Diamond Shines On
Tribute artist Rob Garrett is first and foremost a loyal fan, and he has always understood how much Neil Diamond’s music has meant and continues to mean to people all over the world. His show and recreating the music, the instrumentation, the entire stage persona of such an iconic entertainer, down to the tiniest little inflection and nuance, is done with the utmost respect.
His philosophy is — the fans deserve nothing less. No caricatures or cartoonish performances here. As a result, this is one of those rare instances where the tribute is as close to the “real Neil” as it’s going to get.
Diamond has sold more than 135 million records since the start of his career in the 1960s, and is one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, as such, nothing but the best performance Garrett can deliver is good enough.
Diamond was one of the few who also had a hit just about every time he was up to bat musically — songs like “Sweet Caroline,” “I Am…I Said,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Hello Again,” “Play Me,” “Love on the Rocks,” “America,” “Solitary Man.” Not only were they hits, but for many people, they became part of the soundtrack of their lives.
The music matters to the fans and Garrett must dig deeper than most tributes to bring that same power and raw emotion to the signature Diamond vocals. There is so much more to his rendition than sparkly shirts and sideburns.
Diamond had to cut short the last leg of his 50th anniversary world tour due to health issues and fans were saddened that his live shows had suddenly come to an end, especially one of his biggest fans.
“It made me very sad at the time because the announcement came two days before his 77th birthday and when I saw him last year at the L.A. Forum, it will turn out that I saw him at his last U.S. concert. It was my 17th time going to his concerts,” Garrett said.
“I thought for sure I’d be seeing him into his 90s, and the reality sinks in, I’m not going to be able to see him any more, no one’s going to be able to see Neil Diamond any more. He’s been a mainstay on the concert circuit every few years,” he added. “But he did say he was going to continue to write and record.”
Does Diamond’s exit from touring effect attendance to Garrett’s shows?
“I don’t see more people at my shows because my shows have generally been full,” he said. “But what it’s done, the number of shows have certainly increased. The phone is ringing more often. That part is a fact, I’ve been on the road a lot this summer, more so than in recent summers.”
Diamond has been a popular personality to emulate for many a tribute artist, surpassed only by Elvis and the Beatles. But Garrett has been honing his craft for 23 years, becoming one of the best tributes in the business and his resume proves it.
In 1974, he moved from New York City to Las Vegas along with his parents and younger brother. In 1980 he formed the group Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven and for 15 years achieved prominence as the leader and front man of one of the city’s premiere oldies and classic rock groups.
Garrett saw Diamond in his first Las Vegas concert engagement when he made his Las Vegas debut opening the Theater for the Performing Arts at the Aladdin Hotel/Casino in 1976.
“He held the audience including myself spellbound, and broke all existing Las Vegas concert records at that time,” Garrett stated. “I had been a fan since 1969 and I’d always thought that he had written some of the most poignant lyrics I’d ever heard and I knew he had a way of expressing his lyrics that no other singer/songwriter had done before or since.”
In 1995, Garrett was hired by John Stuart and Paul Revere (of The Raiders) to portray Neil Diamond in the “Legends In Concert” show in Honolulu, Hawaii, the city’s biggest theatrical show and the world’s most popular impersonation. What was to be a two-month “trial” engagement for Garrett ended up being a three year gig.
In August of 1998, Garrett returned to Las Vegas. Since then, he has kept up a steady tour around the country (and occasionally the world), performing in more towns and cities than most tribute artists in the industry. He developed a large following and is known worldwide as the ‘’King of Diamonds,’’ one of North America’s most popular and sought after Neil Diamond tribute acts. He also makes regular stops in Laughlin at the Riverside Resort.
What makes him one of the best is his reverence for Diamond, Diamond’s music and how he believes Diamond should be treated.
“I call myself a ‘by the book’ artist,” he explained. “In other words, I rarely do anything on stage that he didn’t do or wouldn’t do. I never step out of character. Basically Neil Diamond has his base show, he has songs he cannot not do, and then he alternates some in and out. I do the exact same thing.”
Garrett’s plan is to keep doing what he’s doing, proving Diamond’s music is still relevant, and his legacy worth preserving, whether Diamond is touring or not.
“I don’t think he’s ever not been relevant because that was proven to me last year when I went to the L.A. Forum for his concert,” he said “I saw the second of two concerts, and they were both completely sold out with 19,000 people. It’s safe to say his general audience is over 50 but certainly it is very noticeable you’ve got people in their 20s, their teens, and people representing every decade at his concerts.
“To my credit, there’s always been a mixture of ages at my shows as well, even though they have been predominately over 55,” he added. “I always see some young people no matter where I go. He has definitely rolled over to the under 50 crowd, and the main reason for it is two words, ‘Sweet Caroline.’ It’s probably the most popular karaoke song and I say people in their 20s — college kids they go into bars, they drink and they’re singing it and they’re singing it everywhere.
“I absolutely feel more of a sense of obligation, a good obligation, but it’s still an obligation for me,” he said. “To me, it’s something I enjoy doing and I have every intention of keeping his legacy going. There’s a lot of people that never got the opportunity to see him live.
“I’m never going to play the sizes of places he’s played, but in my own little cubbyhole, wherever I am, I’m going to do my best to give people an idea of what it was like to see Neil Diamond in concert during the late ’70s or early ’80s.
“After seeing him 17 times, I’m pretty familiar with his on-stage persona and his personality. Hopefully it’s something I get to do for a long, long time,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and the shows in Vegas and around the country, everywhere I go, they all appear to sell out, which means people still love him.”
Garrett returns to Don’s Celebrity Theater with his show “Neil Diamond — The Tribute” Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 22-26.
“I always look forward to playing Laughlin,” Garrett said. “Laughlin is the only place I work where I get to do five consecutive nights, so I get to stay put. I get to relax, I don’t have to pack and unpack, I get to sit for a bit. The next day, I know where I’m going, and I know what I’m doing and I enjoy it immensely. Plus the audiences are always — and I’m going on four years there — extremely receptive and appreciative, and great. I look forward to Laughlin every single year, it’s one of my favorite places to go.”