SurrealNeil.com

Super Diamond

Song Sung Blue
Making music has allowed Randy Cordero to quit his job, travel the world, and buy a nice car. If only it were his music that Randy Cordero was making.
BY TOMMY CRAGGS
tommy.craggs@sfweekly.com

It's late, and the sequined shirt has just been peeled off, and in the corner of the dressing room on the upper level of Bimbo's, one of the best Neil Diamond simulacra in the world is musing on, well, the shame of it all. "There is some," acknowledges Surreal Neil, aka Randy Cordero, aka Randy Cordero, a stocky, understated 39-year-old with short dark hair and sideburns that frame his head like quotation marks (it's the voice, not the look, that earns the "Surreal"). He's talking about San Francisco's inexplicably crowded tribute-band scene, in which Cordero's 12-year-old group, Super Diamond, is a sort of wealthy uncle. "I have some shame," he goes on, "just for what it's turned into. It's turned into a monster. It's almost embarrassing. ... When we started, we were the only band doing all somebody's music, the only band with a confetti cannon, the only band with a fog machine. Now we're just one of many. We used to be something unique."

 

This comes as a surprise, although a few days later, unsurprisingly, Cordero will backtrack a bit and blame this wistfulness on his being "hyped up after a show." Still, Surreal Neil, sitting here after another sold-out performance, seems to have a few doubts. Shame? One hardly expects shame, especially with a touch of self-loathing, from a guy making a living off the Neil Diamond songbook, that happy reserve of the most exuberant American schmaltz ever sighed into a microphone; even less from a frontman for a band that sits snug in a virtually impenetrable postmodern bunker: enough irony to draw the cool kids, enough rock to move the Sigma Chis, enough class to accommodate the corporate VPs between the ice sculptures, and more than enough Neil to swoon the housewives. Good times never seemed so good, and yet ...

"My heart bleeds for the original-music scene," says Cordero, who has an "original" band of his own, Tijuana Strip Club. "I'm into original music, I'm a fan of original music. I just don't have an interest in cover bands, really. This band, we started it as a fun little gimmicky thing that we didn't think would turn into what it did. It's a little sad that cover bands are doing so well, and original bands aren't. That's not anything against cover bands. I just think it's the easy way out for a lot of musicians."So what do you do when you're Cordero and Super Diamond -- when the easy way out nets you just south of $1 million a year?

Super Diamond is six guys in sequins and funny haircuts providing, with a wink or two (but no more), what they like to call "The Alternative Neil Diamond Experience." On a recent Friday evening, said experience includes a Zeppelin riff dropped into "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" and a nod to Black Sabbath in "Holly Holy"; a clean pair of panties not so much tossed as handed up to the stage (sometime between "Song Sung Blue" and "Kentucky Woman"), then hung flaglike on the mike stand, then just as quickly reappropriated by the crowd; a directive from Cordero: "Whatever you do, don't let anyone tell you Neil Diamond doesn't rock!"; and the following question, posed down on the floor by one listing frat boy to another, apropos (apparently) of the music: "What are you laughing at, motherfucker? What are you laughing at?"

Tonight on the dance floor, under the flashing disco ball, there is much twirling of phantom lassoes and casting of imaginary fishing lines, and as the night wears on the swaying becomes more and more uneven. (Cordero later describes the band's San Francisco audiences as more of a "Marina crowd," one that bears little resemblance to the pre-Internet boom SOMA-types who'd frequent the band's early performances.) As Surreal Neil, Cordero nails the original's husky baritone, with all its famous melodrama. Throughout, he affects a sort of languid, post-coital stage manner that seems strangely apt, though one doesn't imagine Neil Diamond as post-coital (or coital, for that matter).

It's a great show, with all the required moves for a Neil Diamond tribute: a singalong "Song Sung Blue," an anthemic "America," a "Sweet Caroline" crooned to a roomful of waving Miller Lites. Listening to Super Diamond, you almost forget the painful earnestness and drippy, self-serious style of the real thing. Of course, that's partly the point: It's pastiche, but not quite parody, which seems to be the nature of much modern Neil Diamond fandom, or at least it has been ever since the day Diamond watched E.T. and decided to write "Heartlight" -- affectionate irony, let's call it. What are you laughing at, motherfucker?

"There are some people who think it's going to be real cheesy or lounge-y, and they come for the campy quality," says Cordero (who started going by Cordero for professional purposes after about the millionth transposition of the "i," on CNN no less). "We have plenty of campiness in the show -- if they come for that, they're gonna get some campiness. But we don't make fun or anything. We certainly have fun with the songs, changing them up. I think that's part of the reason we've done so well. We've taken it and really turned it upside down. We're not doing a straight-on tribute. From what I've seen, most straight-on tributes are boring. We make Neil's songs a lot more heavy, add a lot of alternative rock twists to it, or a lot of heavy rock twists -- a little Black Sabbath or AC/DC, stuff like that."

Today, I'm sitting with Cordero in the basement of the bright, three-story loft he shares with his fiancee, Kris. He lives on the fringe of San Francisco, at the intersection of Potrero Hill and Dogpatch, an odd neighborhood that the city refers to as the Central Waterfront District. The room is paneled in a pleasant blond wood, with guitars mounted evenly along one wall the way a doctor might hang his diplomas. It's a long way here from acoustic night at a Tempe, Ariz., club, where 15 years ago, Cordero's explaining, Surreal Neil was born.

"Everyone's seen guys on acoustic guitars," he says, "and they all do the same songs: 'Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,' 'American Pie,' or whatever. So I just thought, 'Neil Diamond -- I grew up with him, I can do his voice.'" Cordero was an engineer at the time and just beginning to rediscover Diamond, a boyhood favorite whose greatest-hits eight-track had long ago been shoved to the back of the drawer. At the Tempe club, which favored punk and alternative bands, he'd run through some of his own material, then throw in a little Diamond.

"I thought people would probably boo me," he says. "That's kind of why I did it -- 'They probably won't like this, but I'm gonna do it because Neil Diamond's got some great tunes. People are programmed to think they hate him, but deep down they'll know it's a good song.' But it was the total opposite. People loved it. It'd just bring the house down." (Imagine that: There once was a day when doing a Neil Diamond song was a punk rock gesture -- a fat middle finger to the audience. Today, the same thing in a similar crowd would just be another of music's many arch circle jerks.)

Soon he was working parties as an ersatz Diamond, and after moving to San Francisco, Cordero, who grew up in Humboldt County, managed to find enough like-minded people to form a band in 1993. "Retro was kind of big, disco was having a big comeback," he says, not to mention irony was becoming the predominant cultural mode. Early on, Super Diamond drew a more artsy crowd -- "A pierced, tattooed crowd," Cordero says -- and the band's audience shifted over the '90s as San Francisco evolved. Artist types gave way to dot-commers ("It got really obnoxious there for a while. They had a lot of money, and there was a lot of drunkenness and a lot of butt-grabbing in the crowd") who begat today's Marina-heavy crowd.

Whatever its makeup, the band's audience was always game. "The panties started right away," Cordero says, acknowledging that perhaps the women were thinking of another graying singer in tight pants. Super Diamond's bass player would throw the panties into the fog machine's box. "After a while," Cordero recalls, "it started getting really full with undergarments. I don't know what he did with them."

The venues got bigger -- Paradise Lounge, Slim's, Bimbo's, House of Blues -- and the musicians' success began to build on itself; they started touring nationally. Eventually, the late Vince Charles, Neil Diamond's longtime percussionist, caught wind of the group and would sit in anytime Diamond wasn't touring. Soon, a meeting with the man himself was arranged, and one night, before a Super Diamond show at the House of Blues in Hollywood, Cordero finally shook Diamond's hand. "Thank you for doing what you're doing," Diamond said. "Thank you for not suing us," Cordero replied.

Diamond watched the show from a private table on the balcony, where he was seated next to Cordero's then-girlfriend. From time to time he'd tap her on the shoulder and say, "I love that" or "That's great." For the encore, he made his way down to the stage and joined the band for "I Am ... I Said," which he had to howl through the audience's shrieks. "At the end of the reprise," Cordero says with a laugh, "Erik [the band's guitarist] does the Journey 'Who's Crying Now' solo, and it's hilarious, 'cause Neil's singing the song and he has no idea we're adding a little bit of Journey on top of it." Cordero looked at Erik and mouthed, "No," and the solo cut off. "I was thinking, 'No, Erik, not when Neil's onstage.' Now I'm thinking, 'Why did I tell him to stop?'"

It was a kind of nexus. "Afterward, it was like, 'Well, there's nothing we can look forward to now,'" Cordero says. "When you do a tribute show and they come out to sing with you, that's the ultimate." Today, the band typically commands anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 per gig, sometimes up to $20,000, corporate shows being the most lucrative (Microsoft once booked Super Diamond alongside Cheap Trick); by 1998, Super Diamond was making enough money that Cordero could afford to quit his full-time job, as a mechanical engineer. "We make great money and a great living and I do better than I did as an engineer," he says. He's making his way to the car now, padding through his building's garage. "But it was an accident," he says as climbs into a big black Honda CR-V. "It was just, like, 'Wow.'"
What are you laughing at, motherfucker?

To do Neil properly, you have to pinch the throat and reach down deep into the lungs, thereby producing the famous rasp that manages to be simultaneously nasal and resonant. You have to nail the vibrato, too -- the rolling hills of his eeeeeeee's -- and hit all the funny enunciations and line readings. "Like on 'Hello Again,'" says Cordero, drawing up. "I couulllllddddn't sleeeep at ahhhll," and then, haltingly, almost spoken, "tonight. I know it's laate. But it couldn't waaiit. Hellooooo." Some of the high notes, he adds, he can't even approach without the adrenalin of a live performance.

