That’s how long Randy Cordero lasted in the high school band. The attire was too much for him.
“I had to wear the big uniform and the big hat,” he said. “I couldn’t do it.”
Apparently, he has outgrown that feeling and today wears sequined shirts and tight pants as Surreal Neil, the front man for Neil Diamond tribute band Super Diamond. The group will perform on Friday and Saturday at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.
Cordero, who today lives in San Francisco, started playing guitar at age 14 in 1979. A couple of years prior, he received a stereo and a Neil Diamond album for Christmas. Corder’s mother told him Diamond was a superstar, but the youngster decided to go with the music of the time: hard rock by bands like Kiss, AC/DC and Van Halen.
Fast forward to 1989 and Cordero was studying engineering in college in Tempe, Ariz. While playing D.J. for the night at a party, he threw in a random song by Diamond. He didn’t expect to get a positive reaction, but he did. Requests for Diamond songs grew so much he decided to put together a group to perform them. By 1993, he had his group and they’ve been going strong ever since, playing clubs, private parties, on TV shows like “Late Night With David Letterman” and even a movie premiere. The film “Saving Silverman” was also about a Diamond tribute band and at the opening party, Neil Diamond himself got up and sang with Super Diamond.
“It was great because he knew all the songs,” Cordero joked during a phone interview on Wednesday. “He was really nice and seemed like a normal guy for a living legend.”
A living legend is right. Diamond has been a fixture in the music industry since the 1960s, though it often seems he is known for the songs nobody knows are his: “I’m a Believer” originally made famous by The Monkees and re-recorded by Smash Mouth in 2001; “Kentucky Woman” was covered by Deep Purple; and “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” recorded by Cliff Richard in the 1960s and revived by Urge Overkill for the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.”
Of course, there are many Diamond tunes he recorded himself that are part of America’s collective consciousness: “Sweet Caroline,” “Cherry Cherry” and his first hit, “Solitary Man.” As with any musician who has had a long career, Diamond has had his ups and downs; his 1980 film “The Jazz Singer” was both praised and panned for its cinematic quality by critics and co-star Laurence Olivier, though the soundtrack produced several hit songs. His music, however, has endured and Diamond is still touring and recording; he has a new Christmas album due to be released on Oct. 13. on Columbia Records.
While Diamond is known for his original hit songs, Cordero has been balancing the success of his tribute band with making his own music. For many years he has worked on his own projects while simultaneously touring with Super Diamond. In 2003 he formed a band called Tijuana Strip Club, recording music dubbed “Alt-Americana,” a mix of alternative rock, country and even a little folk. Now, he is working on scoring independent films and has become interested in making his own films. He works out of his home studio in San Francisco, usually while the rest of the world is asleep.
“I work at night starting at around 10 p.m. and I’ll work until 6 or 7 a.m. because there are no interruptions,” Cordero said. “No e-mails or phone calls, the dog and cat are sleeping. I love it.”
Though there was a time when he seemed bitter about getting all the musical attention for covering Neil Diamond’s work instead of for his own original material, Cordero said he has gained a deeper appreciation for the course his career has taken.
“I’m really lucky to have this and that it’s taken off the way it has because it gives me so much more time to work on my original music,” Cordero said. “When you have a day job like I did until ‘98 (as an engineer), it’s hard to work all day, get home late at night and have time to want to pick up a guitar and write a song. We (Super Diamond) play mainly on weekends so it gives me all week to go into my studio to write and record. I’m really, really lucky I can do both.”
Cordero and the rest of the band (keyboardists Rama Kolesnikow and James Terris, bassist Matt Tidmarsh, drummer Vince Littleton and soon new guitarist Chris Collins) don’t just play straight Diamond. They are known to mix it up a little with some of the music Cordero loved in his youth before he “rediscovered Diamond.” Licks from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are known to make it into the show.
“It’s gotta fit,” he said. “We don’t just throw in. ...We like to morph into something else just a little here and there because the show is all Neil Diamond all night long.”
Super Diamond plays Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Tickets are $22 and can be purchased online at www.janugget.com or by calling (800) 648-1177.