Diamond in the Rough
There has always been a divide in musical tastes between generations. When the music of groups like The Diamonds came along with its nonsensical lyrics filled with “la-la-la-las,” “bom-de-bom-boms,” and “doo-wah ditties,” the kids ate it up. The parents meanwhile were a bit suspicious about this stuff called “rock and roll.” It was certainly a far cry from the sounds of Perry Como and Vaughn Monroe.
Parents, however, started to embrace this new sound delivered by well-dressed young men singing carefully blended harmonies.
That all changed, again, with the parent/kid musical gap scenario a few years later when the long-haired Beatles, appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” with “edgier” sounds and harmonies replacing the “doo-wah ditties.”
As the decades go by and the music scene continues to change, this generational debate is everlasting. However, there are still bands today, such as the a capella sensation Pentatonix, selling out arenas on tour by delivering the harmonies reminiscent of their precursors, showing that the oldies truly are golden.
The Diamonds remain dedicated to those delicious harmonious sounds and deliver them to Riverside Resort audiences about this time almost every year. This trip the guys are playing Don’s Celebrity Theatre in the Riverside Resort on Wednesday-Sunday, Jan. 9-13.
It was The Diamonds who, in 1957, recorded what has been dubbed, “the national anthem of rock and roll” in the song, “Little Darlin’.” Though it copied strains of earlier songs (the bass talking refrain is right out of the Ink Spots’ well, and the “doo watta watties” are pure doo wop), the song was, in turn, copied. It became so synonymous with the ’50s scene that if you start thinking about malt shops and craving a Mel’s Diner burger at the song’s first notes you can be forgiven. The song sold approximately 20 million copies.
The Diamonds, however, were no one-hit wonders. They took their polished harmonies and elements borrowed from doo-wop and created other monster hits including “The Stroll” and “Silhouettes.”
Along the way, they earned three gold records, made 33 appearances on “American Bandstand,” and were featured on the soundtracks of the film American Graffiti and TV show “Happy Days. They have been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame.
But how does it all hold up in a musical world now filled with a lot of flash and technological wizardry?
It fits in fine, thank you very much — and probably so because the music of The Diamonds is steeped in actual singing ability, which never goes out of style.
Through the years, The Diamonds have learned one important lesson — the durability of this classic rock and roll music is as much about the future as it is about the past. As a result, the guys continue to expand their audience to this day, performing in a variety of venues and settings worldwide. These performances include symphony orchestras, performing arts theaters and major concert halls, on cruise ships, in casinos, at county and state fairs, on tours of England, Ireland, Brazil, Chile, Korea, and Japan, for benefit concerts, corporate conventions and at nightclubs.
The original members of The Diamonds have either joined Elvis or are beyond the touring age. But their music has been handed down to subsequent configurations of the group. The current line-up of The Diamonds consists of Jerry Siggins (lead singer), Sean Sooter (tenor), Jeff Dolan (bass singer), and Gary Owens (baritone). Owens has been with Diamonds the longest (since 1973).
Known for their tight vocal harmonies, they not only perform the classic hits of The Diamonds but usually add other benchmark songs from the ’50s and early ’60s to the show — songs like “Blue Moon,” “At The Hop,” “Sherry,” “Splish Splash,” and more.
Most often the guys are in town around the holidays, mixing in Christmas favorites with “The Stroll,” and “Silhouettes,” but now that all the revelry is over for the time being, The Diamonds’ setlist is all over the charts with “Mostly Medley Madness” devoted to many of the many well-known harmony groups throughout the ages, a.k.a. classic rock and roll with today’s attitude.
“We were at the Riverside the last few years and the fact they’re having us back is a good recommendation,” said Gary Owens, baritone singer and group spokesman. “We’ve changed the show up quite a bit since the last time we were in Laughlin, by adding a ‘Jersey Boys’ medley and a Motown medley.
