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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!

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 

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.

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.

The Arrival and Departure of the Stogie Era 

Cigarmania hit Diamondville big-time back at the end of the last century. Our vocalist either acquired or  revived a powerful craving for smoking stogies, and some others soon got the bug too. Even I, who had never even indulged in a cigarette, found myself smoking Culebras, those odd, spiral-shaped cigars, which were sold wound together in pairs. 

When word got around that Neil was really, really into cigars, the manager of each arena in each itinerary soon began to gift him with a big box of fancy Cubans as a gift welcoming him to whatever city we were in that night. 

And after the show ended, Neil would reliably get on our bus heading back to the hotel, walk down the aisle, and generously hand a cigar to any company member who showed the slightest sign of wanting one. Since these were not simple cheroots, but high-end, fabulous specimens, there were plenty of takers, including those like myself, who had never thought of themselves as cigar smokers. 

This behavior continued through a trip to Australia, where King Errisson famously walked into a banquet room full of stogie-suckers, and announced loudly: “It’s a good thing Neil didn’t take up (expletives deleted).” 

The fascination eventually waned, as such manias often do and things returned to normal. But a funny thing then happened: our singer’s voice became better than ever before. 

We weren’t quite sure whether his vocals were improved by his period of intense cigar-smoking, or by the subsequent ending of the period of intense cigar-smoking, but either way, it led us to some of our best shows ever, vocal-wise-speaking.

Tulsa—Don't Spell it Backwards! 

Way back on October 20, 2008, as our plane was preparing to land in Tulsa where we were to perform the next night, our stellar trombonist Arturo Velasco shared with us that he was experiencing a toothache. 

Not a little tingle-tooth, mind you, but a real full-on toothache. And since our Muzoids were always well looked after, he was quickly delivered to a dental surgery unit, where his big mouth was worked on until will into the evening. 

Most people would rather have a root canal than spend a couple of days in Tulsa, but Art was the rare exception, a man who got to do both. 

In the painting at the top left, Arturo is shown undergoing treatment from a very caring nurse, albeit one with liquor perhaps on her breath. The photo at the bottom right shows Arturo’s pre-root-canal state—just to prove that he wasn’t faking it, just to get attention. 

A well-known politician is giving the good people of Tulsa a painful extraction of his own this weekend, and a lot of us will look forward to when it’s all over and we can get back to sensible people doing sensible things. 

When the plan to stage a gigantic Trump rally at the BOK Center emerged, some wacky claims were floated for the number of projected attendees. The Trump crowd has an uneasy relationship with numbers, preferring to make them up as needed. Those of us who’ve actually worked in the BOK Center have a little clearer idea of its actual capacity—19,199, and if we could have squeezed in a few more, rest assured our accountants would have found a way to do so. it. The claimed numbers were later reduced to something a bit closer to reality. 

The BOK Center (Big Old Kalamity, we respectfully called it) was designed by a gent named Cesar Pelli, the same dude who got big bucks for designing the Enron building in Houston. Speaking of numbers, any connection there? 

The choice to hold their rally during a  brutal pandemic may not have been wise, but at least they are managing to sneak through the heart of “Tornado Alley” during a brief period of no tornadoes. 

Side note: Tulsa is filled with Art Deco buildings, but the rally attendees probably won’t get to see any of them, because they’ll be elsewhere, trying not to die. 

There is some precedent for infectious appearances in town. ªThe ghost of Enrico Caruso is said to haunt Tulsa’s Brady Theater. He is supposed to have caught a cold there, which led to his later death by pleurisy. Just mentioning...

In 1957, a brand new Plymouth Belvedere was buried under the lawn of the Tulsa County Courthouse. There was to be a contest held 50 years later, with the car going to the person who had come closest to guessing the 2007 population of Tulsa. 

Well, they weren’t too good with numbers either, and the contest was all messed up. They weren’t sure exactly who should get the car, and they had trouble trying to get people to help dig it up. Plus. they didn’t know what kind of shape it would be in when it was unearthed. 

But we do know this: the very last Plymouth came off the assembly line in 2001. When DaimlerChrysler killed off the Plymouth brand, they did an arguably  blasphemous thing: Plymouth was the brand of automobile which God used to drive. 

Proof is in the bible: “... then God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Paradise in a Fury!”

I'll Drink to That! 

The sky at home is a beautiful blue, today. it inexplicably flashed me back to the sight of the drink pictured at left, from back in one of our early UK stops. 

Our hotel in London, in a silly piece of cross-promotion, was drawing attention to itself by creating drink specials inspired bu whatever performer was currently appearing at the local venue, which in this case happened to be the O2 Arena. 

