This blog contains articles about our 4o-plus years of touring as the Neil Diamond band. Some of the material is taken from the pages of the Arch Angel Post-Bugle Intelligencer, an on-tour newsletter which I wrote for 30 of those years, and have since updated to make them hopefully relevant to 21st-century readers.

The Diamondville Chronicles

Where were we 40 years ago? 

Four decades ago, we were working hard, puttling together a piece of moviemaking titled "The Jazz Singer." There are a lot of stories about the making of the film, and many of them are true. But here's my favorite clip from the finished product, a scene where Alan Lindgren and I are playing a duet of a song called "On the Robert E. Lee." There were lots of hits on the soundtrack album, and this isn't one of them, but it remains my favorite, because it's so doggoned much fun to play. It's a song you couldn't do today, because parties are illegal. Enjoy!

RIP Mr. Simon Stokes 

Sadness today, at news of the passing of veteran troublemaker Simon Stokes. Google him if you're not familiar with the name. I'm including a video I completed recently of a track we recorded together some years ago. Working with Simon allowed me, REQUIRED me to stretch way beyond my usual limits. This song is a fine example of what Simon brought to the table.We met through our mutual friend, guitarist Richard Bennett, but I had actually heard Simon's Black Whip Thrill Band at the Artists and Models Ball in 1970 or so, shortly after we arrived in LA. We later inexplicably became golfing buddies, and the first time we went to dinner at Simon and Maria's Hollywood home, I was astonished to find a copy of my Masters of Deceit album in his record collection. We recorded a lot of rather naughty songs together, which must have broadened my base. We did a tribute to Simon a couple of years ago, and it was the only time my name ever appeared on a poster next to that of Jello Biafra—and a bunch of other wild folks, too. My condolences to his family, especially his wife Maria, ever sweet and patient.

A Couble Order of You —words and music by Simon Stokes and Tom Hensley © 1990 Your Name Here Music (BMI) and Scoundrel Music (ASCAP)

Saxophone, Don Markese

 

A Medley of Memories 

It was nice to be confronted with this memory from 1986. Alan Lindgren and I were co-musical directors for the CBS special, which was done at Television City, at Beverly and Fairfax. I arrived early one afternoon for rehearsal, just as a tour group was being shown around the building. As I came in, Carol was arriving at the same time. She saw me and came over and gave me a big, enthusiastic hug. The people touring the building observed that taking place, and I'm sure they all asked each other, "Who is that woman hugging Tom?"

 

Glenda the Good 

During our final tour, in April of 2017, we played Fort Lauderdale, Florida, never one of my favorites, but it's not my tour. And we weren't staying in Ft. La-di-da, we were up the road in Hollywood. Yes, there's a Hollywood everywhere, even in FLorida. 

\While scanning the local press for interesting day-off activities, I came across mention of a performer working at the Tropics Piano Bar & Restaurant in a place called Wilton Manors, and the name connected immediately. 

It was a singer named Glenda Grainger, who was “performing songs from the Great American Songbook.” I recalled having backed Ms. Grainger in 1965 at the Embers supper club in Indianapolis, where I led the house band. Shows at the Embers invariably featured a singer and a comic. Over the course of 14 shows a week, I generally learned the comic’s act and formed an opinion of the singer. 

The performers were usually somewhere mid-arc in their careers, headed up or headed down, but it was hard to peg Glenda. She sang pretty well, and had a record out that seemed to be getting some attention, doing talk shows and an occasional film, but wasn’t really well-known, and she was opening for the comic, an odd duck named Poncie Ponce, who came to national attention in 1959 as the wise-cracking cab driver Kazuo Kim on the Warner Bros. detective series Hawaiian Eye, which ran for four years on ABC.

Kazuo Kim was known for his trademark straw hat and ubiquitous ukulele, as a occasional informant for the detectives, or as he idly plucked the uke while leaning against his cab waiting for a fare. The show's intro showed Kazuo Kim floating in the ocean on an inner tube, wearing the hat and plucking his uke. His comedy wasn’t much, as I recall, but he grabbed the crowd with what we described as his “Sophie Tucker Hello God” medley, a closer which concluded with him playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” as a small American flag popped out of his ukelele. 

Poncie was a bit grumpy by that point in his career, and I remember that he got into an argument with my bass player, which nearly escalated into a mini-fistfight, over an issue I can’t remember. 

On the other hand, nobody had any argument with Glenda, a buxom, attractive English girl with decent pipes and a genial nature. 

The thing I remember most is that a week or so after her stint at the Embers ended, I got a lovely, handwritten note from Glenda, thanking me for accompanying her so beautifully, and ending with a request for me to help her reach some radio stations with her new record. 

