Diamond Mine 'Surreal Neil' Leads Tribute Band To Success As It Polishes Old GemsBy 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
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."