Cordero says he's always been a good mimic, and he plucks a guitar from the wall to demonstrate. In quick succession, he runs from a credible Jim Morrison ("Love me two times, babe") to a solid Johnny Cash ("I hear that train a-comin' ...") to a spot-on Neil Young ("Hey hey, my my"). But it was only recently, while working on Tijuana Strip Club's album, that he discovered his own voice. "It's a lower voice," he says, comparing his range to Cash's and Leonard Cohen's, whereas Diamond's is a bit higher. In fact, as far as his "original" work is concerned, Cordero goes so far as to omit Diamond entirely from his list of influences. "I'm not into copying anybody," he says, a funny thing for a professional impressionist to say. "It bugs me when I see bands completely -- from voice to music to lyric content -- completely ripping off their idols."

His true passion, indeed, is his own music -- he passes out Tijuana Strip Club CDs at Super Diamond shows -- and he's determined to help resurrect the city's dead original-music scene. Maybe he'll host an original-music night at the Kilowatt. "It's hard for original bands to get a full house," Cordero says. "Right now there are no trends. The music scene is dead for original bands, and it just sucks. ... I wanna do something for 'em again. I just think it's a little sad there are so many cover bands."

It's a nice sentiment, but I think he's underselling the value of truly good cover bands. You can laugh, but at their best they serve as a kind of breathing music criticism. A good pastiche like Super Diamond, one that points to the original but makes something entirely different, is worth a hundred shitty Cars rip-offs. Next week, Cordero will find himself at another House of Blues or an Irving Plaza, and it'll be the usual: winking sequins and blinking disco balls. It'll all be reflected light, sure, but it'll be light just the same.

sfweekly.com | originally published: March 16, 2005


 


Super Diamond Is Surreal McCoy
By M.R. REES
Washington Times

February 2001 marked a postmodern high point in the history of the entertainment industry: Providing the music at the Hollywood premiere party for the film "Saving Silverman," which features Jack Black and his pals playing in a Neil Diamond cover band, was a real-life Neil Diamond cover band, Super Diamond. Joining Super Diamond on the stage was none other than the Neil himself, who crooned with his much younger and much hipper progeny through "Cherry Cherry" and "Forever in Blue Jeans.

 

More than three years have passed since that epic moment, but two elements of the entertainment industry remain the same: Neil Diamond still marks a cultural fault line throughout the world - equally loved and loathed - and Super Diamond continues to capitalize on his success. They do about 100 gigs a year (attracting as many as 2,500 people), and tomorrow night they bring their well-choreographed and slightly self-parodic show to the 9:30 Club.

 

If you're only a fan of weepy Diamond dandies like "Hello" and "Heartlight," stay home. This is not your mom and dad's Neil Diamond show, where they could wear a new pair of Hush Puppies with no worries of getting a scuff. Think of a Super Diamond show as a fun-loving, somewhat raucous white-bread fraternity party for the 25-to-39 set.

 

The master of ceremonies is, of course, Super Diamond's lead singer, Randy Cordero, aka "Surreal Neil" Cordero, who sounds more like Mr. Diamond than he looks like him, and compensates by outfitting himself and the band in vintage Diamond-style sequins, bell bottoms and platform shoes. He has described the band's concerts as "Neil Diamond on steroids," and the group sticks to the pre-'82 Diamond tunes that lend themselves to dancing, drinking, and singing.

 

Given the band member's musical influences (Rush, Scorpions, Van Halen), they mischievously infuse the occasional Diamond song with 10- to 15-second riffs of such tunes as "Tom Sawyer," "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Runnin' With the Devil." For 30-something Diamond fans who cling to those songs with as much passion as their high school lettermen's jackets, Super Diamond will hit your sweet spot.

 

Your average job placement service does not typically post listings for full-time employment as the lead singer of a Neil Diamond tribute band. How did Surreal Neil land the gig?

 

Mr. Cordero says he was a Diamond fan during his childhood - at 38, he's old enough to have listened to him on eight-track - but heavy metal got the better of him. "When I was 12," he says somewhat wistfully, "I didn't know anyone my age who listened to Neil Diamond." However, in 1989 this amateur musician found himself drawn back to the man Rolling Stone dubbed "the Jewish Elvis," and on a lark he started performing solo at clubs and parties. The act gained popularity, and Mr. Cordero eventually hooked up with other San Francisco-area musicians also willing to confess they were fans of the Man. Faster than you can say, "I Am ... I Said," Super Diamond was born.

 

Eleven years later, the soft-spoken Mr. Cordero insists he still loves what he does - Super Diamond has been his full-time gig since 1998 - but he doesn't sugarcoat it. quot;

 

When I tell people my job," he says, "60 percent of them tell me they hate Neil Diamond."



Not Quite The Real Thing but Stars Just the Same
By DAVID BERNSTEIN
New York Times
Septamber 30th, 2003

If there weren't enough Elvis impersonators out there, now there are plenty of Bonos, Bruces and Blondies, not to mention Madonnas, Meatloafs and Marilyns (as in Manson).

 

They're all part of a growing tribute-band scene, which provides some consolation (or not) for musicians who dream of being rock stars but can't and for fans who can see carbon copies of their favorite artists — especially some defunct older acts — usually at a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

 

Overlooked for years in rock-music circles and most often dismissed by critics as schlocky Las Vegas lounge acts, tribute bands are increasingly becoming headliners at nightclubs, concert halls and state fairs, all of which see them as lucrative draws. They span the musical alphabet, from Abba to ZZ Top. There are dozens of Beatles tribute bands alone.

 

Of course like their first cousins, cover bands — which perform the songs of many artists without trying to impersonate them — most tribute bands languish in bar-band anonymity. But a handful, like Super Diamond, a Neil Diamond tribute band that tours nationally, have become enormously successful and have achieved pseudo-stardom in their own right.

 

Super Diamond, a San Francisco-based sextet, was formed 10 years ago as a novelty act fronted by Randy Cordero, better known as Surreal Neil, a 38-year-old singer-songwriter whose uncanny impersonation of Mr. Diamond's throaty, baritone voice is, well, surreal. The band regularly fills midsize concert halls around the country, including Irving Plaza in Manhattan and the House of Blues in Hollywood, and commands fees of up to $20,000 a performance and ticket prices as high as $30 apiece, said Daniel Swan, the band's agent.

 

For such bands there is no radio time or royalties from album sales (although some bands sell CD's of their live performances at concerts), so they rely solely on touring. Super Diamond plays about 120 shows a year around the country — from nightclub concerts to corporate parties and weddings. The band is scheduled to play two nights at Irving Plaza on Oct. 17 and 18.

 

The tribute phenomenon has even had an offshoot on television. The Fox network just concluded a short run of the reality talent show "Performing As," an amateur karaoke competition where celebrity impersonators mimicked stars like Britney Spears and Elton John and competed for a $200,000 grand prize.

 

Tribute bands are also featured at state fairs and summer festivals. No less than a dozen Beatles look-alike tribute and cover bands performed in Cleveland last month during "Abbey Road on the River," an annual festival held along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in the city's Flats neighborhood.

 

On any given night in most cities, fans are likely to find tribute bands headlining nightclub shows. Randy Fibiger, a talent buyer for the House of Blues clubs in Hollywood and Las Vegas, said that "Super Diamond is definitely topping the list of tribute bands right now."

 

The onus is not on the tribute bands' to worry about the use of other people's music. Establishments like the House of Blues or any business that uses licensed music must pay yearly fees to music performing-rights organizations like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (Ascap) and BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) for the right to perform copyrighted music. These groups represent songwriters, composers and lyricists.

 

Lenny Mann, a computer programmer and musician from Ventura, Calif., who created a popular tribute band resource Web site, Tribute City (http://www.tributecity.com/), said nearly 1,100 bands had registered on his site since he started it two years ago.

 

"I don't see a week that goes by that a new band isn't registering," said the 44-year-old guitarist, who doubles for Jimmy Page, the famed guitarist from Led Zeppelin, in his tribute band, Led Zepagain.

 

Despite his success with Super Diamond, Mr. Cordero, whose true passion is his original music band, Tijuana Strip Club, admitted he had mixed feelings out the genre he helped popularize.

 

"Even though I'm in a cover band, it hurts me to see so many cover bands popping up all the time," he said. "People just go and support cover bands and not original bands. It's sad. I guess I just have myself to blame.

 

"Rod Leissle, a founding member of Bjorn Again, an Abba-inspired group that tours internationally, says there are about 150 Abba tribute bands in England alone.

 

"There are so many tribute bands," Mr. Leissle said by phone from London, where he lives. "I think everybody is tripping each other up." What's worse, he added, "we've been blighted by people going: `This is easy money. Who are we going to imitate? Oh, the Rolling Stones? O.K.

 

'Bjorn Again is among the most successful groups on the tribute circuit today. Founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988, the act is now a widely popular franchise with five touring companies in England, Europe, Australia and North America. All of the bands combined have played more than 3,000 shows in about 50 countries, Mr. Leissle said.

 

Mr. Cordero and the members of Super Diamond say they stand out above the clutter of tribute bands because they do not merely try to be a facsimile of their muse; instead, they say, they use Mr. Diamond's songs to create their "own" music.

 

Calling its act "Neil Diamond on steroids," Super Diamond interprets Mr. Diamond's pop tunes with heavier guitars, mixing in contemporary riffs by Guns N' Roses, Kiss and AC/DC, and with an alterative-rock tone.

 

We've taken the rock aspect of Neil Diamond and pushed that to the extreme," said Rama Kolesnikow, Super Diamond's keyboardist. "I think we're even more original than some original bands."

