Gary James' Interview With Neil Diamond Tribute Artist
Brian La Blanc Of
Simply Diamond is quite simply unlike any other Neil Diamond tribute, and that's because of Brian La Blanc. Brian started his career by working with Rupert Holmes. He's worked with
Bobby Kimball of Toto and singer Ronnie Spector. Brian opened shows for
Survivor. And it doesn't hurt when Paul Shaffer, David Letterman's Musical Director says "Brian is the best Neil Diamond tribute act out there."
Q - You're a guy who seems or seemed to be on a path to have your original music heard, but you've achieved this recognition as a Neil Diamond tribute artist. How does that make you feel?
A - I love it. Doing the Neil Diamond thing has been the most fun I've ever had doing my music in my whole life. It's just been great.
Q - How long did it take you to develop Neil Diamond's voice? You sound just like him.
A - Thank-you. You know man, I honestly didn't really work on it at all. I could mimic a lot of different voices. It's very strange, but I've been doing it for years and years. I can't even remember how long. I always imitate a lot of people, but I've been doing that forever. Then one day, Paul Shaffer from the Letterman show, he lives around here and I was friends with him at the time, he just went crazy. He goes "You have to do something with that. I think you can make a lot of money doing that." So I did. But it's not really something I ever really worked on. I just did it and that was it.
Q - So, Paul Shaffer was the first one to suggest that you pursue something?
A - I really never gave it a thought about doing a tribute act or anything. Never thought in my mind. He's the one that mentioned it and he's the one that gave me the idea.
Q - Did you study Neil Diamond to get your art down?
A - No. I mean, I really didn't go crazy doing that. I watched one 'live' show that he did and I looked at it once. I saw the way he stands and some of the moves he did, but I try to almost bring my own thing to it too. I give a little bit of flavor. I'll throw the shirt on of course. You gotta wear a sequined shirt, dress up like that. But I don't try to look exactly like the guy. I'm not like an impersonator I guess. The only thing I really try to replicate is the music, with the orchestration and the music. We try really hard to replicate that. I really don't try to look like him.
Q - Is that important to an audience, that you look like the person you're paying tribute to?
A - I know there's a guy that does it and he looks exactly like Neil Diamond. He really does. I really don't want to look like him. (laughs) He looks exactly like him, he's not a great singer. It's just OK, the music, the orchestration, at best. But he looks just like him. But I'm sure a lot of people like that too. I think the people that are more in tune to the authenticity of the music get what I'm doing. To each his own.
Q - Was it expensive to put your act together?
A - Yeah, it was. We had to shoot the video and do a lot of stuff. The orchestration of course I have to use on a backing track. You can't carry around a full horn section and strings. All that stuff, I went into the studio and I didn't use these Karaoke tracks that you can buy off the internet for a dollar. I went in the studio and had this guy in Nashville that's a great orchestrator do all the orchestration for me. It was a pretty expensive ordeal.
Q - Did you have any help in putting that together?
A - No.
Q - No advice from anyone as to how to go about putting a tribute act together?
A - I got zero advice. I figured it all out myself.
Q - You deserve an A plus plus for that.
A - Oh, thank-you man.
Q - So your first booking was where?
A - My first booking was in Annapolis, Maryland.
Q - Right by the Naval Academy I would guess.
A - That's right. It was the Ram's Head Theatre.
Q - How big of a place was that?
A - It was small. I don't even know if it is a theatre. But I guess a lot of people play there, "name" people played this place. But that was really like our first one.
Q - What happened when you walked out onstage? Were you nervous?
A - It was a great night. It really went great. We had some really good rehearsals. The crowd was great. The band sounded great. It felt like we were doing it for years.
Q - Have you taken your act around the country or around the world? Where have you performed?
A - I guess you'd say around the country. I did a pretty large show in Utah like a year or two back. I don't even know how many people were there, 5,000, 10,000 people at this outdoor show. I've been to Colorado. We've been to Ohio two or three times... Florida. Not overseas yet, but you can say around the country is a fair assessment.
Q - Does Neil Diamond know about your act?
A - I actually think he does.
Q - Now, how do you know that?
A - I book myself, but there's also several agents that book me as well. There's one agent from Long Island who is like Neil Diamond's first cousin. So, he called up the office and the secretary and said "Hey, I got these guys, Simply Diamond." She goes "He already knows about them. He thinks they're great."
Q - You got a great endorsement there.
A - I guess so!
Q - So, how far can you take an act like this and for how long?
A - Good question. I guess only God knows that answer.
Q - Good answer.
A - Yeah. Hopefully I'll wake up tomorrow morning.