Super Diamond gives Gen Xers
a Neil Diamond experience

From The Morning Call — September 25, 2004

Super Diamond gives Gen Xers a Neil Diamond experience

By Beth W. Orenstein
Special to The Morning Call

Neil Diamond is forever.

At least if Randy Cordero has anything to say about it.

Cordero, 39, inadvertently launched a career as a Neil Diamond impersonator in 1989 when he threw one of the legend’s songs into his nightclub mix. Much to his surprise, the audience of mostly 20 and 30 somethings went wild over his campy rendition of ”Sweet Caroline.”

”I didn’t know anyone who liked Neil was that young,” Cordero says from his San Francisco home about the singer-songwriter who has been performing for more than 40 years.

Afterward, Cordero kept getting invited to parties and concerts to do his acoustic Neil

shtick. Realizing he was on to something, in 1992 Cordero assembled a six-piece band to perform nothing but Neil Diamond music.

He named his tribute band Super Diamond and himself the Surreal Neil. All the band members adopted ”Diamond” as their last names. Super Diamond has been playing to sold-out crowds at music halls and nightclubs across the country ever since. The band books more than 120 performances a year; in July they performed to 17,000 at the Hollywood Bowl. Super Diamond even has a CD, ”Live on the Rocks,” with 20 tracks, released in December, and Super Diamond T-shirts.

In August, Super Diamond entertained a private party during the Republican National Convention in New York City. ”Most of the people who were there were lobbyists,” Cordero says. ”And a lot were Democrats,” he adds with a chuckle.

An upcoming East Coast swing includes a fund-raising performance next Saturday at the Allentown Jewish Community Center.

What does the Great Man think of this slightly campy version of himself?

Until a few years ago, Diamond had not seen Super Diamond perform, but his children and people from his band would show up when the group played in the Los Angeles area. They told Super Diamond the big guy approved.

In 2000, Diamond finally came to see the band at the House of Blues, which is a couple of miles from Diamond’s home in Beverly Hills. He came again in 2001 when Super Diamond was performing at the premiere party for the romantic comedy ”Saving Silverman,” in which Neil Diamond has a cameo role as himself.

Both times Diamond took the stage and sang with his bizarro band. Performing with the real Neil was a blast, Cordero says. ”I couldn’t believe how nice and normal he seemed for someone who is a living legend.”

Cordero says that when he started the band, he thought it would be a long, hard climb. ”We really didn’t think there would be an audience for it,” Cordero says. But in 1998, the band was profitable enough that he was able to quit his day job as a design engineer to be the not-real Neil full-time.

Turns out, he says, there are lots of closet fans like himself who believe Neil Diamond’s music is magical. Super Diamond’s performances give them the opportunity to come out.

Fortunately for Cordero, Diamond has been prolific. A Grammy-winner, Diamond, 62, has had more than 30 hits, including ”Cracklin’ Rosie,” ”Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” and ”September Morn.”

Super Diamond doesn’t do the songs exactly the way their namesake would, so it describes its music as ”the alternative Neil Diamond experience.”

”We don’t do it straight up,” says Cordero, who shares Neil Diamond’s husky baritone. ”We add a lot of other influences from groups we listened to when we were growing up — Kiss, Led Zepplin, Rush.”

So instead of the organ solo on ”Cherry, Cherry,” Super Diamond uses a synthesizer. At the end of Super Diamond’s ”Holly, Holy,” the group sneaks in a little of Black Sabbath’s ”Iron Man.”

”We take his lounge-like songs and make it a lot more rock ‘n’ roll,” Cordero says. ”We make it really rock.”

That could explain, he says, why the most common reaction the band hears from its audiences after performances and in e-mails is: ”You guys rock.” The statement is usually laced with an expletive.

Cordero does have his mentor’s moves down, though. Even on hot August nights, he dresses in blinding sequined tops, tacky black bell bottoms and platform shoes, and sways his hips and swings his arms in a swoop.

Cordero first heard Neil Diamond’s music when he was 11 and his parents bought him an eight-track tape of ”His Twelve Greatest Hits.” After a while, the tape was relegated to the back of Cordero’s drawer in favor of more contemporary sounds.

He rediscovered it in the late ’80s as he was trying to launch his own music career. ”I was kind of blown away by how good that stuff was and how forgotten it was,” Cordero says. That’s what inspired him to create an alternative Neil Diamond experience.

Because Super Diamond’s audience is mostly Generation Xers, Cordero figures their enjoyment is a nostalgia-for-the-good-old-days thing.

”Neil Diamond was big for the ’60s, ’70s and first half of the ’80s,” he says. ”So there are a lot of people whose parents grew up listening to Neil Diamond.”

When Cordero is not busy being someone else, he is writing and recording his own songs with his band, Tijuana-StripClub. TSC music combines country and folk with cosmic, alternative rock and electronica. Their sound has been compared to that of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Tom Waits. Sometimes TSC opens for Super Diamond, but it won’t in Allentown.

Cordero says, with the exception of his own songs, he can’t think of any songs he would rather sing than Neil Diamond’s.

”But, then again,” he says, ”I have to now, because it’s my job.”

Beth W. Orenstein is a freelance writer.

Jodi Duckett,

Arts and Entertainment Editor

Copyright © 2004, The Morning Call

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