The San Diego Union Tribune
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…