 

Among the Neil Diamond — and indirectly, Super Diamond — devotees at the House of Blues in Chicago one night last month was Erich Muller, the Chicago-based, nationally syndicated disc jockey. For Mr. Muller, 37, the show was a nostalgic trip; his first live concert, he said, was Mr. Diamond's "Headed for the Future" tour during the mid-1980's.

 

One Super Diamond fan is Mr. Diamond himself. The 62-year-old Grammy Award-winning pop singer has twice appeared onstage with his impersonators, the first time a few years ago when he surprised them before their show one night at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

 

"It was amazing," Mr. Cordero said. "I remember he said to us, `Thank you for doing what you're doing,' and I said, `Thank you for not suing us.' " Then onstage Mr. Diamond and the band of pretenders played "I Am . . . I Said."

 

I felt a little more validated, somehow," Mr. Cordero said of the experience. Despite their success, the members of Super Diamond and other tribute musicians interviewed said they were still regarded by many in the music world as a maligned underclass, although in recent years the lines between original musicians and tribute players has become more blurred.

 

Tim Owens, a part-time office supplies salesman near Akron, Ohio, and lead singer of a Judas Priest tribute band, broke the music genre's barrier in 1997 when he replaced the real heavy metal band's original lead singer, Rob Halford, after he had quit to pursue a solo career.

 

Mr. Owens's rags-to-rock-star story inspired the 2001 film "Rock Star," with Mark Wahlberg. But in July Mr. Owens was replaced by Mr. Halford, who rejoined the heavy metal band for its upcoming 30-year anniversary concert tour and a new album planned for next year.

 

Eric Michaels, a Paul McCartney impersonator in American English, a Chicago-based Beatles look-alike band, said critics of the genre were missing the point. "It's all about entertaining people," Mr. Michaels said. "People need to have the Beatles in their lives; they have a longing to see them. We help them get that thrill."

 

As for anyone who mocks tribute bands, Mr. Michaels said, imitating Paul McCartney's thick Liverpudlian accent, "Fooey on them, you know?"



The real and the surreal; Neil Diamond is so cool,
it pays to impersonate him...
By DAVID PENCEK
Norwich Bulletin
Thursday, September 12, 2002

It was a hot August night. Just as Randy Cordero finished singing another one of Neil Diamond's classic songs, a woman yelled out, "You're almost as hot as Neil." Cordero, otherwise known as Surreal Neil --the lead singer and founder of the tribute group Super Diamond, simply shook his head and said, "No. No." Physically, Cordero actually bears a closer resemblance to Elvis than Neil Diamond.

 

More than a month ago, Super Diamond played two consecutive nights in the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den. Because it was August, the group performed songs from Diamond's live albums "Hot August Nights" and "Hot August II." But as close as Cordero came to sounding like Diamond, it ain't nothing like the real thing.

 

For all those Diamond Heads out there, the real thing hits town today. The 61-year-old singing icon visits the Mohegan Sun Arena for an 8 p.m. show. After that, he'll travel north for shows Friday and Saturday at the Centrum Centre in Worcester, Mass.

 

Since his first hit "Cherry, Cherry" in 1966, Diamond has written and sung some of the best-known songs of all-time.

 

"It never gets old," said Rama Diamond, the keyboardist for Super Diamond. "They're great songs that hold up."

 

They're also songs that other singers have covered numerous times. UB40 and The Monkees scored No. 1 hits with "Red, Red Wine" and "I'm A Believer"

 

respectively. Urge Overkill sang "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" for the movie "Pulp Fiction." Last year's blockbuster "Shrek" featured Smash Mouth's version of "I'm A Believer." Diamond himself has reached No. 1 on the singles chart three times with "Cracklin' Rosie," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Song Sung Blue."

 

And those songs just scratch the surface. "Sweet Caroline," "Forever In Blue Jeans," "Solitary Man," "Hello Again," "Holly Holy" and the list goes on and on.

 

What may be even more remarkable is that Diamond's popularity crosses generations, even though you won't find him anywhere on MTV.

 

The members of Super Diamond, who are in their 9th year of performing, said their shows are usually dominated with Gen Xers and younger.

 

"Personally I think there is a lot of tasteless music out there today," the 37-year-old Cordero said. "A lot of people who grew up in the '80s listened to Diamond. They grew up on it."

 

The real Diamond has actually jumped onstage twice to sing with Super Diamond. The first time came in December 2000 at the House of Blues Hollywood. The second occasion was last year during the "Saving Silverman" premiere party.

 

Diamond made a cameo in the comedy film, which is about a group of twentysomethings who have a Neil Diamond cover band. It was Diamond's first big screen appearance since his starring role in the 1980 remake "The Jazz Singer." While "The Jazz Singer" was critically panned and wasn't the blockbuster Diamond and the producers had hoped for, the soundtrack was a huge success and it produced three top 10 singles.

 

"I decided while I was doing 'The Jazz Singer' that I'd rather be a really good singer than a mediocre actor," Diamond said in a February 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "('Saving Silverman') was really more about my fans than anything else, about their devotion over the years and how that has transferred to their children as represented by the three main characters."

 

Last year Diamond released "The Essential Neil Diamond," a two-disc set with 38 of his selections. Diamond has said that he breaks his career down in eras. In one category, he puts his early hits from Bang Records. They include "Kentucky Woman," "Solitary Man" and "Cherry, Cherry."

 

Next are his MCA years during the '70s that produced songs like Song Sung Blue" and "I Am ... I Said." Then came his time with Columbia Records. That era began with Diamond's Grammy-winning original score for "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and continued with songs such as "Beautiful Noise," "September Morn" and "Forever In Blue Jeans."

 

"The Jazz Singer" marked Diamond's fourth era. And Diamond has called his current era "wish-fulfillment." The new era includes "Three Chord Opera," a new album Diamond released last summer. It was his first record since 1974 that he wrote entirely.

 

Someday, Cordero would like to have success with the songs he has written. He is recording tracks with his original band TijuanaStripClub and hopes to release a CD soon.

 

For now, pretending to be Neil Diamond pays the bills. And Cordero realizes that there are worse ways to make a living.

 

"Other than my own, I can't think of anyone else's songs I'd rather sing than Neil Diamond's," Cordero said.



Diamond mine 'Surreal Neil' leads tribute
band to success as it polishes old gems
By Erika Gonzalez
Rocky Mountain News
July 12, 2002

A twenty-something blonde in a hip-hugging denim miniskirt and platform heels attempts to scale the stage like an expert climber attacking Mount Everest.

 

The object of her affection - outfitted in a blue lami jumpsuit and sporting too-long sideburns - howls in a rich honey tone, the tune of another generation:

She got the way to move me Cherry

She got the way to groove me

Cherry baby

 

The singer throwing the blonde into a sexual frenzy isn't the real deal, but a dead-on imitation known as Surreal Neil, front man of a tribute band with a loyal following of young Diamond devotees. Known as Super Diamond, the group has somehow made Neil Diamond's once-forgotten gems fashionable again.

 

"A lot of people come to our shows who don't even like Neil Diamond," claims Randy "Surreal Neil" Cordero. "We get e-mails saying, 'I didn't want to go, but now I'm hooked and I'm going to go every time you guys come to town."

Expect a big crowd when the group brings its kitschy, feel-good, '70s-era sound to the AT&T LoDo Music Festival Saturday. As tribute bands go, Super Diamond has hit the pinnacle of success, regularly playing sold-out shows at Hollywood's House of Blues, San Francisco's Fillmore and Irving Plaza in New York. The band even performed at the premiere of last year's Jack Black flick, Saving Silverman.


"I've made a decent living singing Neil Diamond songs," says Cordero. "But it didn't start that way."

 

Cordero fell into Diamond's duds by accident. A musically inclined college student, Cordero sometimes played acoustic sets in local clubs in Tempe, Ariz., where he studied engineering. For kicks, the young musician slipped in Sweet Caroline one night.

 

"That was late 1989," Cordero remembers. "I didn't know anyone at the time who liked Neil Diamond and I kind of thought I'd get booed.

Instead, the song was a hit. Punk rockers in the too-hip club admitted they enjoyed the music and began requesting other Diamond ditties.

"I ended up doing a different song on another night and then another Diamond song on another night and eventually a friend asked me to do a party doing all Neil Diamond songs - dressed like him."

 

Surreal Neil was born; Cordero found himself playing Neil Diamond covers more and more frequently. But when the aspiring musician moved back to San Francisco after college (he was raised in the Bay Area), he started searching for bandmates to play original music.

 

"I was never really sure if I wanted to do this full time," he explains. "But I always thought it would be fun to take this to the next level - with a full band playing Neil Diamond rather than just a guy with an acoustic guitar."

 

Shortly after his arrival, a friend asked him to do his Diamond act with another friend's band, named Simon's Neil Blue Diamond.

 

"They dressed as evil clowns and played a mixture of punk, ska, rock and circus music," Cordero says.

It doesn't sound like a match made in heaven, but the combination worked. When the crowd went wild, members of Simon's Neil Blue Diamond agreed to form a tribute band with Cordero.

 

Success wasn't immediate. Super Diamond has spent the past decade growing a fan base from scratch. The band started slowly, playing clubs in its hometown. After building to bigger venues, the group took its show on the road, touring West Coast cities such as Seattle and Portland. Eventually, when the West Coast buzz began to spread, Super Diamond went nationwide.

 

Cordero quit his full-time engineering job nearly four years ago; Super Diamond tours every weekend and does midweek shows once a month. A European tour is in the works.

 

"I never even thought about doing other cities and when we did well, I never thought it could get any better than this," says Cordero proudly. "I look at where we're at now for a cover band and I think it can't get any bigger or any better than this."

 

Super Diamond mixes contemporary with what some may term "classic" tunes, morphing Sweet Caroline into Guns N Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine, or ending Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show with Kiss' Rock & Roll All Night.