During our stay, the bar had three "Concert Cocktails" on their menu. They specialties were: 

Sweet Caroline "Good times never seemed so good…" 

Vodka, kiwi, apricot liqeur, lemon juice, gomme garnished with fresh kiwi 

Love On The Rocks "Ain't no surprise, pour me a drink and I'll tell you some lies…" 

Sloe gin, lemon, almond syrup garnished with fresh raspberries 

Only You "All I needed was the love you gave, all I needed for another day…" 

Sagatiba, creme de menthe, gomme, lime garnished with fresh mint 

Okay, we got the idea of the first two—big hits, lots of recognition. But we wondered why they choose the third one—a mere album cut that very few have ever heard? And one actually written by two mere keyboard players? 

This started me on a litte investigation. I knew that the lyric snippet included in the third item on the drinks menu was not from a Neil Diamond recording at all. A little more searching revealed that it had been a #1 hit in the UK for an a capella group called the Flying Pickets. And still more digging led me to the fact that it was actually a cover of an even more recent recording by an artist called Yazoo. But who was Yazoo? More searching, late into the night. 

"Only You" (with the Lowry's drinks menu lyrics) turned out to have been written by a gentleman named Vince Clarke, while he was with the group Depeche Mode. He offered it to the group as he left, almost a decade earlier. They declined the offer, so he recorded it as a duet with Alison Moyet, using the name…Yazoo

The Flying Pickets version then appeared on a Christmas album, and the song was thus thought by many to be a Christmas ditty. But it was also recorded by Enrique Iglesias, and his version—though it reached #1 on the Billboard Latin chart—did not include any discernible holiday ambiance—no sleigh bells, jingling or otherwise. Nor did the subsequent recording of it by a group with the carefully pronounced name "Boomtang." 

Should we have pretended to be irate at these people for using our title for their song? Hardly, since there is the small matter of the Platters song with the same name which far predates all these others, and ours. 

Which brings us to the question: Why did this song appear on the drinks menu for Neil Diamond? For the answer to that one, we decided to contact the hotel’s bar at their inquiries email address. It’s been twelve years, and we are still waiting for a reply. But I'm sure they've been busy. And, come to think of it, so were we.

Play Ons, Play Offs 

A few years ago, Tonight Show bandleader Questlove sparked a media firestorm after playing “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” while Republican then-presidential candidate Michele Bachmann sauntered onstage on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”? I saw an account which said the Roots drummer was nearly fired over the incident. 

I had read about that incident and I had to mention it when I spoke to Questlove when we appeared on the Tonight Show October 17, 2014. 

As a fan of the original Tonight Show, from the Steve Allen days, I enjoyed walking down the hallway to Studio 6B, where it all had happened. I also enjoyed that the house band, The Roots, all word the t-shirt as pictured at left. We felt so welcomed.

I wanted to discuss Questlove's incident, since back in the 1960s, when I was playing The Jim Gerard Show in Indianapolis (see Tom Sez, a few days ago), we had a guest from the Pentagon, with lots of decorations on his chest. Our band boldly played the military guy on with an anti-Vietnam song, one famously recorded by Country Joe and the Fish, called the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.” 

As I told Questlove, we were lucky to be doing our show long before the internet existed, before infinite replays, and with the minimal scrutiny that came with being a smaller-market show. I didn’t hear anything more about it at first, except when the show was over, a producer who was taking notes for the show’s log casually asked about the name of the piece of music we had played. I told him it was “Muskrat Ramble,” since Country Joe’s song is just an alternate lyric for that older tune, and we had done an instrumental version, so I was technically accurate, and there was no fallout from it. Questlove seemed to enjoy hearing the story, and I enjoyed his reaction to the whole thing. 

Later in that year’s tour, we played Indianapolis, and I made sure to call up the bandleader on the Gerard Show, the late George Nicoloff, who was at that time nearly 90. He always enjoyed keeping track of the other talk shows, so I delightedly shared an account of my Questlove chat with him. George immediately replied, “You forgot the best part.” 


George said, “Later on that same show, they had a fashion show of pregnancy outfits, and the music we played to accompany it was ’Strangers in the Night.’ We did get in a little trouble for that.” 

It was so cool to have my memory updated by someone even older than me. 

New Albany Jam 

After landing in Louisville, and settling in at the downtown Louisville Marriott, the first thing on the agenda of some Touroids was getting out of Louisville. Getting out of the whole damned state of Kentucky, in fact, and heading across a big bridge into the next- door state of Indiana, and the charming little town of New Albany. The lure was a performance by a jazz musician born and raised and still living in New Albany. His name is Jamey Aebersold, and he is legendary in these parts, and beyond, as a great jazz performer and educator. An NEA Jazz Master, in fact, and those are not in abundance. 

Mr. Aebersold was playing with a snappy quartet in a refurbished old building, the River City Winery, in a refurbished old downtown. There was quite a crowd in the room when the first Uberload of Muzoids arrived, and even more so when a second car dumped its load of Hollywood Horns (without their horns, sadly). 