Now, fifty years later, Poncie is deceased, but Glenda was still going strong at age 80, as I learned from the Florida Jewish Journal in an article which neatly filled in the many blanks in my knowledge of Glenda, of whom I knew little when she played the Embers: 

Grainger was born in England as Gitell Goldberg. As a child, she remembered many fearful nights worrying whether she and her family would be able to withstand the attacks on England from Nazi Germany. 

"Those years helped solidify the importance of family as well as the importance of being Jewish. It also gave me confidence to pursue my dreams of singing by age 18," said Grainger. 

"I changed my name to Glenda Grainger not because of any negative feelings for being Jewish, but because I wanted a marquee name to get hired in show business, as was the custom in those days." 

She had hit a record in England in the late 60’s with one of the songs from the James Bond movie Thunderball (the one in which King Errisson starred), called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” She appeared in a classic French Film Noir called “Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan,” and numerous films in Mexico, and was featured in the movie “Hook, Line and Sinker, where she played a lifeguard who gave Jerry Lewis CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation, a nasty job but somebody had to do it. She eventually decided to reside in the United States and Florida in the 1960s, mainly as a singer in cabaret shows. The positive reviews to Grainger's performances in Las Vegas, New York and South Florida earned her appearances on the of Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. 

In South Florida, Grainger sang at prestigious hotels, such as the Fontainebleau Hilton, Marco Polo and Sheraton Bal Harbour. 

“As much as I fondly remember my years acting, it is singing that keeps me going, wanting to perform as often as I can," said Grainger. 

And I also learned about Glenda’s life away from the gig: 

Outside of show business, Grainger had a happy private life. She was married to show business promoter Lenny Miller from 1962 until he passed on in 1994. 

"Lenny and I had so much in common. We both loved show business, we both were Jewish and I loved him so much that I decided at one point to retire from singing so that I could help Lenny with his business. I have wonderful memories of my life with Lenny." 

In 2000, Grainger met Jerry Cohen, an Orthodox Jewish man, whom she married and moved to Harrisburg, PA to be with him until Cohen died in 2009. 

"Love is about caring, sharing and making sacrifices. There was little opportunity for me to sing in Harrisburg, but Jerry wanted to be there, so I went to live in Harrisburg because of love." 

"I have been lucky to have been in love twice in my life and would not want to change anything in my life even if I could," said Grainger. 

I really thought about going down to the Tropics Restaurant & Piano Bars, described as “a warm, friendly place where you can enjoy fine dining, cocktails and live entertainment. Patrons can relax in one of our three dining rooms or three full-service bars. Proudly serving South Florida’s gay and lesbian community for over 20 years, we’re known by regulars as a place where good friends convene and memories are made. Tourists remember us for quality dining, entertainment and a welcoming atmosphere unique to this establishment.” 

It would have been nice to say hello after 50 years to Glenda, but it would have been a 30-45 minute trip each way, and it seemed more prudent to use the day off to remain inert, and save my convening and memory-making to my own gig. And I could tell PBI readers all about it almost as if I’d been there.

Cher and Cher Alike 

The picture shows an imagined visit of Kurt Vonnegut and Andy Warhol to the Hollywood Bowl, for no reason. This story is about an altogether different night, one when our band was hanging around backstage before a show at  the Bowl in 2015, when in walked Cher. No last name required.et 

We didn't often have pre-show visitors, preferring to do meet-and-greets after the show; so her arrival did not go unnoticed. She walked through the common area briskly and disappeared into Neil's dressing room for a few minutes of visiting. Those of us who were there at that moment began discussing our history with, naturally, Cher.

We reallized that every band member present had played on one or another of her hits over the span of her career. My memory was an early one, since I played piano on "Half Breed" in the early 1970s. Alan Lindgren recorded tunes during her disco era, while Reinie Press and Ron Tutt had done others along the way. Cher, of course, didn't meet or greet any of us on her way in and out through the room, but that wasn't really expected or required. We were just amused that we all had our own individual pieces of Cher's history.

I had an extra-special memory of her, from a moment she probably would not have preferred to recall. I was in A&M studio A the night Phil Spector brought her into the room during a session for John Lennon's Roch and Roll album, announcing "John, this is Cher. She's going to sing along on the next song."

John's reply was "The f*** she is!" 

There's more to that story, but I've dined on it for years, and there may be a few meals left in it yet, so I'll save it for when I'm hungry.

Here's One You Might Have Missed... 