 

The medleys make the girls swoon, but Cordero admits he doesn't want to spend the rest of his career filling another man's shoes.

 

"I'd love to get to the point where I could make a living on my own music," says the 37-year-old. "But I realize that's something that only a few people get to do."



Super Diamond set to rock the Fiesta
JEFF PACK
Staff Writer
6/01/2002

For a guy that sports some of the shiniest sequined get-ups around each weekend, Randy Cordero is a pretty quiet guy.

 

During a phone interview from his home in San Francisco, the man who fronts Super Diamond (the Neil Diamond Experience), speaks in a smooth tone while expressing his gratitude for his lot in life at the moment.

 

"We've been doing it for 10 years come next March, and even seven years ago we seemed to be in high demand," he said. "I keep thinking, 'Wow, this is great, it can't get any better!' Then it gets better and I say, 'Wow, this is great, it can't get any better!' It's all just very cool."

 

Cordero, billed as "Surreal Neil," admits that when the band got started a decade ago as a goof, he never imagined that today he'd still be belting out tunes like "America" and "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" for packed concert halls all over the country.

 

"We started doing one show a month in San Francisco, then branching out a little further," he said. "It's really neat when you just do something to please yourself and it happens to go over really good and turns into something you never expected."

 

What Cordero also never expected was being able to quit his day job as an engineer in 1998 and turn his love for the real Neil and his band into a full-time gig. The band now plays from two to four gigs a week, traveling all over the country, including regular stops to Solana Beach's Belly Up Tavern.

 

This Sunday, however, Super Diamond is the headliner for Fiesta del Sol, the two-day music festival and street fair going on at Fletcher Cove.

 

It should be explained that Super Diamond isn't just any tribute band. With Cordero's amazing vocal similarities and Neil-like stage presence, along with the backing of a hard-rocking, versatile and talented band, an evening with Super Diamond is more experience than concert for the audience, who generally come dressed in full 1970s disco regalia.

 

"I hate for us to be lumped in with tribute bands, because a lot of them are doing it just to make money," he said. "It didn't start that way for us. It just happened that we were doing something we loved and people responded to it."

 

San Diego fans respond with consistent sellouts every time the band visits the Belly Up, on average twice a month.

 

"When we do a show, we try to give it all we can," said Cordero. "We know people come to the shows over and over, but we like to think that every time we come back, we are a little better than we were before. I don't want people to say, 'They aren't as good as they used to be.'"

 

What does the real Neil Diamond think about Cordero and company? He's such a big fan, he joined Super Diamond onstage at the House of Blues Hollywood two years ago and sang with them again last year at a Hollywood film premiere.

 

There is no typical crowd for a Super Diamond show, and the age of fans ranges anywhere from 21 to 65. The evening becomes a sort of "love-in" for fans of one of the top songwriters in America. While the tunes themselves appeal to hard-core Diamond fans, the added Black Sabbath guitar riffs and crossovers into Led Zeppelin appeal to younger fans.

 

"It's kinda fun hating an artist your parents liked," Cordero said, "but when you hear us play, you realize that the only reason you didn't like Neil was because your parents liked it. I couldn't do this if it was completely straight up. It's really fun when we can add our own elements. I like the creativity."

 

While Cordero is enjoying the band's seemingly endless wave of success, he admits he's been focusing a lot more on his own songwriting these days.

 

His band, Tijuana Strip Club, consists mainly of members from Super Diamond, and Cordero says his success as a songwriter would take precedence over Super Diamond.

 

"Super Diamond is my living now and I love it. This is all I have to do and I don't want my desk job," he said. "But if I got a record deal tomorrow for my own songwriting, I'd be telling my agent, 'Don't book any more shows.' I work my ass off and I'm writing songs better than I ever have, so I wouldn't hesitate to jump on an opportunity outside of Super Diamond."

 

Super Diamond fans might want to ignore the previous statement and pretend they never read it.

 

For now, they can just enjoy Cordero and Super Diamond for what they are: one of the most entertaining musical acts performing on the midlevel club and festival circuit.



Diamond is Forever
KIM HONEY
James Adams
Saturday June 2, 2001

The king of karaoke classics appears to be hot again with a new legion of fans, KIM HONEY writes. But as your grandmother can attest, he never really went away.

 

It's rarely hip to be square, particularly for a pop star. In Neil Diamond's case, the upbeat songs, the Seventies bouffant and the squeaky-clean image combine to produce an entertainer a grandmother could love. That's a big enough turnoff for any self-respecting rock fan.

 

Now, after writing karaoke classics for more than 30 years, the man who penned an antidrug tune called The Pot Smokers Song in 1968 is being discovered by a new generation. Retro is cool, and apparently that extends to the man who wrote Forever in Blue Jeans, Crunchy Granola Suite and Hello Again.

 

Go to a ball game and listen to the crowd follow the bouncing ball as they sing along to Sweet Caroline, the centrepiece of Labatt's new Out of the Blue ad campaign.

 

At the theatre, you can hear Eddie Murphy, the voice of Shrek's sidekick, sing I'm a Believer, the 1966 hit Diamond wrote for the Monkees. In Saving Silverman, the main characters play in a Neil Diamond tribute band. The movie's finale, filmed at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum last July, features a cameo by Diamond. The credits roll to I Believe in Happy Endings, a song from his new, as-yet-unnamed album, scheduled to be in stores July 24.

 

Look at Jane Campion's flick, Holy Smoke, and listen to Diamond sing Holly Holy. Then there's Lost and Found, a forgettable 1999 movie starring David Spade, in which the former Saturday Night Live star lip-synchs to Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show at a party. Sweet Caroline inspired a sing-along at a bar in 1996's Beautiful Girls.

 

Even Ally McBeal got into the act in an episode last year in which a 50-something lawyer she was dating confessed he didn't like disco -- he was a closet Neil Diamond fan.

 

Denise Abbadessa knows the young fans are out there. A member of Friends of Neil Diamond, the Los Angeles-based official fan club, she sees their posts on various message boards devoted to Neil Diamond, such as "I am . . . I said".

 

"If you see questions like, 'What colour are his eyes? How tall is he?,' then you know these are younger fans that have chimed in," said the 48-year-old L.A. native. "They'll tell you they're 20. We have one kid on there who is 15." (For the record, she said Diamond's eyes are "hazel brown" and he's about six feet tall.)

 

Diamond himself has said the reason he did Saving Silverman was because the script reminded him of his fans, how devoted they have been over the years, and how they passed their love of his music on to their children.

 

"I decided to take the chance of being embarrassed for a few scenes and be part of the film's can't-lose, slam-dunk ending," he told The Los Angeles Times in February. "I'm glad I did. Saving Silverman was more than a role. It was a chance for my music to be exposed again."

 

Even if he had been asked just to write the theme song for the film, he probably would have done it for the same reason.

 

"Nowadays, it's hard for a guy like me to get played on Top 40 radio, so however I can get it out, whether it's in films, or by tribute bands that travel the country, or even the Internet -- whatever. It's important that it gets out."

 

And word is spreading, in no small part because of the work of San Francisco tribute band Super Diamond. While other musicians impersonate Diamond, this seven-piece band interprets Diamond's songs, giving them an alt-rock edge that is popular with the club crowd. They routinely sell out the House of Blues, from Los Angeles to Chicago, and other venues such as Urban Plaza in New York, playing to crowds of 1,000 to 1,500 people.

 

"I've witnessed it. These kids are in there," said Abbadessa, merchandising manager for Super Diamond. "These kids are singing Neil's stuff word for word. Now it's kids who are 20. They can barely get in the door with [identification].

 

"Some Torontonians got a chance to witness the magic at the Reverb on May 16, when Labatt hired Super Diamond to play for some beer drinkers, including 20 fans who hold an annual Neil Diamond party in Mississauga, Ont., every Jan. 24 on the artist's birthday.

 

When Labatt's marketing department was batting around ideas for the Out of the Blue campaign, they were looking for a song that represented an anthem for sing-alongs. They considered Smoke on the Water and a few others, but when they struck on Diamond's Sweet Caroline, they agreed it was the epitome of a campfire song.

 

"For the last 8,000 years, people have wanted to be happy and have fun and that's what so many of Neil Diamond's songs make you feel," said Mike Robitaille, Labatt's director of marketing. "They're happy songs, by and large. Certainly his most famous tunes are very fun songs."

 


There may be renewed interest in old music and Super Diamond may be reeling the young ones in, but the tribute band's front man, Randy Cordero, has a simpler explanation for the phenomenon. The songs have so much melody, such beautiful lyrics, that they're jewels, he believes.

 

There are, of course, the karaoke favourites, said Cordero, otherwise known as Surreal Neil. Concertgoers are constantly telling him that America is their favourite song, but Surreal Neil scoffs at that.

 

"He's got the songs that are anthems, he's got the songs that are kind of in-between -- sing-alongs like Sweet Caroline and Cracklin' Rosie and stuff like that -- but then he's got the really deep, beautiful love songs like Play Me and A Modern Day Version of Love that a lot of people don't know about. The
hard-core fans do.

 

"For a performer who hasn't had a big radio hit since 1982 when Heartlight climbed to No. 5 on the adult contemporary chart, Diamond sure packs them in. Every time he releases a new album and hits the road for a tour, he takes in more money at the box office than most other stars.

 

Amusement Business, a trade magazine, named him the fifth top-grossing artist of the nineties: In 1996, on tour to promote the album Tennessee Moon, he earned more than any other tour that year with the exception of Kiss ($50-million U.S.). Garth Brooks, while on his 1999 tour to promote The Movie Album, earned $31.3-million, putting him eighth on the list.