Upon arrival, each Touroid was issued a copy of the Jazz Handbook, published by Jamey Aebersold Jazz, chock full of practice suggestions, tips and tricks, and the secrets of improvisation. A quote: “Everyone has the ability to improvise from the youngest child to the senior citizen. You have to have desire and set aside time to work at it until moving your fingers becomes automatic and the distance between your mind and fingers grows smaller and smaller to where you think an idea and your fingers are already playing it. It’s not magic. If it is, then magic equals hard work and perseverance. When asked, ‘What is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment?’ the Buddha replied, ‘Laziness.’ I agree!” 

Part of Jamey’s successful business model is his jazz play along CD/music packages, which are used all over the world for training by amateurs and professionals alike, including some of our horn players, which was the reason they gave for feeling too intimidated by him to sit in.

A while later, Jamey walked into the audience, and gave each visiting Touroid a 25-cent piece. Yes, a quarter. Not, as you might think, so they could call someone who cared. Instead, he said, “Look at these closely.” Those who did, and whose Codger Vision was functioning properly, could read the name Duke Ellington, which appeared on the back of the coin. 

As I said, the Hollywood Horns arrived disarmed, i.e. sans instruments, so there was no jamming for them, but both our keyboard dudes sat in for a tune each, and acquitted themselves without embarrassment on an unfamiliar instrument. “Acquitted” is the appropriate word, too, because the Muzoids were accompanied by my nephew, Mike Hensley, who had driven into New Albany from Madison, Indiana, where he is a judge holding the same seat once occupied by his father, the late “Honest” Joe Hensley, who was the talented one in my family, with 21 novels published as well as 100 short stories,. My grand total is, let’s see...exactly, uh, none. Unless you count thirty years of this PBI crap. But that’s another story, or perhaps dozens of them. 

Further deponent sayeth naught. 

After the jazz gig shut down (a little after nine), several Muzoids were driven back to the hotel by Judge Mike. On a street corner on the way to his car, they stopped to look at a music store. It was closed, obviously, or Richard Bennett would have been inside shopping, but outside was a weatherbeaten upright piano, and I stopped to play a few bars for the invisible crowd on the street, as shown in the top photo.

The evening was wrapped up nicely by Judge Mike's action-packed drive through the Louisville street grid’s closings, impending demolition and random one-way direction changes. Eventually, they found the hotel, which is why you’re able to read this. 

Footnote 2019: A few days after our lovely evening in New Albany, Jamey Aebersold emailed me that he had just been informed by the management of the River City Winery that his group’s services would no longer be required. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the music business sucks, as does one no-longer-hip establishment in Southern Indiana where being a certified NEA Jazz Legend is insufficient credentials for a gig.

If you're up for a sneak peek at what transpired that evening, you can click here, if you want to. But only if you really want to.

The David C Chronicles 

I posted a salute to David Cassidy on his birthday a while back, and there was more response to it than I expected. I hadn't thought there would be that much overlap between Neil's fan base and David's, but what do I know? I just play piano here. My motto is "give 'em what they want," so here I an item from the Chronicles, published in the PBI during a tour of England in 2008.

In his heyday, David Cassidy was a much bigger star in England than in America. He set attendance records at Wembley surpassing those of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, even though the Partridge Family series had not yet aired in the UK. 
Several years ago, Mr. Cassidy wrote a tell-all autobiography for the UK entitled C’mon Get Happy, which included this interesting comment about his band, and the way he claims they got happy:

“The musicians could be really great at home, but as soon as they walked through the airport metal detectors, they’d turn into animals. I’d watch their behavior go from ‘Bye, honey’ sitting in some hotel room...with peanut butter on their (private parts).” 

Actually, most of the fun seemed to be had not by his band but rather by Mr. Cassidy himself, at least during my brief stay on his tour, and bassist Reinie Press's stay, for that matter, but what do we know? I also notice that Ron Tutt's name is found in the book, but with no mention of peanut butter at all—it was only in reference to Ron's having drummed on David's recording of "Fever." 

As far our tour is concerned, let me say this: since I personally consumed many sandwiches utilizing the ample supply of peanut butter always found in Diamondville Hospitality Suites, I assume and profoundly hope and pray that that peanut butter was only used in manner intended by the Sunpat company (the only peanut butter available there), and not in any manner referred to in David Cassidy's book. 

But the reason for my harping on this is that Mr. Cassidy subsequently published a SECOND autobiography in England, which one would hope would clear up any inaccurate peanut butter references in his FIRST autobiography. (It's unfortunate that the title "I Led Three Lives" had already been used, else David might have been able to complete an autobiographical trilogy.) 

His second work was titled Could it be Forever? Without any spoilers, I can assure you that the answer would be "no." 

Here is the money quote from volume two: 

When the (Madison Square Garden) concert was finished, I ran off the stage and two burly security men wrapped me in an army blanket and threw me in the trunk of a Toyota. They sent limousines out which fans followed, while the Toyota headed off, unnoticed, in another direction. By the time the fans realised they'd been tricked, it was too late; I was gone. 

