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.