For people interested in such things, here's a video that turned up recently on the web, a song only done in our show a few times--it's titled "Wake Up The Band," here, and it's based on a song from my "Taking America to America" album, where its title was "Hosty." The original lyrics were about the food in our hotel's hospitality suite, and the vocal was done by Julia Waters. On this one, Neil is singing and introducing the band members, including a rare sighting of trombonist Nick Lane.

Regis and Tom 

Sad to read today of the passing of Regis Philbin, a real TV icon. I liked Regis in general, but specifically I liked him because one night in 1986, he and his then-broadcast partner, Kathie Lee Gifford, came to see our show at Madison Square Garden in New York. After the show, he sent word that he wanted to invite me to be on their show the next day. Specifically me he wanted to invite. That was not a request I was accustomed to receiving.

Mind you, mornings after a show night historically tended to be quite fuzzy for me. Show nights tend to run late, and that one did so. Regis and Kathy Lee's show, some may recall, was quite an early one. My wife and I had to drag ourselves out of bed before 6 am to be transported to the ABC studios, and I can't say that it was anywhere close to being easy to do so. When I look at the clips from that morning, I'm amazed that I appear to be wide awake, even though I know that I wasn't anywhere near to consciousness. Judge for yourself.

In those days, I wrote a song about every town we played in, and they wanted me to perform the song I had written about New York, and that was fun and all, but hardly the stuff of television history. But then, after I finished it, Regis had a little surprise in store. Here is the clip of Regis and I doing his number, and I dedicate it to his memory.

Foster Family 

On the night we all convened to begin our 2017 tour, the final one, most of the band sat up late at night in the lobby bar of our hotel in Fresno, and talked about the early days, and especially about the late Dennis St. John, our original drummer and leader, and the man who really put the band together. 

We realized in retrospect, what should have been an obvious truth: the band was created for a marathon not a sprint. It wasn’t an accident that Neil’s group of musicians remained intact for four decades, even though Dennis sadly didn’t make it all the way through. It was intended all along that the band had to be capable of living harmoniously on tour for many years, and that the personalities had to be fairly compatible and congenial, which wasn’t always a given in the music business. For example: 

I was officially hired for the Neil Diamond band in 1975. I had been doing some sessions with Dennis, whom I had originally met at the legendary jam session parties at Brent and Carrie Seawell’s house in Echo Park. One of those recording sessions was for the "Serenade" album, and afterward he invited me to go with him to Neil’s home and have a talk. Naturally, I did so, and we spoke for a little while about touring, and that was pretty much it. Very quickly, we began rehearsing at a soundstage on the Paramount Pictures lot, an activity which continued for a couple of months before we hit the road for the first time. 

It was not until many years later that I learned I had not been the first pianist who’d been invited to visit the band at Paramount. They had earlier spent a while playing with a young Canadian fellow named David Foster, who eventually became a successful producer. Right now, Netflix has been running a documentary about his impressive career, and the rest of this page will be a tiny footnote to that.

Foster wrote in his 2008 autobiography, modestly titled “Hit Man,” his version of his brief adventure in our world. 

"I also played, briefly, with Neil Diamond. Or with his band, anyway. Sometimes you’ll show up at the rehearsal studio and you’l play with the musicians, for days and weeks on end, and the main guy shows up only when you’re done rehearsing—when you’re ready for him. I never even saw Neil, and, in his perpetual absence, Alan Lindgren, a talented keyboard player and arranger, was running the show. I think he was a little threatened by my talent, so one night—after I think I’d performed admirably well—he asked me not to come back."

I worked with David Foster a few times over the years, and I could have assured him that his talent had nothing to do with it. He was a great player, but not someone you would necessarily want in your family.

Despite all that, Foster ended up actually producing a few tracks we did, and our band recorded a couple of them in his home studio in Malibu. He had been through one of his divorces around that time, and his latest ex-wife was living in the house next door. Whenever we took a break from recording, we went out into his back yard, where he had installed a fence to separate the two houses. When we were outside, we could hear his children, on the other side of the fence, whimpering, “Daddy, daddy…” It was not something you easily forget.

On the weekend after those sessions, a paid advertising insert appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the kind of piece for which publicists pay up to get their clients included. It was called “Father of the Year,” and among those appearing in the pages as Fathers of the year was an old friend of ours (but not part of the family), guess who?  We all shared a nice chuckle over that one.

Years later, we backed Neil at a benefit at the Beverly Hilton, one for which David Foster was the musical director. When we were gathering for the afternoon rehearsal, David asked our man Sam where to find the band, and Sam said something like, “I don't know, maybe they’re threatened by your talent.” 

“Oh, you saw that?” he asked. 

“They ALL saw it,” Sam told him.

It's a family thing.