 

The singer has never really cared about keeping up with the times. Even his look -- the big, sweeping sideburns, blousy shirt and the tight pants -- is decidedly uncool.

 

That doesn't mean his music is any less important, said Howard Kramer, associate curator at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

 

Still, Kramer admitted Diamond has been a victim of "visual stereotyping," where some dismissed his music because his clothes and his hair were stuck in the 1970s.

 

"Neil Diamond is no less a great artist because he may have worn a red shirt with a wide collar unbuttoned to the middle of his chest. His work stands on its own," Kramer said.

 

Diamond's real talent, according to Kramer, is as a songwriter. "Just go back and look at the songs this guy wrote. It'll blow your mind.

 

"When asked why Bob Dylan got all the press this year when he turned 60 and Diamond got none, Kramer called Dylan a god whereas Diamond was merely a mortal, albeit "better than most others when it comes to songwriting."Dylan also has a mystique about him, one that is perpetuated by the artist himself (he rarely gives interviews) and by his fans.

 

"Bob Dylan has an entirely different vibe about him. People look at him as kind of a shaman."

 

Fans of Diamond's have long despaired over the fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame foundation has never nominated their god for inclusion in its hallowed halls. Diamond has never made the cut.

 

Kramer is very cautious when asked whether Diamond -- who signed an autograph for Super Diamond that says "Keep on Rockin' " -- is a rocker."

 

I guess it all depends on what your definition is. Is Neil Diamond a pure rock 'n' roller? I think he comes from a tradition of rock 'n' roll. I think he went off and created his own thing," he said. "What Neil Diamond became is less rock 'n' roll and more about pop standard and songwriting craft than it was about Chuck Berry or Little Richard."

 

Surreal Neil thinks Diamond just isn't hip enough for some people in the music industry because he's so clean living.

 

"It's funny that we live in a world where people who are nice and people who aren't into drugs are not cool, and they're not put on a pedestal like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison."

 

Diamond is so nice that he has been known to stop and talk to fans who are staking out his hotel. Even Surreal Neil was impressed with the real Neil when Diamond showed up last December at the House of Blues in L.A. to catch a show.

 

"When I met him, I couldn't believe how normal he was," Cordero said. Compared with whom?He pauses, then relates a story about the time legendary rock producer Phil Spector showed up for a gig and came backstage to chat.

 

"Man, that's somebody you can't have a normal conversation with," Cordero said. "That guy came to our room afterwards. He wanted to party and we had to finally kick him out at 4 a.m.

 

"By that time, we presume, Neil Diamond would be deep in a drug-free REM sleep. Beautiful noise It's virtually impossible not to like Neil Diamond. The very things that, in the hands of another singer-songwriter, would be crippling flaws are, with Diamond, the very foundation of the pleasures we find in his work. Herewith a highly subjective, decidedly volatile list of Neil's nuggets and nimnos.



As the growing brigade of tribute bands rises,
imitation is the sincerest form of success....
James Hebert
The San Diego Union Tribune
3/11/2001

He has the sequins on his shirt and the earnestness in his eyes. He has the grand, sweeping stage gestures and the gruff, honeyed voice. He has the swingin' five-piece band. Most of all, he has the songs: "Cracklin'Rosie," "Sweet Caroline," "Love on the Rocks."

 

This man, though, is not Neil Diamond, and no one packed into a steamy Pacific Beach nightclub on a cold February night believes he is. Not even the chairs.

 

He is, instead, Randy Cordero, a 36-year-old-ex computer engineer better known to fans as Surreal Neil, leader of the San Francisco band Super Diamond.

 

Generally speaking, glory does not await those who don spangled lamé and perform homages to grandfatherly pop stars.

 

But Cordero and his band, which formed eight years ago, have built a devoted following and a busy career: The week before the Cannibal Bar concert, Super Diamond played two nights at New York City's Irving Plaza. Such is the act's cachet that last December, the Real Neil himself dropped in unannounced to perform with Super Diamond at an LA show.

 

Super Diamond-at the moment, anyway - is the biggest success story in what is perhaps pop music's oddest subclass: the tribute band. And tribute bands seem to be sprouting faster than acts for them to emulate.

 

On top of that, the current comedy "Saving Silverman" revolves around a fictional Neil Diamond tribute act called Diamonds in the Rough. And this fall will see the release of "Rock Star," a movie loosely based on the true story of Ripper Owens, a singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who was recruited to become the new vocalist for the real Judas Priest.

 

For all their hard-core fans-- and hard-core belief systems--few tribute bands achieve quite the level of popularity as Super Diamond.

 

Lead singer Cordero was recently awarded the Silver Hammmer trophy -- the Oscar of the tribute world -- by the Tribute Band Voting Academy, headed by Web-site honcho Howard Fineman.

 

"He is a true example of taking it to the next level, I think," Fineman says of Cordero. "He doesn't try to just imitate Neil Diamond. He knows he's performing, and he's giving these fans something they need."

 

Cordero says that while he tries not to take Super Diamond too seriously, he still gets a thrill out of performing with the band.

 

"But I come from an original-music background and my original music is still most important to me. It's hard to believe sometimes I'm in this cover band."

 

A lot of people in tribute bands and cover bands - I've seen alot of them, alot of them have played with us - say, 'Cover bands are a lot better than original music, because you make more money.' I hate to get lumped in with that. It's just a fun thing. Super Diamond is a fun band thing for a fun night out"And at the very least, it beats his previous gig- as an engineer in the Silicon Valley.

 

"I was an engineer for 15 years," commuting an hour and a half each way to work, he says. "I'd get home and be worn out. Now, I basically work weekends. I have a perfect situation right now. I can work out my demos here at home."

 

Cordero is quick to add that Super Diamond is not a strict tribute - the band does such things as incorporate guitar riffs from Rush and AC/DC into its Diamond covers.

 

Nor is the band meant to be taken simply as kitsch, as a latter-day lounge version of the Real Neil.

 

"There's an element of that, but it's also a pretty heavy rock show," he says. 'I'm not an impersonator. I'm up there being a character. I'm being Surreal Neil, not Neil Diamond. I wear sequined shirts, but I'm not Neil Diamond."

 

True Diamond fans, Cordero says, don't seem to mind Super Diamond's take on their icon.

 

"They seem to be really appreciative to us for turning younger people on to his music," Cordero says. "We probably play to 2,000 people a week, and they're mostly in their 20s and 30s."

 

Making money, and making a mark, in the super-saturated rock music scene is as difficult as ever, and tribute bands are one way to get some steady work.

 

But for most tribute acts, Fineman insists, "It's not just for money. It's the realization that they can become part of and experience this kind of love that's in the music.

 

"That seems to be way Cordero views his Super Diamond career.

 

"I didn't start doing this to make money. I almost did it the opposite, like, 'People aren't going to like this but I'm going to do it anyway,' "he says."If I ever get anywhere with my original music, I would still have to do an occasional Super Diamond show. It's so fun. Plus, I've learned a lot from singing Neil Diamond. People laugh at that, but...



They are, they said: Super Diamond
kneels at the altar of a pop icon
by SARAH RODMAN
Friday February 2, 2001

Do you believe Neil Diamond just doesn't tour often enough? Then Super Diamond has what you crave. Fronted by vocal ringer Randy ``Surreal Neil'' Cordero, Super Diamond captures the essence of Mr. Jonathan Livingston Seagull himself, replicating everything from the blinding sequin shirts of '70s era Neil right down to the most detailed growling nuance of classic songs such as ``Cherry, Cherry'' and ``Love on the Rocks.'' But the mainly 30-something musicians in Super Diamond also play original music, don't consider themselves a tribute band and feel compelled to crank up Diamond's songs with distortion and weird keyboard lines to slice the cheese factor in half.

 

But they're not being ironic, Cordero insists. Indeed, Super Diamond, which performs at Axis on Thursday, genuinely enjoys the music of the man in Sansabelts.

 

"It's not a parody,'' says Cordero who, aside from the bad threads, doesn't attempt to look like the bushy Grammy winner. ``We do all Neil Diamond songs but we take all these great songs that he's written from the '60s, '70s and up to the early '80s and we play them more contemporary. We do them more like an alternative rock band.''

 

Cordero started mimicking Diamond in 1989 on a lark at a party and admits that they have fun with Diamond's music, often ``morphing'' famous Neil numbers into others that have similar chord changes or phrasing. For instance, they do an excellent blend of ``Sweet Caroline'' with Guns N' Roses' ``Sweet Child 'O Mine.''

 

Together since 1993, the group, which has sold out multiple nights at Irving Plaza in New York and the House of Blues in Los Angeles, goes even one bizarre step further on Halloween by dressing up like other bands but still singing Neil Diamond songs.

 

"We were the Cure one time,'' (for Halloween) says Cordero, "and we morphed `Crunchy Granola Suite' into `In Between Days.'

 

"Cordero has been a ``closet'' Diamond fan since childhood. He heard from Diamond's children, his fan club members and his drummer Vince Charles that the man himself was a fan. And last December, Cordero actually met and performed with Diamond in L.A.

 

"We talked for about a half-hour. He was really cool, a really nice guy,'' says Cordero, who played ``I Am . . . I Said'' with Diamond. ``The first thing he said was `Thank you for what you're doing.'

 

''Cordero says Diamond is aware that many of the group's sold-out shows are populated by ``people in their 20s and mid-30s and so he just likes the fact that we're turning a lot of young people on to his music. And so I said, `Well, thank you for not suing us.'

 

''Apparently, Diamond's time has come. In the film ``Saving Silverman,'' opening Feb. 9, the three main characters play in a Neil Diamond cover band. The leader of the band is played by Jack Black from ``High Fidelity'' and the hilarious folk-metal band Tenacious D. ``Tenacious D opened for us at the Viper Room, so I wonder if he maybe got some pointers for his Neil Diamond tribute band from us,'' Cordero said.