About four blocks later, we stopped. I hopped out of the trunk and got into the back seat. All the hotels in Manhattan were swarming with fans looking for me; none of the good hotels in Manhattan would take me any more, although my band still stayed in them. I, on the other hand, was driven instead to some dump out in Queens, a cheap motel, where a room had been reserved for me under an alias. Fifteen minutes after starring in the most publicised concert in the world, I was dropped off—still wearing my white jumpsuit, which was drenched in sweat—at a shabby motel. I didn't know where I was. I had no money and no clothes except for what I was wearing. I stayed in the bathtub for an hour and a half, alone. I waited for someone to call or come and get me. I didn't know where anybody was. I understood why Marilyn Monroe couldn't get a date on Saturday nights. I lay there and thought, What am I doing this for? 

I rhetorically am replying "David! What about the smiling faces? What about the spiritual journey? How about hiring a better road manager?" 

Once, after a show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, near Cleveland, I commented to Mr. Cassidy, "David, there wasn't a dry seat in the house tonight."

Coincidentally, I was able to use the exact same line on one of our tours, following a totally rain-soaked performance outdoors at Hampden Road in Glasgow.

AC, DC, Me, See? 

I used to play golf. I played golf on the road, I played golf at home, I read about golf, I watched golf on television. One of those dumb things we old guys do. Until we can't.

I don’t do any of those things now, but I want to write something about golf now, so indulge me. 

At the left is a picture of a golf game at a par 3 course on Whitsett in Studio City, a lovely spot which is now endangered by the property demands of Harvard/Westlake, a voracious educational business which is trying to engulf and devour all the property around it. Our part of town always displays the latest crop of lawn signs disputing yet another heinous plot hatched by Mr. Harvard and Mr. Wetlake. But I digress, already.

In the picture, I’m playing with some great friends, from left: the late Mentor Williams, the lively Simon Stokes, and the late Jack Conrad. Mentor produced a lot of great records in Nashville, and wrote big-time songs, including the hit song "Drift Away." Oh, and his brother Paul has written some songs, too. 

I hired Jack to play bass in the first band I put together for Helen Reddy—he had been playing with the Doors previously, and he later backed the Captain and Tenille. The hit songs he wrote included "Isn't it Time," "Family of Man," and "If Looks Could Kill." Simon Stokes, in the middle,  is legendary. The song of his that I must mention is "A Boa Constrictor Ate my Wife Last Night." Obviously, an all-star foursome, except for moi. But this post isn't about that day. 

It's about a similar day, in 2008, at that same golf course. I was playing with Larry Brown, the great drummer/composer/producer, whose music hides under lots of films and tv shows; and we had slow players ahead of us, and as a result, we were moving along slowly too. We had reached our next tee and were waiting for it to clear so we could keep moving. The pair of gents playing behind us caught up with us as we waited. I heard one of the players speak a few words, and I immediately recognized his accent. I turned around to him and said: “Newcastle.” 

“Garr, no American knows that accent,” he said. I proved that I knew the accent, and that I knew Newcastle, by following up with “The Malmaison.” 

Obviously, this fellow was a touring musician, because because the name of that hotel was the kind of stuff musicians tend to know. It turned out I was right—he toured with a little band called AC/DC. His name was Brian Johnson, and he was the lead singer with the group. You might be surprised to find that the Neil Diamond band and AC/DC have a lot in common, but it’s true. We joined our twosomes up, and finished the round, carrying on a lively discussion of cities and arenas and hotels and restaurants. 

After finished our undistinguished round of golf, Brian and I made a tentative plan to play golf soon in Vancouver, where his band was headed for a recording residency, and where we were to be performing on our tour in a couple of weeks. 

Sure enough, we got in touch In Vancouver. We made a plan, and a tee time was reserved. But on the Sunday we were to play, it was a predictably rainy BC morning. We doggedly stuck to our plan, though., and went to the course and sat in the pro shop for a while, waiting for the rain to stop. This being Vancouver, of course, it didn’t stop. We eventually headed back to our mutual hotels, and Brian kindly asked if I’d like to have dinner with his band that night. Sounded cool. 

By evening, when it was dark and far too late for any golf, the rain finally stopped, so I met Brian and the others from AC/DC on the roof of a nearby eatery. Joe Fortes is a nifty seafood and chop house on Thurlow St., just off of Robson, one of Vancouver’s main drag dining streets, and obviously a popular spot. 

It was by now dry, and we were on the roof gathered around a big table. I met the others present from the band, including Angus and Malcolm Young and their brother George, along with one or two others, whose names I’m sorry I don’t recall now. It was a jolly time, although interrupted occasionally by fans coming over to the table to ask for an autograph or chat, pausing dinner for frequent moments. 