NARAS, My Gosh, to Thee 

In the year 2008 A.D., the Diamondville touring year consisted of 82 shows, exactly the same as the number of games played by an NBA team during a regular, i.e. non-pandemic, season. And our appearances during the 2009 Grammy week would therefore correspond neatly with the playoffs, and the band played itself off quite nicely. But first... 

Friday night, February 6, our vocalist was to be honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year. The charity event surrounding that award was amazingly successful, even in an economy which was still reeling from the after-effects of the Bush years. 

The 1956 Thunderbird, which our band had chipped in to purchase as a gift for Mr. Diamond some years earlier, was to be auctioned off to benefit MusiCares, a charity for music people in times of need. The opening bid was set at $50,000. Some band members floated a suggestion that we chip in once more and buy it again, and give it to Neil all over again, but we worried that doing so would turn the T-Bird into something akin to an albatross. 

Cooler heads prevailed, especially when it was pointed out that the auto’s value had appreciated over the years to far more than we had paid for it the first time around. In fact, MusiCares head guy Neil Portnow won the bidding at $75,000, and we are happy to report that Portnow paid for it without a complaint. Besides, who wanted to hear Portnow’s complaint? 

The audience for the Musicares show that year was an impressive collection of notables of all styles and eras. Right off the bat, I saw Pat Boone arriving, and took the opportunity to greet him and remind him that we had actually worked together once, exactly 50 years earlier. He, in turn, reminded me that HE was the artist who boosted our vocalist’s career confidence by recording Neil’s song “Ten Lonely Guys,” co-written with nine other lonely songwriters. When Mr. Boone walked the red carpet at the start of the evening, he was asked by an interviewer on to name his favorite Neil Diamond song. Naturally enough, he replied “Ten Lonely Guys,” causing the channel 11 reporter  to say “Wha...?” Or maybe it was WTF? 

Inside, near us at a front table, sat our host for the evening, the always-cheerful Jimmy Kimmel, along with his then-lady pal Sarah Silverman. Press reports at the time had them described the couple as being  on the outs, but we witnessed enough kanoodling during “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” to make us suspect that her video claim of having intimate relations with Matt Damon was more of an artistic statement than a factual one. 

The lineup of contemporary artists who performed selections from our setlist was impressive, and each of them did justice to the material while bringing it into their oeuvre, in some cases giving our Muzoids cause to pause and contemplate some ideas about things we could do to add some novel pizazz to our nightly versions.

The house band, led by producer/bassist Don Was, did a bang-up job of accompanying the multitude. His ensemble included a raft of studio veterans who’ve played behind everybody over the years, and since our Muzoids have been in that same role over the years, they knew many of the players and could identify with their tasks and appreciate how well they achieved them. 

As a matter of fact, there were occasional moments when we would say, “Hey, that’s not RIGHT—wait, maybe that’s okay after all. You know, that’s actually a GOOD idea! We should try THAT!” 

For example Kid Rock’s version of “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime,” of all things, was an eye-opener. All our Muzoids expressed admiration for his treatment of the chorus, and mulling a similar approach for our future treatment of the song. Less likely would be for us to incorporate elements of Terence Blanchard and Cassandra Wilson’s trippy version of “September Morn” into our set, but then, one never knows. 

The Foo Fighters drew approval for arriving with their approach to “Delirious Love” fully thought-out and operational. Coldplay, on the other hand, seemed to be learning “I’m a Believer” during their rehearsal. Still, their frat-house jam version really worked for that song. 

Jennifer Hudson seemed not to grasp the section of “Holly Holy” where it goes to the A chord, where she continued to sing in the key of E, until clashing notes signalled the error. At that point  she went into a vocalese section so brilliant that any flaws were forgiven and forgotten. We’re still not sure whether she did that on purpose or it was just a lucky accident, but it’s safe to say that she KILLED. 

Next came a video clip of Neil relating the story of how he accidentally included a band called Los Volcanes in the show’s lineup. It was priceless and perfectly-timed, and the group’s performance did not disappoint. In fact, Larry Klimas had to contain himself from joining in on air accordion. 

Faith Hill sang “Flowers” with our fella, and during rehearsal she announced “I’ve never danced with anyone but my husband and my brothers.” Thankfully, she did not tell our vocalist, “and YOU are NOT my BROTHAH!” And she danced with our vocalist, just as Princess Diana had done previously. That guy will dance with anybody.

