Gary James' Interview With Neil Diamond Tribute Artist
Dennis Svehlo is Denny Diamond. That is to say, Denny Diamond is Dennis' tribute to Neil Diamond. Since his appearance on Dick Clark's Your Big Break TV show in 2000, Denny has become one of the top Neil Diamond tribute artists. We talked to Denny about his act.
Q - How did you get interested in the whole tribute act field?
A - I was on a Dick Clark show called Your Big Break back in October, 2000. It was a show that kind of showcased people that didn't look like somebody, but sounded like somebody.
Q - OK.
A - And after that, it just took off. It took off after that. I really didn't have an interest in it. I didn't really have an interest in the beginning.
Q - I cannot recall watching Your Big Break. Did that last awhile?
A - It did not. Maybe three seasons. It was on the UPN network or something like that.
Q - What were you doing before you appeared on that show?
A - I'm a computer programmer.
Q - Were you doing anything musical?
A - Nope. Not at all.
Q - So people just said "Denny, you sound like Neil Diamond"?
A - Right. Exactly. And then when the show took off, I met some people from Nashville, a guitar player named Sean Kelly, and he brought me out to Nashville and formed a band called The Longfellows and I started playing there and things just kind of took off.
Q - Before I talk about all that, go back to this show Your Big Break. How did you do on the show? Where did you place?
A - Actually, they had a winner and then we didn't know where we stood after that. A guy who's out doing Barry White right now is the guy who won it. But as for the rest of us, we don't really know where we stood in line. I was given the impression that I came in second place. But that's about all I know. (laughs)
Q - So, this guy, Sean Kelly brings you to Nashville to put together a Neil Diamond tribute.
A - Yes. It was called Denny Diamond And The Longfellows.
Q - How long did that last?
A - It lasted for about five years. And then the guys in The Longfellows created a new band. They're actually very popular doing another thing right now. What happened after that is, my sons came, I guess you could say, of age, and they play with me now. We call ourselves Denny Diamond And The Family Jewels. (laughs)
Q - Keepin' it all in the family.
A - That's exactly right.
Q - When you were in Nashville, did you tour?
A - No. We played right at a place called Mersey Lounge and we were very popular there. People would come from all over to see us play.
Q - Do you travel now?
A - My two boys and I have played in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and all along the East coast.
Q - What is the market place for a Neil Diamond tribute act today?
A - Well, it's kind of funny because I don't try to be like Neil. Most of the other guys out there say they look like him and act like him. I don't try to look or act like him. We cover the material and we do it as close to the original as we can, but we incorporate a little family atmosphere into it. It's me and my kids and we talk about being at home and traveling together and things like that. The market for me is very good because people enjoy, thoroughly enjoy the Neil Diamond music. And they enjoy the fact that it's me and my kids onstage. So, it's different thing than most of the other guys up there.
Q - Where do you perform? Bars? Festivals?
A - We try not to do the bars. But we do perform at bars. But we perform mainly at festivals. And then we do theatres and dinner shows.
Q - How long have you been performing with your sons?
A - Six years now. We do have other musicians behind us for larger events. So, it's not like the three of us all the time. We have a band called the Change Of Habit tribute band and they perform with us for larger events.
Q - Have you ever seen Neil Diamond in concert or met him?
A - Oh, gosh, yeah. Neil was my very first concert after high school. I think I've seem him every year he's come to Chicago after that since 1977 or 1978. The story is, I broke my leg when I was in 8th grade, going into my freshman year of high school. I had nothing to do. I was sitting on the porch with a cast on my leg and I started playing the guitar. I got the original "Hot August Night". That was when I really introduced myself to Neil and I just kind of fell in love with him from there. That was in 1974.
Q - Do you think he knows about your act?
A - I don't know. I've spoken with people loosely in his office, but I don't know if he himself knows about me. I've spoken to people like his band members on Facebook, but I'm not really sure if he knows who I am. (laughs)
Q - There are quite a few guys out there doing a Neil Diamond tribute act, aren't there?
A - Yes, there are.
Q - There's a lot of work for you guys then?
A - Yeah. When you think about it, this is the way I feel about things; It's a big world. People are going to find that somewhere along the line, someone sounds like a Neil Diamond version or year that they knew of Neil, whatever his voice sounded like at that time, people are going to relate to. That's the way it is. It's like the Elvis guys. People are going to follow a certain Elvis guy because he sounds or looks like the Elvis they remember.
Q - Do you envision a day when you'll say "I've just done this Neil Diamond act so much that it's time for me to go"?
A - (laughs) It's funny that you should say that.
Q - Why? Are you thinking of retiring?
A - When it's Denny Diamond And The Family Jewels, we incorporate the Neil Diamond into the act because his music is my first and foremost, I guess you would say love. I like his lyrics and everything. But we find that we can incorporate a Johnny Cash in there. You can find how Johnny Cash is related to Neil Diamond in the Johnny Cash recorded "Solitary Man", I think in 2000, and won a Grammy for it. You can find that he's related to Glen Campbell because he wrote "Sunflower". He wrote three songs for The Monkees. So, as much as I love doing Neil Diamond stuff, it's kind of fun spinning off and doing the Six Degrees Of Neil Diamond, I guess you could put it. (laughs)
Q - So, you can be a tribute act inside of a tribute act.
A - Exactly, and that's kind of what Denny Diamond And The Family Jewels is. Elvis recorded "The Grass Won't Pay No Mind", but he was also the first one to perform "Sweet Caroline" 'live' onstage, other than Neil. So, it's kind of fun to incorporate those kinds of things into the act.