They were quite patient with all this, until a pair of attractive young women came to the table and said they were big AC/DC fans from Calgary. 

“Calgary?” said Brian, “What are you doing in Vancouver?” 

“We came to see Neil Diamond,” was the answer. 

Seeing an opportunity to return to dinner, Brian pointed at me and said, “He’s with Neil.” This caused the girls to pivot and descend on me for further questioning, while the band returned to their food. 

Dinner was superb, the conversation was spirited and everybody departed as friends. We continued our tour, which did very well; they finished up the album they were recording, which also did very well, thank you. 

We crossed paths briefly with AC/DC on our 2017 tour, but I never met up with Brian Johnson again. Brian, if you come across this, give me a buzz. And you too, Diane Keaton.

Final Episodes 

I succumbed to the hype and watch the final Modern Family Wednesday night. I didn’t ever saw the show during its run, but found the finale entertaining. The post-finale documentary really drew me in, since we just finished a rather long run of our own, and I understand the emotions faced by the cast. Still, I found myself thinking “They’re so worked up about saying goodbye to their gig and each other after only 11 years?” Our show hung it up in 2018 after FORTY years. Yes, there were a few changes over the decades, but you get to know your co-workers pretty well in all that time. 

We didn’t have a farewell episode to share with our fans and bring big ratings. That doesn’t work for music concerts, although we had been advertising a 50th anniversary tour. We didn’t know our October 19 show in London was our final show until months after it happened, so there was no opportunity to celebrate/grieve/ponder or anything else. The thing I DID eventually do was to put out a final issue of the PBI. In case you didn’t know, I had been publishing my showday newsletter since 1986, and I wasn’t going to let it go away without making a fuss. It took a while, but on the third of June of 2018, PBI Volume 68, number 1 went out to everybody on the distribution email list. 

Like the ABC special last night, it was filled with memories, and turned up some treats for long-time readers. Here’s one I enjoyed: 

Mark Capner was the first piano player to inhabit the chair, before me and long before I gave Diamondville its name. I tracked Mark down, and he was willing to share his account about his earliest days with the band: 

In the fall of ’71 I got a call from Country Joe and the Fish’s old movie agent, who had moved on to the agency booking Neil. I’d played keyboards with the 
Fish for the last year-and-a-half of their existence, including at Woodstock. When I got the call, I wasn’t totally clear who Neil was, until I realized he was the Cherry Cherry guy. 

My contact told me to figure out the horn and string parts for “Sweet Caroline” and another song on the organ for the audition. The guy who auditioned before me was a jazz virtuoso, who was all over the keyboard. I went in, played simple, and got the gig. We went out with Carol Hunter on guitar, Randy Sterling on bass, me on piano and organ (B3 and Steinway or Baldwin, usually) and Eddie Rubin on drums. I heard from the others that the studio cats who played on all the records (Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, etc) wouldn’t tour, so there we were. 

The drummer was a tired old jazz player, who had supposedly played with Billie Holiday at some point. He had no pop or rock sensibility. When Dennis St, John came on board I was ecstatic. Every time he hit a drum it was a sanctified heartbeat! I had a gas playing with Neil. The audience was so very different for that of the Fish. When CJ & The Fish played, every freak and longhair within 100 miles would come to see us. With Neil, the audience was much straighter, aged 6 to 60, and all the women were wearing bras. 

As soon as i got the gig, I realized that a song I had disliked the summer before, “Cracklin’ Rosie”, was Neil’s. The second day of rehearsal, Neil had us work it up. He started in C, then said move it up a half step. Aargh, C#! It felt like ironic justice for my previously stabbing the button on the radio of my Chevy whenever the song had come on. The last song we worked up while our unit was on board was “I Am, I Said”. 

We toured around the country playing the hits. It was a strange time...1971-1972. One day we flew into LA from another city. We had the day free before driving up to Bakersfield to play a gig. It was surreal to try and hitchhike down Sunset to see a woman I knew and not get a ride for 20 minutes (this was the post-Manson era), only to be riding in a limo two hours later to the gig. When we played in Alabama, the audience gasped when Randy and I took the stage. We both had huge hair. The next day, at a barbecue, everyone was sweet as could be. We might have been hippies, but we were Neil’s hippies! 

It was my understanding that Dennis and Richard hooked Neil up with a unit made up of studio quality musicians who were also willing to tour, at which point, Carol, Randy and I were let go. Were you the one who gave me a chart for “He Ain’t Heavy”? It was fun playing it at Carnegie Hall. 

There were lots of other stories, and I’ll share more of them in the Diamondville Chronicles, because where else am I going to put them?

Don't Pass Over This Post 

I continue doggedly pursuing items from my archives that will bring back some happy memories at a time when current events are so sour and sad. 