Two days later, we all reconvened at Staples for the actual televised awards ceremony. It was my first time at the Grammies since my first time at the Grammies, back in the 1970s. It was a lot more fun then. The show was at the Shrine Auditorium, and the after-parties were all in various rooms at the Biltmore Hotel. We danced to the music of Count Basie and his orchestra, and the Count himself was alive and playing. There was country music and a chamber ensemble and other types of real music going on all evening. By 2009, however, things had regressed considerably regarding variety, and the Staples Center, a joint we knew well, was the venue.. 

When we arrived, we were shown to a small food-deprived suite upstairs overlooking the back of the stage, where we hung out for 500 minutes or so, but who was counting?  We watched the first few hours of the rehearsal in our room, trying to reconcile the puny-speaker TV sound with the bass-trap thunder that was rolling up from the stage downstairs. 

Some highlights snuck through the rumble: One was Sugarland, whose performance grabbed the ear of even hard-core rappers in the crowd. And, once again, Jennifer Hudson shined. Her pipes were enhanced by a big gospel choir, which had occupied the dressing rooms adjacent to ours. At one point, a trip to the men’s room meant walking through their midst as their rehearsal was in progress, resulting in the best stereo effect I’ve heard in years. 

A mid-afternoon meal was served, and we learned that our Muzoids are not the only ones who can lay waste to a spread. Back to waiting. 

Finally, the show kicked off and eventually we were summoned to our on-stage positions to play our obligatory three minutes of Sweet Caroline. 

And yes, it was sweet to look out at the front rows of the audience and see Paul McCartney and Jay Z smiling and clapping and singing along during that irresistible song. 

When we finished, there was still some show left to go, so we were able to fly under the radar, out the door, out of the parking garage and onto the freeway, heading home to see the show again in the comfort of our own sofas. 

America the Bountiful 

When I was a mere teen-ager, one of my earliest gigs was a 4th of July party at the Bloomington, Indiana country club. It was an awful evening of loud drunks behaving badly, including an especially abrasive lady whose idea of fun consisted of lighting firecrackers and throwing them under the piano. 

Afterward I made two vows: one that I would never again play at the Bloomington Country Club, and one that I would never again play a gig on the fourth of July. 

The first vow was an easy one—I haven’t had any reason to set foot inside the country club since. I’m sure the succeeding generation was more cool and cultured than the bunch I played for, but I haven’t had any reason to find out. 

The second vow was considerably more difficult. As it has turned out, some of my best gigs have been on the fourth, and I’ll run down a few of them for you, starting with the one pictured at left: 

1976: We did the first show at the then-brand-new Aladdin Theatre of the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. It has since been imploded, but it was quite a showplace then, and our show and our audience did the joint up proud. Plus we got to watch late-night fireworks from the top of the Jockey Club, where we were staying. And there was an extra bonus: our guitarist Richard Bennett exchanged marriage vows with his wife Tina at a big wedding in our vocalist’s suite at the Aladdin. And they are still happily married, and produced another guitarist for our band, their son Nick! 

The photo includes Sarah and myself in our 1976 disguises, our kids Cathy and Tim, along with their baby sitter, Missy. Missy was hired to come with us for the weekend, but when it was time to go home, she wouldn't let us pay her, because she felt she had won so much money playing poker. "The games are a lot easier here than in Gardena," she told us. She later visited us on the road and played in the Diamondville poker game, where she cleaned out everybody at the table, causing me to be barred from bringing guests to future games. 

It seems that in between those two Diamondville visits, she had become a professional poker player. I'll always remember NY promoter Ron Delsener asking me "Who was that girl? She couldn't LOSE!"  I suspect she still can't. Hi, Melissa! But I digress.

Another fourth found us in Ireland, where our friends at Woburn Abbey made us feel at home by coming up with a gen-u-wine American-style picnic for us. Hot dogs, corn, baked beans, all served on proper English china.

On yet another fourth we were in Dublin, and our stellar catering folks at the venue prepared this setting, pictured at right, for us, not to mention the impressively multicultural prentation. 

And then there was the fourth in Boston, jamming with the Pops, and hanging with our TV host Craig Ferguson, with whom we swapped tales of Glasgow. Possibly our biggest fourth was back in 1986, when we were part of a massive event called Liberty Weekend. It was to celebrate the centennial of the opening of the Statue of Liberty, and included the statue's reopening after a massive, years-long refurbishing. It was a celebrity-packed event, and I have stories about that, but it was mainly special for me because not only was I playing "America" with Neil, but Mrs. Hensley was with me, joining in the chorus of New York studio singers who were made up the cast of a spectacular production. Here’s a video of the entire opening night concert. It’s a full meal to take in, but you'll find us in there eventually, along with a lot of people who are actually famous.

I’m happy to report that in none of the events since my first was I ever subjected to lit firecrackers being thrown under the piano. Thank you very much.