colley said. “But it was hand-written note with his signature. I couldn’t believe it.”
Sunday’s “4th of July Blast” cel ebration in Diamond Bar in cludes entertainment for chil dren (balloonists and face painting), snack and dessert booths and features musical guests Gregg Young and the 2nd Street Band.
Jennifer Cho Salaff can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 483-9381.