In 1989, when Diamondville rolled into San Diego it was around Passover, so Jews of all sizes, shapes, faiths and colors gathered together to celebrate with a semi-traditional Seder dinner, which took place in an intimate alcove just off the main catering area at the Sports Arena. Here is the PBI coverage of the event: 

As promised, there was no pizza or tacos, but no one seemed to mind. The Manischewitz poured like wine, as the real and ersatz faithful feasted on matza, chicken, potato pancakes and other delicacies—following the question-and-answer period, ably handled by publicist emeritus Sherrie Levy (playing the part of the youngest) and our vocalist (in the role of the eldest). 

The service itself was quite brief, in some ways resembling a Cliff’s notes version, but the Yiddish pronunciations were convincing, at least seemed so to the inexperienced ears of many of the goyim celebrants. 

•One matza was reported to be missing and had not been located at press time. 

•Stage Manager Doug Pope attended, the first Pope to attend a Seder in quite a few years. 

•King Errisson observed that the Matzoh Ball Soup bore a startling resemblance to a fondly- remembered menu item from his native land, wherever that is.

•Sam Cole differed, saying that the matzoh balls reminded him of long-ago billiard games. 

•Marilyn Lowey assembled the necessary props and scripts for our exercise in Judaica, and did an excellent job of keeping things as authentic as possible, under the circumstances. She also handled the blessing of the candles with authority, while Sam Cole performed the blessing of the wine, which it sorely needed. 

•The Hockensmiths were wide awake for the festivities, thanks to Hadley’s 6 a.m. “celebrity wake-up call” from a local radio station. He was uncertain whether to be annoyed by the inconvenience or honored at being mistaken for a celebrity. 

•The Tutts also attended, and Ron seemed relieved to be involved in an activity which did not involve the use of a credit card. 

•The late Cathrine Hensley enjoyed the ceremony, but did not express any willingness to convert;

•and the late Patrick Stansfield told the PBI he regarded it as a kind of St. Patrick’s celebration in reverse, a day when nobody is Irish. 

•There was a surprisingly spirited rendition of “Da-Yay-Nu,” which left some at the table contemplating securing publishing on the arrangement. K. Errisson was restrained from mistakenly breaking into a chorus of “Day-O”. 

•The late Vince Charles made a surprise guest appearance, bearing a special gift from the Black of the Bus and the laseroids: a 3-pound container of Diamond Crystal Kosher (or so sez Rabbi Bernard Levy no relation to Sherrie of Brooklyn) Salt, enough to cover the rims of dozens of margarita glasses. The salt box’s logo bore a startling similarity to the diamond which appeared above the stage at the beginning of our show in those days. 

•Finally, since this took place during the era of smoking, the Principal wrapped up the celebration by lighting an after-dinner cigarette, one with a gefïlte tip. 

The event became part of Diamondville’s rich history. It was further immortalized when our shuffling team created a poker game called “San Diego Seder,” which was basic 5-card stud, but with the cards dealt in reverse, so that the last card was down. 

That night, the PBI published a quasi-official Seder Hymn, and it went exactly like this: 

(sung to the tune of “Alla en El Rancho Grande”) 

We’re gonna have a Seder

Way down in San Diego

We’re gonna eat some maror

and then we’ll have some karpas

and no one’s gonna stop us 

There’ll be no tacos or pizza 

but lots of matza and baytza 

Although we don’t know much Hebrew 

We’ll try to sing Dadayaynu 

We’ll pour the Mogen David 

and some of us will drink it 

because those herbs are bitter 

and S. Levy and Mare-O 

will cuss that nasty Pharaoh 

We’ll eat a sandwich for Hillel 

Then do the show if we’re still well 

We’ll stump the band and the caterer

at the first Arch Angel Seder


Fear of the Marketplace 

I saw something online the other day that reminded me of a song we recorded in 1981. Funny how that happens. Someone was posting about being afraid to go to the grocery during these pandemic times, and I thought back to Neil’s song “Fear of the Marketplace.” 

I went back and listened to it, which you can do if you use the link above, and found that while it’s tough to relate the lyrics to the current situation, it’s a better track than I remembered. 

The song was not a single, and not even especially popular with the band, probably because Neil became slightly obsessed with it, starting rehearsals every day by playing the intro figure on his guitar, which inevitably led us into playing it more times than many would have expected or preferred. But that was then, and listening to it these days takes me back to some wonderful times, when we were new and successful and living the dream. And I thought of the title every time we played in Munich, where I referred to it as “Fear of the Marienplatz.” 

Another cut on the album that brings a powerful memory was one called “The Drifter.” We were recording at Neil’s studio, Arch Angel, and we ordered out dinner from a nearby Hamburger Hamlet. I had mentioned that I liked their dessert called the Ultimate Hot Fudge Layer Cake, served with three scoops of Häagen Dazs ice cream, salted peanuts and freshly whipped cream. This was a dessert intended to be shared by two, but Neil didn’t know that, so he ordered one for each of us. It was absolutely certain overload, but our band of mighty eaters was up to the task, and after dinner we were semi-comatose. At that point, Neil cleverly brought out “The Drifter” for us to record. The tempo was intended to be slow, but our dessert experience slowed us down to the point that the tempo of the actual record reached nearly zero beats per second. 