 

He'll be able to ask Black in person and maybe even sing with him, as Superdiamond has been invited to play the film's premiere party. In fact, it could be Neil Diamond in triplicate because the genuine article also will be attending the premiere. ``He told Vince his drummer that he's happy we're playing it and that he sings `Holly Holy' in the key of E.



Band pays tribute to Diamond
TROY JOHNSON
Special to The Desert Sun

1/25/2001 Forever in Blue Jeans, Babe: Tribute bands don't really make music -- they mimic it. But that doesn't stop the world's No. 1 Neil Diamond tribute band, Super Diamond, from being a rip-roaring, campy good time.

 

Since 1989, "The Surreal Neil" and the rest of the band have inserted rippin' riffs into classic Diamond ballads for maximum-capacity West Coast crowds.

 

Their redeeming quality is their reverence for Diamond's creations -- and their substantial talent.



A Diamond Is Forever
Super Diamond Capture The Enduring Appeal of Neil
Carl Swanson
Spin Magazine 12/2000

Randy Cordero has become a star impersonating Neil Diamond, and he's got the bag of bras to prove it. "Sometimes the stage is just the right height so the girls are at crotch level, and somebody grabs me right there," he says as he changes into one of his 25 custom-made spangled shirts, transforming himself from a somewhat diffident 34-year-old former engineer into Surreal Neil: retro-pop bra-target. Cordero and his tribute band Super Diamond are backstage at New York City's Irving Plaza getting ready to play the first of two headlining shows. "The girls feel they're in some kind of law-free sexual harassment zone," he adds. Or maybe they just think it's the '70s.


In any case, Super Diamond are superpopular. Thanks to a crowd-pleasing set list, constant weekend touring, and favorable buzz among Diamond maniacs, the band regularly fills 1,000-seat venues like L.A's House of Blues and Portland's Crystal Ballroom. "We played Boston last night, and they were turning people away," Cordero brags.


Thirty-four years after writing his first hit ("I'm a Believer"), the original Diamond is enjoying a resurgence, with several cover bands devoted to him and a February appearance in the upcoming movie Saving Silverman, in which Steve Zahn and Jack Black play members of...a Diamond cover band. "This is not a case of our ridiculing [Diamond] because he's past his prime," says Dennis Dugan, the film's director. "Neil is anything but past his prime."


A few years ago, a Neil Diamond tribute would have been merely an ironic novelty. Something for the hipsters to wink at but not truly embrace as cool. When Cordero first formed Super Diamond in San Francisco in 1993, the band attracted "the goth crowd-pierced and tattooed kids," Cordero says. "Now it's the Ford Explorer crowd," he adds wryly.


This is evident as hundreds of post-frat young professionals-still dressed for casual Friday in their belted khakis-fill Irving Plaza. "We like Neil Diamond and thought it would be hilarious to see a cover band," says Amy, 26. "The music bridges the gap between me and my parents."


"You'd think people would come for the kitsch, but they come for more than that," insists bassist Matt Tidmarsh, who has upholstered himself in a pair of leopard-print-trim bell-bottoms. "The music just holds up well. It's classic," Cordero says.


Onstage, Cordero launches into "Love on the Rocks"--his voice an uncanny imitation of Diamond's. Several girls scramble onstage, cashmere sweaters tied around their shoulders, giggling and attempting a rendition of the dance they learned from the "Back That Thang Up" video.


"How many people have moms who like Neil Diamond?" asks Tidmarsh. "This one's for all the mothers." As "Sweet Caroline" begins, crowd collectively hoists its Heineken cans in air. The bouncer kicks the girls offstage, Cordero dismisses them, patting one uncomfortably on the shoulder like a vice principal. He performs "Hello Again" on his knees, holding a woman's hand in the front row.


So what does Neil Diamond think of his namesake? Apparently, he's never seen them, though his kids and girlfriend have. Cordero claims Diamond once said, "I sent them out to work years ago so I wouldn't have to." But making your Iiving as one of Neil Diamond's flying monkeys seems to have made the band a bit defensive. "On the one hand, you're a star," Tidmarsh says. "On the other, you're the shit of the earth."



Super Diamond's Traveling Salvation Show
JIMMY SO SEATTLE
Times Staff Reporter
Arts & Entertainment
12/29/2000

When your parents popped in a Neil Diamond tape on repeat during long interstate road trips, you reluctantly sang along. Never thought you'd turn out to be a Diamond fan now, right? But singing along to "Sweet Caroline" and "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" is so addictive now, you'd do anything to see Neil on stage.

 

A band out of San Francisco can put a rest to that Diamond thirst. Super Diamond delivers a high-octane Diamond tribute show that rocks, and they're here to play the Showbox tomorrow and New Year's Eve.

 

Randy Cordero, the lead singer of Super Diamond, has the guise of Elvis and speaks in an almost boyish voice, more like the Hansons than the gruff Diamond. He's known as the Surreal Neil, and one look at his attire is explanation enough. All of the guys from Super Diamond dress in flamboyant sequined shirts and velvet bell bottoms, with a little leopard skin thrown in. They're a wild bunch.

 

"The name Surreal Neil is perfect. We're a little more over-the-top," Cordero said. Super Diamond doesn't pull off a Diamond tribute band by being lookalikes. They play.

 

Get them to their instruments and it can seem like they've been playing Diamond songs longer than Diamond has. Cordero hits the throaty vocal style of Diamond right on, pronouncing America as "Amiricaaaa."

 

"The show is all Diamond songs, but there's little bits of things from Kiss, Black Sabbath, Rush and AC/DC thrown in ... just endings and bits," Cordero said. "Guys will be like, `No way, it's Rush!'

 

"And those who have seen Super Diamond featured on CNN News have seen them morph "Cherry Cherry" into "Sweet Child of Mine." The crowd always sings along, Diamond lyrics or otherwise.

 

Many youths are discovering that Diamond is the author of "Red Red Wine" and "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," among other hits. You can blame his resurgence in popularity on parents, the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack and David Spade in "Lost and Found." Diamond is even appearing as himself in "Saving Silverman" with Jason Biggs and Jack Black, a teen movie scheduled for release in February.

 

The Surreal Neil started the group playing Diamond's songs for amusement and never thought he'd do it for a living, let alone meet Diamond himself. That's before Neil showed up at a Super Diamond show two Saturdays ago in Los Angeles' House of Blues.

 

"He said he'd sing a song with us. But when it came time to pick which song, we couldn't make up our minds. But it's always a bit religious among Neil Diamond fans to hear him sing 'I Am, I Said,' so we asked him to sing that one with us," Cordero said.

 

Cordero and Super Diamond can now cross off "to meet Neil Diamond" on their New Year's Resolution list. If the Real Neil approves of the Surreal Neil, who's to object?



Super Diamond Celebrates Neglected Neil
PETER JONES
Themestream Contributor
11/5/2000

Neil Diamond is the Rodney Dangerfield of popular music. Not just because the singer/songwriter has seldom earned the respect of hipper-than-thou rock journalists, but like an aging comic, the sequined balladeer was long ago buried as a schmaltzy Las Vegas novelty.

 

Diamond's music is thus relegated to guilty pleasure status when contemporary music fans begrudgingly confess to buying his albums. Only Diamond's loyal legions of middle-aged housewives will admit their fandom above a faint whisper. The rest of the free world writes off his oeuvre as MOR drivel, particularly shunning his mid-period lyrics.

 

I am, I said... To no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.

 

Gee, you'd think he could at least count on the chair!

 

Although it's now easy to forget, Diamond spent his early career as a credible 1960's pop/rock artist, writing "I'm a Believer" for the Monkees and scoring such winning solo hits as "Cherry, Cherry," "Solitary Man," and "Sweet Caroline."

 

When he re-invented himself as a player in the burgeoning singer/songwriter movement of the early 1970's, he continued to craft catchy pop (e.g. "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Song, Sung Blue"), as well as ambitious pretension (the six-part "African Trilogy," the Robbie Robertson-produced album "Beautiful Noise," and the best-selling soundtrack to "Jonathon Livingston Seagull").

 

By mid-decade, however, after failing to court the intelligentsia vote, Diamond again re-invented himself; this time, as an adult contemporary crooner. For more than two decades, he has ruled "Lite FM" with such bland comforts as "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Hello, Again," and "America." Although Diamond's catalogue of spineless pop has made him millions, it has come at a cost: an inaccurate, yet popular revision of his musical relevance.

 

Waging an uphill public relations battle to re-educate the masses is the implicitly heroic Super Diamond. Although the name may lead one to conjure up an ultra-powerful Neil exacting vengeance on his dismissive critics, Super Diamond is instead a San Francisco-based sextet whose set list is comprised entirely of Diamond's wide-ranging material.

 

Billed as the "Neil Diamond Experience," Super Diamond is equal parts kitsch and sincere reverence for the singer's music. "It's definitely not a joke, but there's certainly some campiness to the act," says lead singer Randy Cordero (a.k.a. "The Surreal Neil"). "We get Neil Diamond fans that come expecting it to be a lounge show or something. But it's heavy guitar, heavy drums. We do `Play Me,' his quintessential love song, and we do it as almost punk rock."

 

Most of the band's covers, however, are relatively faithful to the originals, though the band spices Diamond's material with a decidedly heavier alternative rock edge and Dread Zeppelin-like musical nods (throwing in a Black Sabbath rift, for example).

 

Their CD of Diamond favorites, "14 Great Hits," was released in 1998.

 

Super Diamond's eccentric tribute is also a visual experience. Dressed in platform shoes and sequined bell bottoms, Cordero works the stage like a seasoned veteran, emulating the kind of martial arts-derived body movements for which Diamond is both famous and vilified. All the while, Cordero delivers his hero's canon in a respectful, but familiar gruff baritone.

