How does Neil Diamond, U
the son of a Brooklyn
haberdasher, develop a
fondness for weeping fiddles
and twangy pedal steels?
SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
THE DETR OIT JEWISH NE WS
hank God he's a ... country
OK, that's not a thought
usually associated with Neil Dia-
mond, even if he's always demon-
strated an affinity for rhinestones.
And nice Jewish boys from
Brooklyn aren't exactly com-
monplace in Nashville.
But don't tell that to Diamond, who spent
a year in Music City making his newest al-
bum, Tennessee Moon.
`Tye been wanting to come here for a long
time," said Diamond, 55. "We recorded
in Memphis in 1969 or '70, and that
was a great experience. And I
guess I've had this in my mind
"My buddy Waylon Jennings,
whom I've known for 25 years,
has been trying to get me to
come down to Nashville to
record for a long time. And
Bob Gaudio, who pro-
inspired him to
take up music
and the guitar.
duced The Jazz
Singer, lives down
there now, so it felt very
secure on that end of it,
too. It all fell into place at the right time,
The timing was crucial, in fact. Dia-
mond had been suffering a bout of
writer's block for the last few years;
that's why he's been releasing albums
of cover songs and Christmas tunes
("They're some of the most timeless
and beautiful melodies you'll ever
here," says the man who put "Kol
Nidre" on a Top 10 album.)
He had also split with Marcia, his
wife of 25 years, which compelled him
to find a way to get out of Los Ange-
les for awhile.
"I started working on this album
about four months after my wife and I
split up," says Diamond, who's slated to
perform July 1-2 at the Palace of Auburn
Hills. "I really threw myself into this pro-
ject, just to keep myself sane and express
some of the feelings I was dealing with.
I had to throw myself into something; I could've
thrown myself off a building, but I decided to do
So he took up residence in Nashville and began
collaborating with some of the city's top song-
writers and session musicians. They were as
excited to have him as Diamond was to be there;
the Young Country movement has had a
stultifying effect on Nashville, as record compa-
nies look for clones of Garth Brooks, Alan Jack-
son, Wynonna Judd and every other successful
Diamond, then, was a fresh arrival — an out-
sider who brought a new sensibility to their scene.
Similarly, his collaborators helped suck away
much of the lushness and schmaltz that burdens
"A couple of people mentioned that we kind of
shook things up a little bit," Diamond acknowl-
edges. "That's great. Everybody's mind was open
here; none of us — the other writers or myself
— was stuck in any kind of rut because we'd nev-
er done this before. It was all very new and ex-
citing — scary, but exciting ... there's definitely a
creative vibe that goes on in this town."
But the question lingers: where does country
fit into Diamond's world? How does the son of a
Brooklyn haberdasher develop a fondness for
weeping fiddles and twangy pedal steels?
Diamond describes it as a very deep root, as
much a part of his upbringing as Coney Island hot
dogs and fresh-made water bagels (which, by the
way, are still his favorites).
It goes back to when he started taking guitar
lessons, he says. Woody Guthrie was an early fa-
vorite. So was Hank Williams. He was also a fan
of the Everly Brothers in their earliest, country-
oriented incarnation. "I wanted to be them," he
says. "Both of them."
And yet Diamond's career veered from the coun-
try path. He was actually a premedical student
on a fencing scholarship at New York Universi-
ty. But his love of music led away from school and
into Manhattan's Brill Building, a song factory
that during the early and mid-'60s was a pop mu-
sic version of Tin Pan Alley.
Diamond's big hit as a writer was the Monkees'
"I'm a Believer" in 1967. With the help of col-
leagues Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, he
also started a performing career, scoring hits
such as "Cherry, Cherry," "Girl, You'll Be a
Woman Soon" and his brooding signature
song, "Solitary Man" — which became a
smash when it was released for the second time,
After that, Diamond became one of the world's
most consistent middle-of-the-road pop hitmak-
ers, with favorites "Song Sung Blue," "Forever
in Blue Jeans," "Heartlight" and "America"