We played the song live a few times in our shows, but we could never arrive at the tempo of the record if we were fully conscious. 

The title of the album we were working on was “On the Way to the Sky,” and I’m happy to say that it turned out to be a platinum record, and I won’t sneeze at that, even if I’m wearing a face mask.

And Then I Wrote.... 

I really enjoy seeing comments about my little blog entries. Somebody mentioned the other day that they didn’t know I was a writer. While some might argue, I would point out that I’ve been a writer for a long time. 

At my high school, in Bloomington, Indiana, the student newspaper was called The Univee Quad. I occasionally wrote a record review, but mainly devoted my efforts to what would later be called an underground newspaper, which I called the Univee Qrud (logo, left). It was mimeographed and contained lots of parodies of what the Quad took seriously. I got a few issues out and despite this, I eventually graduated. 

In college, at Indiana University, there was a humor magazine called the Crimson Bull. Just before I started at IU, the Crimson Bull editor, a fellow named Clint Major. was fired for including too much dirty content. Mr. Major then started an underground humor magazine called The Renegade. I became the editor of, and published a few issues of the Renegade, and despite this, I eventually graduated. 

Footnote: When I went to a high school class reunion in the 1980s, I put out a 30-year anniversary issue of the Qrud, which drew acclaim from just a few people (my graduating class was around 90 people strong). It included a revised version of the school fight song (University School closed in 1977, so the new song was called “Alma Mater Mortis.” As I write this, I’m thinking I should make a video for Alma Mater Mortis, so don’t be surprised it it happens. 

In California, I began writing some pieces for the Los Angeles Times, back in its glory years, when real writers were on staff there. I contributed to a jokey section called Laugh Lines, and the editor of Laugh Lines was a guy name Charlie Waters, and it was my first experience with having my writing edited. Every time Charlie suggested a change, I noticed it made the final product better. 

Of course, Charlie left the Times when their infernal cost-cutting schemes took hold, and he turned up in Fresno, as the editor of the Bee, my favorite newspaper named after an insect. Charlie and I played golf during my visit on out 2005 tour, and he and his boss came to our show. More about that below. 

My longest-lasting publishing folly began in 1986. It was an on-tour newsletter called The Arch Angel Post-Bugle Intelligencer, known to its friends as the PBI. It came out on every showday, at first hot off a copy machine, later as an emailed PDF file, until we knocked off at the end of 2017.  The PBI’s swan song was a thick issue with many pages of contributions from those who had passed Through Diamondville over the years. 

My favorite item from the final issue was a contribution from the pianist in Neil’s earliest band, whose prior gig had been with Country Joe and the Fish. I asked him was it was like to go from Country Joe to City Neil, and he said the first difference he noticed was that the women in Neil’s audiences were wearing bras. 

The archives from the PBI are a rich source of tour history which I dig into often, especially when compiling my blog. I dug into it just now, and checked up on Charlie Waters, who passed away a few years ago. I found this item, from Las Vegas, where Charlie lived out his last years. 

I am writing to you to see if your fine publication can help me. Some years ago -- probably 2005 or 2006 -- my former boss and I had the pleasure of enjoying an afternoon of golf and lunch in Fresno with two musicians in Neil Diamond's band. I remember that one guy's name was King and I think the other's was Tom. We later took our wives to the concert and afterwards met them and Catgut girl Catherine back stage. All in all, it was a wonderful day. 
I see in my Las Vegas newspaper that Neil Diamond is playing the MGM Grand in Las Vegas this Saturday evening. And since your outstanding journal has received international acclaim for its insightful, trenchant, behind-the-scenes coverage of Neil Diamond tours, I am hoping you can find the answer to a question that has nagged both me and my ex-boss since we played golf that day with King and Tom. 

Our question is this: Was that day in Fresno the first time Tom had ever played golf ? 

I look forward to your answer in the next issue of PBI. I have $50 riding on the answer. 

Charlie Waters 

I replied:

I get that question every time I play. For the last fifteen years I’ve been asked that question. The answer, then and now, is: “Not necessarily. You probably got that idea from the fact that when we played, I spent more time in the bunker than Eva Braun.” 

Okay, that’s enough for today. Back to my quarantine party.

We Sold Out the Forum then, Ballmer Sold it Now 

We're in our merry little quarantine zone now, and I figure that’s not too interesting for anyone to read about, and that’s why I’ve been busy working on my Diamondville Chronicles—my past is far more fun to read about than my present. 

I’ve gone from being the “guy who plays piano for Neil Diamond” to being “the guy who used to play piano for Neil Diamond,” to the current “the guy who stays home because he’s in the endangered age group.” 

