Hot September Night

Hot September night

Neil Diamond tribute artist
brings his act to Vista

By Pat Sherman |

Friday, September 14, 2007

Born and raised in the Motor City, David J. Sherry was exposed to a cornucopia of rapidly evolving music styles during the late 1960s – from turbo-charged Detroit rock bands such as the Amboy Dukes and Bob Seger to Motown soul and sugary Top 40.

Sitting in his bedroom, with the glow of a radio dial as his guide, Sherry took it all in.

“I’m getting the blues. I’m getting Hendrix. I’m getting the Archies and the Partridge Family,” said Sherry, now 50 and a resident of Escondido.

“I’m absorbing everything. I’m too dumb and naive to know to be snobby.”

Eventually, Sherry came upon a voice that would rise to the top of his record stack, surpassing Cream, Steppenwolf and The Beatles: Neil Diamond. Sherry recalled the moment he first heard the singer-songwriter’s hit “Sweet Caroline.”

“It was the first time a song slapped me down,” Sherry said. “I loved The Beatles, but with Neil, it was almost like somebody was sitting there on my bed next to me, in my little room in Detroit, playing the guitar and saying, ‘Hey, dig this.’

“I was amazed that in this very clean and appropriate way, he described all the passion and feelings behind being in love and making love. ? It was the thing that grabbed me away from my parents’ world,” Sherry said. “I grew up overnight.”

Four decades later, not only is Sherry still digging Diamond, he’s helping others experience “The Feel of Neil Diamond.” Sherry’s flashy tribute show, complete with a full band, lights, smoke and costumes, touches on nearly every phase of Diamond’s career, from the melancholy introspection of “Solitary Man” to Diamond’s 2005 reinvention on the Rick Rubin-produced CD “12 Songs.”

Sherry and his Diamond is Forever Band will perform at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace in Vista. The show, titled “Love at the Greek” after Diamond’s famed 1970s concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, includes two 45-minute sets. Tickets are $20 to $34.

A tribute is born

Though Sherry has been playing guitar and singing since he was a teenager, he wasn?t always so vocal in his adoration of his idol. Unlike the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond wasn’t considered A-list cool in high school, Sherry discovered.

“In ninth grade somebody behind me pulled out my wallet and shamed me in front of the class because I had a Neil Diamond (fan club) membership card, which I’d kill to have today,” Sherry said. “Other than with people that were close to me, I was a little closeted about it.”

When Diamond came to Detroit in 1970, Sherry begged his father for tickets. His dad relented, and Diamond and his four-piece band did not disappoint.

Sherry has since met and forged a friendship with the bass player who shared the stage with Diamond that day, Randy Sterling.

Today a resident of La Mesa, Sterling attended Sherry’s show a few years ago after some coaxing by a mutual friend.

“My first thought was, ‘God, do I really have to go to this?'” Sterling recalled with a laugh. “I’d seen so many Neil Diamond impersonators and copycats and I just thought, ‘Man, this is the last thing in the world I need.’ ”

Before long, Sterling was a believer.

“I was surprised by the size of the crowd,” Sterling said. “By the time he got into about the third, fourth, fifth song, all of a sudden it was like, ‘Damn, this is exactly what I remember when I was standing 4 feet from Neil (on tour).’ ”

Sterling, who has performed with artists such as Ann-Margret and Frank Zappa, will serve as sound engineer for the Moonlight Amphitheatre show.

Though there are a couple dozen Neil Diamond impersonators and tribute artists in the United States alone, including a black performer known as the Black Diamond, what sets Sherry apart from others is that he gives a heart-felt tribute, rather than a mechanically cloned performance, Sterling said.

“You close your eyes and it’s Neil Diamond,” Sterling said. “He doesn’t copy Neil. He becomes Neil. It’s a totally different thing. He’s funneling all of the Neil. Plus, he’s just a fabulous performer.”

Authentically Neil

During his teens, Sherry’s family relocated to the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. There, Sherry formed a folk band and appeared as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” After moving to Escondido in 1998, Sherry got involved in the local music scene, serving as manager of the Big Daddy Orchestra from 2001 to ’03.

While Sherry doesn’t attempt to ape Diamond?s every move, he strives for as authentic a look as he can deliver.

“I chose a certain look that people most remember Neil as, and that’s that guy in his mid- to late 30s, with the sequin shirts and the tight bell-bottom pants and the disco hair – the early ’80s, ‘Jazz Singer’ Neil,” he said.

Sherry’s pants are made by an Escondido costume designer. A shop in Las Vegas designs his sequined and beaded shirts to order. On stage, Sherry plays a copy of Neil Diamond’s trademark Everly Brothers Gibson guitar, with diamond-shaped inlays on the frets.

“It’s all about detail for me,” Sherry said. “I don’t want to do something that’s a bad Elvis.”

David J. Sherry emulates singer/songwriter Neil Diamond so well that Diamond fan Ambrose O’Shea is traveling from Dublin, Ireland, to see Sherry’s performance at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.

‘Coming to America’

Though Diamond’s favorite tribute artist is Jay White, who performs regularly at the Riviera casino in Las Vegas, Sherry’s show is attracting its own share of attention, far and near. The man credited with being Ireland’s biggest Neil Diamond fan, Ambrose O’Shea of Dublin, Ireland, will travel more than 5,000 miles to see Sherry perform in Vista this month.

After amassing nearly every one of Diamond’s recordings, including rarities and imports, O’Shea started taking an interest in the tribute artists.

O’Shea caught video clips of Sherry’s performance on his Web site and began corresponding with Sherry, who later sent O’Shea an autographed DVD of one of his performances.

The Evening Herald of Dublin published a story about O’Shea’s upcoming trek to California, which he will make with his 32-year-old daughter, Caroline – named after the Neil Diamond song.

O’Shea has seen Diamond perform 23 times. Sherry will pick O’Shea up at the airport when he arrives in San Diego and drive him to his hotel. During the concert, Sherry will introduce O’Shea on stage.

“(I do) anything I can do to promote Neil’s music in Ireland – and (there’s) no better way when Neil is not touring but to see tribute bands,” said O’Shea, 56. “It has been a honor for me to be invited by David to see him perform live. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Reach reporter Pat Sherman at (760) 752-6774.

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