 

Although Diamond himself has yet to catch a Super Diamond show, Cordero thinks it's just a matter of time. His son has sent Cordero appreciative e-mails and musicians from Diamond's band have occasionally performed with the group.

 

The 35-year-old Cordero founded Super Diamond seven years ago after having playfully incorporated a few Diamond covers into his solo acoustic act. "It was an underground rock scene. I didn't know what to expect for reaction," he says. "I kind of thought people would boo me, but it brought the house down. There was this guy in this punk band that came up and was like 'Do you know `Solitary Man'? I'm a huge Neil Diamond fan!' It was kind of weird and strange and fun. I never knew there were other people my age who liked Neil Diamond."

 

That's not to say the band hasn't experienced its share of blank stares and dropped jaws. Those most accustomed to Diamond's late period schlock are often aghast in disbelief when first becoming aware of Super Diamond's intimidating concept.

 

"A lot of people think of Neil Diamond as being cheesy," Cordero admits. "People laugh, like `Neil Diamond! What? I don't like him!' But we've converted many people. I can't believe how many people have come up to me and said `I thought I used to hate Neil Diamond, and then I saw your show and I went out and bought lots of his albums.'"

 

Super Diamond is not alone in its reverence for the singer. Over the years, a surprisingly broad range of artists from Deep Purple to the Specials have recorded his songs. UB40 reinterpreted "Red, Red Wine" as a reggae pop hit. More recently, Urge Overkill covered "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" for the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

 

Although the recognition has yet to provide Diamond a hip renaissance, Cordero is optimistic. "The hardcore Neil Diamond fans love to come and see all the young people that have been turned on to his music," he boasts. "A lot of people bring their parents to our shows and its this bonding experience. Just being able to meet Neil Diamond would be the next cool thing.



SUPER DIAMOND
PHIL BUSSE
Portland Mercury
8/2000

There really is no need to parody Neil Diamond, as these days he does a bang-up job of that himself, overemphasizing petty heartache and giving far too much attention to what remains of his lion's mane of hair. But, at one time, Neil Diamond was a hipster rocker--truly! Songs like "Sweet Caroline" and "I Am, I Said" have worn down over time, but when they were released thirty years ago they carried an emotional wallup--spunky and mournful all at once.

 


"Super Diamond," an unabashed cover band from San Francisco, rekindles that spark. What is most alluring is that Frontman Randy Cordero, a.k.a., "The Surreal Neil," plays the straight man, refusing to take advantage of an easy parody. He tightly winds up such mainstays as "Kentucky Woman" and lets them rip, like hyper-kinetic tops.

 


He is perhaps a better Neil Diamond than Neil ever was--even in his heyday.



Sounds Like Fun! Super Diamond
MARY GUIDEN
The Rocky Mountain News
5/18/2000

If diamonds are a girl's best friend, imagine how you could score with Super Diamond, Saturday, May 20, at the Ogden Theatre. The band is lighting up marquees and dazzling audiences these days with its very own Neil Diamond experience.

 


Save your sneers and scorns, ye of the too-cool masses: According to Super Diamond's spokesman Daniel Swan, every single one of us has at least one memory linked to a Neil Diamond tune, and -- let's face it -- you probably know the words to more of his songs than you care to admit.

 


Led by the disconcertingly Diamond-esque Surreal Neil (aka Randy Cordero), Super Diamond began performing regularly in San Francisco and the western states about five years ago. Now the group is selling out venues like New York's Irving Plaza and Chicago's House of Blues, presenting a glittery, smoke-filled show of Neil classics, with a couple of sequined outfits thrown in just for fun. They got the way to groove ya, Cherry baby.



Diamond is Forever
Katie Johnston
The Gazette
5/2000

Luckily for Randy Cordero and his Neil Diamond tribute band, people who dare only whisper their adoration for the king of '70s schmaltz-pop aren't ashamed to sneak into a Neil Diamond concert - even if Neil Diamond isn't playing.

 

In the seven years they've been covering the Diamond repertoire, San Francisco-based Super Diamond has seen fans grow bolder about their love for "Cherry, Cherry" and "I Am ... I Said."

 

"Back in 1993, when we started, I didn't know anybody who admitted to liking Neil Diamond," says lead singer Cordero.

 

Still, fans constantly tell the band, "I thought I was the only one." Diamond's soft, simple pop often is filed under "Cheese," but in the age of camp-is-cool retromania, Diamond fans young and old are creeping out of obscurity. "You can like ABBA these days; you can like the Carpenters," Cordero says. "You can like anybody and it's OK."

 

Cordero once thought he was the only Neil Diamond fan out there. His parents bought their 11-year-old son his first eight-track tape - Diamond's "His Twelve Greatest Hits" - which eventually got pushed to the back of the drawer behind the Tubes, Kiss and Oingo Boingo. Cordero rediscovered Diamond when he started playing music and found that by tweaking his voice, he could perfectly match Diamond's husky baritone, grunting "hunhhs" and between-song banter. But he was truly surprised at the positive reaction in 1989, when he first slipped "Sweet Caroline" into a set of original songs at a punk bar. "I didn't do it thinking people would like it; I did it thinking I would be booed off the stage and people would hate it," he says.

 

He started playing parties as "Surreal Neil," complete with sequin shirts, platform shoes and Diamond's song-ending arm swoops. Super Diamond, appearing tonight at the Colorado Music Hall, came along a few years later.

 

These days the six-member band sells out 1,300-seat clubs in Chicago and New York City, recently allowing Cordero to quit his weekday job as a design engineer. The band rocks out Diamond's pop with heavier guitar and synthesizers for an effect Cordero places somewhere between Kiss and Depeche Mode. "We certainly have a lot of room to put our own art into it," says Cordero, who paints in his spare time.

 

"It doesn't feel mundane. If I was just in a normal cover band doing songs straight up, I would be really bored."

 

Crowd surfing is not an unusual response for this decidedly un-loungey act. Every Halloween, the band dresses up like one of their influences - Kiss, the Sex Pistols or the Cure so far - and mixes the group's songs with Diamond's. "We really give it a kick in the pants," says Cordero, who turns Diamond's flash up a notch and doesn't try to replicate his puffy, hairsprayed look.

 

The rest of the year, Super Diamond may play all Diamond all the time, but they have their limits. Nothing after 1982, for instance - after "Heartlight" (an oft-maligned song inspired by the movie "E.T.") the songs were overproduced, with too much reverberation, Cordero says.

 

Diamond's longtime drummer Vince Charles occasionally joins them on stage, but the "Holly Holy" himself never has seen his alter-Diamond. His children have come backstage and passed along a copy of Super Diamond's al- bum, "14 Great Hits" to their illustrious father. Diamond watched a video of the band and had one of his assistants call Cordero to find out if he was lip-synching. Apparently, Diamond was impressed when he learned the answer was no. Even Diamond's official fan club has given the band its blessing. Cordero, 35, hopes to one day become known for his original alternative folk-pop tunes; for a while he and the Super Diamond gang had an original band called Universal Jack. If he gets tired of Neil and his original compositions don't hit the charts, he has a number of other voice impersonations down his throat: Peter Murphy, Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo, Tom Petty, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash.

 

For now, he's happy to spread the gospel of Neil. As famous as Diamond is, precious few books and TV specials have been devoted to him.

 

"He's really left out," Cordero says.

 

"I don't want him to be left out, but that's one of the fun things about doing these shows - he's underappreciated."

 

And he loves it when he hears a vindicated fan - one who kept a low profile all these years - turn to a doubtful friend and say:
"See, I was right all along. It's cool to like Neil Diamond."



Super Diamond Stirs That
'70s Instinct To Groove
Aspen Art and Entertainment Weekly
2/1/1999

You wouldn't think Aspen would be the kind of towns to embrace a fake Diamond. Think again. One of the oddest do-not-miss acts in recent Aspen musical lore is "Super Diamond," a sort of tribute/cover act with the descriptive subtitle "the Neil Diamond Experience." Just to keep the hard-rock puns going, the Diamond tribute band is playing the Double Diamond (imagine the headline if Neil Diamond showed up to play...) on Thursday and Friday (Feb. 4 and 5). We know plenty who went to the group's last show who pretty much went to poke some fun and have a few drinks who spent much of the next few days desperately sifting through consignment shops in sad hopes of finding some shirt with an acceptable collar size.

 


And even white kids from repressed backgrounds danced. Described as the "Surreal Neil," lead singer Randy Cordero leads his six-member group through hours of Diamond songs. The guy even LOOKS like Neil Diamond, and we've always noted that some fans who demand DNA testing all around are at least partly joking. They've been at it four years now, with sold-out shows at San Francisco's Fillmore, the House of Blues in L.A. and other cool-as-it-gets venues.
Cordero leads a six-piece band through about two hours of songs you know better than you think you do: "Song Sung Blue," "Sweet Caroline," "Cherry Cherry" and "Girl You Be A Woman Soon." Okay, it ain't "Graceland" but there's no word Paul Simon is coming to Aspen. For those seeking intellectual justification, think of this as some kind of uber-kitsch with overtones of social parody.

 


This act started in the Bay Area club scene after Cordero installed some heavier parody into his regular act and found the crowds went wild. And he's still noting what we all already know: Neil Diamond is vastly undervalued by the joke we call contemporary culture.
Listen to how Cordero phrased it to a paper in THE City: "He doesn't get credit or respect in the music industry, and you never hear him on the radio. When Live 105 plays UB40s version of 'Red Red Wine' the DJ never says that it's a Neil Diamond song. Until the mid-70s he was alternative, he didn't fit the mainstream." And, yes, the Diamond fad of tossing some female unmentionables onto the stage is sometimes part of the gig.