The big news yesterday, other than the other big news yesterday, was the $400 million splurge the LA Clippers took to purchase the Forum, a spot which we frequented (is 35 shows frequently enough?) over the years, most recently in August of 2017, and where we achieved a fair share of glory. 

So now I’m inspired to venture back into the last century, to a little year I like to call 1992.  We were playing at the Forum, then known as the Fabulous Forum, and lodging at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Century City, even those of us who live in LA. Each afternoon, we would all ride a tour bus from the hotel to the Forum. It was an unusual way for many of us to see our town, especially for locals. This was how I described it in the PBI at the time, 29 years ago: 

Commuters with Computers 

The drive from the J. Fred “Muggs” Marriott Hotel to the Great Western Omelet and Forum each day has turned into a quasi-commute for our Diamondville Touroid Trolley riders. 

Having seen “Grand Canyon,” some expressed concern lest our land shark malfunction and strand us on the streets of Inglewood. They can rest easy, since the mayor here has sent out a letter to the media stating that the streets of his city are safe and that the movie was a load of crap. Our driver carries a copy of that letter at all times, so we are assured of no problems. With those fears allayed, we were able to sit back and be regular commuters, growing familiar with some of the landmarks which—during a shorter run in an unfamiliar city—would be commented upon in a smart ass manner and forgotten, such as: 

•The Joan Crawford Day-Care Center. What’s the dang deal here? Is it a joke? Do they allow wire hangers? The PBI, in its eternal quest for knowledge, decided to call the Center during our day off. We learned that there is an actual Joan Crawford who runs the place. She sounded terribly nice, and she assured us: “I’m alive and in living color.” She asked us to toot the horn as we go by, so we’ll ask the driver to do so tomorrow. 

•That big hospital on Prairie Avenue. Touroids are asking: how does it feel to wake up in one of those rooms overlooking the cemetary? We didn’t call, but think we can safely say that it’s better than NOT waking up! 

•The automobile wax museum at Washington and National. Old Thunderbirds, Edsels, Corvairs and other collectors’ items, sitting out in the open air. Pick up a souvenir?Why aren’t there any Fieros there? 

•Angel-ettes of California. Here’s a great opportunity for the graffiti-prone. Perhaps if Arch was simply to prefix his name to their sign, we could all feel more at home. 

•Dreamgirl. What is this place and what are they up to? One theory: it’s where they make those inflatable sheep that Doc Johnson sells to the world. 

•Sadly missed: the Holy Moses hamburger joint seems to be terribly defunct. Maybe if we had stopped there a few times, it would be thriving.

The Costumer is Always Right 

Over the years, I wore a lot of bizarre outfits on stage. I kind of became known for them, to the extent that I was known. One reason for this was Neil's costume designer, a gentleman named Bill Whitten, who did all our stage clothes for at least 30 years. A magazine called The Costume Rag recently published an article about Bill’s career, and it’s great to see them making a fuss over Bill, who worked in relative obscurity all his life, even as he designed garments that were spectacularly influential, for savvy clients including Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, and our vocalist, who was one of his first big-time supporters. You can read all about his work here

Bill liked clothes that were wild and wacky for me, as he liked to say, and he felt that my personality was suited to them, since I tended to dress the same way in real life. 

I remember when we played Palais des Sportes in Paris for the first time, in 1977, there was an after-party for us at Maxim’s, a big meet-and-greet with lots of people of note in attendance. Our then-publicist, the late Paul Wasserman, walked up to me just as someone was complimenting me on my outfit, and in his cynical, grumpy way, said of me: “He just does that to get attention.” Another guest who happened to be standing nearby, a writer for Women’s Wear Daily, immediately said to us “THAT is the purpose of ALL fashion.” Take that, Mr. Wasserman. 

Bill came up with a lot of fun ways for me to look silly. One of my favorites was a suit I wore when we did the Today show in 2002. We were playing outdoors, in the Rockefeller Center plaza. During the show, the NBC weatherman, Al Roker, came out to do his thing. This was in his chubby days. and mine as well. When he saw my suit, he insisted that I stand next to while he did the weather. Now, I’m not a piano, but I play one on TV. Frequently, let me add. I’m also used to what happens most of the time: I’m put in a rear corner of the set, and kept out of the picture during most of our spot. I’m used to that, I’m cool with it.  

What I learned on that April day in 2002 is that if you stand next to the Today Show’s weather report, EVERYBODY sees you. After the show, I had calls from relatives and friends that I had never even met. It was quite memorable for me. But apparently not for Al. When we next time we played the Today Show, a few years later, I mentioned the incident to Al. He didn’t remember it. 

When Bill Whitten died in 2006, Sarah and I were at his memorial at Forest Lawn, and heard actress Cicely Tyson say, “Whenever I had an awards show to do, I would call Bill and he would do something perfect.” 

I have a closet full of garments Bill designed for me. They were perfect, and I treasure them.