“Of course, we’re famous for our hits like ‘The Stroll,’ ‘Silhouettes,’ and ‘Little Darlin’,′ so we’ll be doing those, but we’ll also add some surprises people may not have heard before. The Diamonds are backed by a band of horns, keyboard and drums.”
It doesn’t matter where they go or what music they perform, the first strains of that “national anthem of rock and roll,” makes crowds go wild.
“It’s hard to beat ‘Little Darlin’,′ in whatever show we do,” he said. “As soon as the audience hears the beginning, they react to it.”
Not only were the Diamonds among the first doo-wop pioneers, they also took a different route getting their music out to the public.
“The Diamonds were one of the first groups that broke out of that ‘tour bus’ thing,” Owens said. “You know, back when multiple groups used to go around together and do their three-hit songs on bus tours? Instead, The Diamonds were one of the first groups that put an act together and started working supper clubs back then...and kept it going as a nightclub act, becoming more than a singing group.
“Those are the traditions they were determined to pass on to the second generation — and now, the third generation of the group, which I’m now in,” he added. “We don’t just get up and sing. We entertain and interact wherever we go. We make sure people are entertained.
“One of the most often heard comments is ‘you guys have so much energy.’ We put everything we’ve got into every song, like it’s the first time we’ve performed it — no matter how many times. Sometimes they tell us, ‘we wish we could dance.’ And some will get up in the aisles and dance.”
What is also surprising in today’s fragmented musical market, harmony and style have made a huge comeback making an impact the size of a tidal wave.
“People love the harmony because that is harder and harder to find with today’s entertainers,” Owens said. “Also, we dress nicely and people appreciate that. Some country groups look like they just walked in off the streets. We try to be as classy as we can. That’s one of the traditions of the group over the years. It was a different world back then.”
So where did “The Stroll” come from?
“Actually, kids back then were originally dancing a version of ‘the stroll’ to the tune ‘C.C. Rider.’ Dick Clark of ‘American Bandstand’ came to The Diamonds and said, ‘I need a song to go with the dance.’ So The Diamonds created ‘The Stroll.’”
Is there an explanation how “Little Darlin’” became such a mega-hit?
“The thing about that song is that it’s got all the elements of a classic ’50s rock song — the high tenor ‘la la las’ and the opening falsetto primal scream,” Owens said. “It’s got the bass singer’s low part and the nonsensical non-syllable parts — the ‘bom bom bom do-wah ditty watty watties.’
“It is considered the biggest hit in rock never to make it to No. 1. The highest it got was No. 2 — Elvis had the No. 1 spot with ‘All Shook Up,’” he explained.
A show highlight includes audience participation.
“We do a version of Dion and the Belmonts’ ‘The Wanderer’ where Sean goes out into the audience and mugs it up with the ladies,” Owens said. ’He’s like the wild man in the show. It’s always a high point to see what he’s going to do. The song is a fun way to play with the audience and get them involved.”
Will classic rock have a future with newer generations?
“The music is going to live on. It still gets to young people,” he said. “We did a four-day run in Tampa, Florida, where there were young people in the audience, often the grandkids of our original fans who love the music.
“I suppose in some respect there is a limited shelf life to the songs, but we try to keep the music alive and spread it to a new generation through our concerts. I guess we’ll see how it all pans out.”
Perhaps with popular harmony groups like Pentatonix on the playing field the music has a fighting chance.
“People love vocal harmonies,” Owens said. “It’s one of those things that’s a real human thing — to be able to listen to four or five voices singing together. It gets you in the soul.
“As far as the rude and crude lyrics of much of today’s music, it is the way it is and there’s nothing we or our fans can do about it but to use our God-given choice of not listening.
“People come to our show and enjoy what they hear,” he added. “The fact that we’re still out there doing fairs, festivals, cruise ships and casinos means it still works... and we’re still rockin’.
“We’ve been pleased to find a growing audience among all age groups. They love songs they can understand, remember and actually sing the words to — today, tomorrow, or even 20 years from now.”