Riff Raff
SILKE TUDOR
SF Weekly
12/7/1997

Back to Mono! A couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, San Francisco Neil Diamond cover group Super Diamond played their third sold-out House of Blues show this year. Reason for frontman Randy Cordero's tight black satin pants to fill with pride, sure, but the real coup d'etat came after the show. Cordero (aka Surreal Neil) was taking a stroll through the smoky members-only club upstairs when, there -- among the dark Armani suits, cigars, and greased-back ponytails -- sat Phil Spector.

 

The legendary rock 'n' roll producer had seen the show. He asked Cordero to grab a guitar and join him and his friends in a private room. Somewhat alarmed by Spector's out-of-it countenance, but unable to refuse the invitation, Cordero complied, offering to sing a few Diamond ballads. This went over well; indeed, when Cordero excused himself to go to Super Diamond's dressing room, Spector followed, marveling at how a Neil Diamond cover band could sell out the House of Blues.

 

After a few impromptu jams with Spector on guitar, the band headed back to its hotel room, where Spector showed up again, with two armed guards in tow. He was quite taken with the our Diamond impersonator. "Actually," says agent Daniel Swan, "he kept requesting Johnny Cash songs. Randy doesn't know any Johnny Cash, but [Spector] played it on the guitar anyway." Swan says Spector didn't stumble home until 4:30 a.m.



Harder Than Diamond: Band gives edge
to such songs as `Cherry Cherry,' `Holly Holy'
MIKE WEATHERFORD
Review-Journal


Super Diamond may be just what Neil Diamond needs today.

 

The six-piece band that plays Saturday at Palace Station offers a "slightly campy" take on Diamond's classic song book, with an alternative rock twist, according to singer Randy Cordero -- a k a "The Surreal Neil."

 

Yet the band stops short of parody. "We've never had a complaint, and a lot of people from the Neil Diamond fan club come to our shows," Cordero reports. "We all went together to see him in Vegas (on New Year's Day) and they were like, `Gosh, it seems a bit slow,' because they'd all been hearing our versions for so long."

 

While the real Neil offered a sedate band playing with headphones to a metronomic "click track," Super Diamond likes to "play around with the sounds of today," Cordero says. "Our sound is almost Kiss meets Depeche Mode, doing Neil Diamond."

 

Instead of the organ solo you're used to hearing on "Cherry Cherry," Super Diamond plays it with "a really weird synth sound." Likewise, "Soolaimon" (from "Tap Root Manuscript," Diamond's African-themed concept album) starts out "really spacey and weird." And "Holly Holy" sneaks in a little of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" at the end.

 

"They're great songs," he says, but "it's just really fun to add more power to it." The most common response from people who see them for the first time is, "You guys (expletive) rock!"

 

Cordero, 33, started doing Neil in 1989 as a solo performer. "I'd do things like, `Here's how Neil Diamond would sound doing The Cure.' I've always thought Peter Murphy from Bauhaus and Ian McCulloch from Echo and The Bunnymen sound very similar to his voice, so I'd do Neil singing their songs."

 

Cordero put the band together six years ago, but had a hard time advertising for musicians. "I was afraid I would get the wrong kind of people, hotel bands and stuff," he says. Eventually, "it just worked out. I finally ended up meeting young people from bands that were doing more original stuff in the Bay area."

 

Surreal Neil has cultivated his own fan following. "I never wanted to wear a wig. I never wanted to try and look like (Diamond), but sequins sounded like a lot of fun. I tried to find the biggest platform shoes I could find, the tackiest black bell bottoms I could find. I wanted to take what I remembered of Neil and do it kind of bigger and wackier."

 

To Cordero's knowledge, the real Neil has yet to check out the act. "He wants to, but I guess security issues ..." But, Cordero adds, "Everyone else has seen us. His children, his girlfriend, his merchandise guy and people from his band have shown up when we play the House of Blues in L.A."

 

Super Diamond plays at 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday in the new Trax Nightclub at Palace Station, 2411 W. Sahara Ave. There is no cover, but a two-drink minimum.



Surreal Neil: He's the real deal with
a total feel for the real Neil
LARRY GOOD

When you need a story, it's a really hard thing to invent one out of some hit songs and a few awards listed on a bio sheet. When you need a story, you need mething with teeth. A stance. You need one liners. You need some controversy, something of substance, maybe even a social statement.

 

And so, I turned to Super Diamond. Who couldn't write a story about Super Diamond? I mean, here's this guy, Surreal Neil, a talented young musician in his own rite, packing huge halls with his high energy update on the guilty pleasures of Neil Diamond music. The guy is living out this classic dualistic sympatico with the music, the moves, the lore, with even the shirts of his doppelganger, the real Neil. That's gotta get crazy, right?

 

There could be Greek tragedy in this, right? Well, the truth is, Surreal Neil is a smart, level headed, modern guy, who only recently decided to leave his career as a design engineer. He has a new CD out of his own original music. The band is called Universal Jack. And when it comes to talking about Neil Diamond, Surreal Neil has more of the college professor in him, than the fanatic. He is a social scientist, an engineer, and a musician. A singer and a performer. A student of pop culture. But Surreal Neil is not a Neil Diamond impersonator. And Super Diamond is not a cover band. Neil insists that they do their own show, and be themselves. And with those parameters, they have a great time.

 

"When I first started doing it, people wondered how I would do it looking like myself and not trying to act like I was Neil" recalls Surreal Neil. "That's usually really cheesy. We never thought this (Super Diamond) would go this far, but now that plenty of tribute bands have opened for us, I see most of them acting like they are them (the real artist,) so if they look dorky or they look nothing like them, then it's almost kind of a let down. But as long as I do it my own way, it reflects well on Neil Diamond. The whole time I've only had positive response from Neil's fans."

 

Surreal Neil pins Diamond down to four major eras, the 3-chord rock n' roll songs of the 60's, then the pop and acoustic rock of the seventies which gave way in the 80's to what Surreal Neil characterizes as "the reverb-ey schmaltz stuff."

 

As a musician in an original band in the late 80's, Surreal Neil (then Randy Cordero) was still in denial about his acumen for the real Neil's music, but as a social scientist, he noticed when Diamond songs crossed into reggae (UB40) and TV culture (the Monkees) and pop cinema ("Pulp Fiction".) A Super Diamond set touches many areas of pop culture. Elements you might hear at a Chris Isaac concert, or a Gary Puckett and the Union Gap tour. A Monkees reunion. An Urge Overkill show. An anti-war rally. Because Diamond's legend is linked to all these things.

 

Super Diamond adroitly updates the music and fashion, while the statements in the songs update themselves, and the whole show comes off as this luscious, energized, contemporary compendium of mass media culture.

 

"When I started, I didn't really know anybody liked Neil Diamond music" says Surreal Neil. "Neil was uncool when I got to high school. But, sometimes you come back to things, like, when I went back to that Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits album, I totally flashed back to my Aunt's truck when I heard 'Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon' and I said to my friend 'Listen to this! This song could be a hit today!' and I stuck the headphones on his head. Then Urge Overkill beat me to it. Chris Isaac did 'Solitary Man.'"

 

Neil Diamond's "Greatest Hits" was an eight track tape Surreal Neil's parents bought him. Little did they know! But Surreal Neil has an idea why Super Diamond is selling out weekends at huge venues like the House of Blues, and Portland's Crystal Room, and the Fillmore in San Francisco.

 

"It's always 80 or 90% people in their twenties or thirties. They got teased for liking Neil Diamond. Their parents played him. Then they see Super Diamond and then they bring their friends, and it's like they won an argument. Neil is cool after all. How can their friends argue with that?"

 

"People might expect an old guy with a lounge act, but every time we play somebody says 'Man, you guys fuckin' rock!'" says Surreal Neil. "I always tell people I'll never get tired of hearing that.

 

"The stuff I've always been into is over the top, so I like to beef everything up - super massive distortion on the guitars sometimes, where people are banging their heads" explains Neil. "And I don't try to dress exactly like a current Neil Diamond, or a 70's Neil Diamond. I have things made. A mix of current and 70's clothes - because I just can't find these things off the rack!"

 

"I feel good about it. I give it enough of an edge to give it what I want to see. When I would see Neil Diamond in Vegas, I would think 'I'd like to see him be a little more energetic,' and so that's how I do it.

 

But the one question left unanswered is this: What if all this went to Surreal Neil's head? What if Surreal Neil became the bitter Neil? took to bingeing onstage, making an ass of himself, getting real weird, would Real Neil shut him down? Could he? Could this Greek Tragedy angle come into play for this band from California?

 

"I don't think he could stop us. I never really thought about it. But I don't even hardly drink. It wouldn't be me. We play halls that do original music. Opportunities come from that. So I'm not bitter."

 

Neil Diamond genuinely approves of the Super Diamond phenomenon, stating as much on a San Francisco radio program. "Neil said that he should write me a thank you letter for 'turning all the young people on' to his music" says Surreal Neil. "He notices that there are so many more young people at his shows when they play in the Bay Area." But the most classic quote from the real Neil came when a friend of Cordiero's gave Diamond a Super Diamond poster. Said the real Neil: "I'd love to see them, that'd be cool. It might be weird, but I'd love it."

 

In fact, the connection between the real, and the Surreal grows tighter all the time. When Neil Diamond isn't touring, some of his band members tour with Surreal Neil. The Super Diamond explosion comes from an honest vision, great musicianship, and a great performer. Although I am admittedly suspicious of the phenomena of tribute bands in general, I can tell you that Super Diamond really delivers something special, something that not even Neil Diamond is hip enough to pull off. Surreal Neil, and Super Diamond.