Hot August Nights

No performer is lauded for their stage presence, musical ability and star quality quite like the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. However, another man did come close to affecting his fans in the same manor, with charming good looks and a charismatic aura. Neil Diamond has been called “Jewish Elvis,” due to his flashy costumes, theatrical style and ability to touch his audience through live performances in a way that left them starstruck.

Take it from someone who saw the King 23 times in concert and Diamond 17 times — they both were awe-inspiring on stage. That’s according to Rob Garrett, who counts those two men as his top musical influences and was fortunate to see each of them numerous times, before Presley’s death and Diamond’s retirement.

Garrett moved to Las Vegas with his parents in 1974 and saw Diamond’s first concert he played in the city two years later.

“Believe it or not, at that time in 1976, I had seen Elvis 20 times already,” Garrett said. “Neil had never played here and that’s because at that time he only played arenas. Even though Vegas had been trying to obtain him, he wouldn’t play a Vegas showroom. A lot of rock performers didn’t like the idea of dinner being served while they were performing. All Vegas had was the convention center for bigger concerts, but they didn’t have an arena on the Strip.

“The Aladdin built a big state-of-the-art concert arena in 1976, called the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts (now Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood). It held 7,500 people at the time, and they only wanted him (Diamond) to open it. They offered him crazy money, and this time he said yes because they had a concert arena. At first he sold three concerts and they sold out way quick. Then they added a fourth and that sold out. In those days you had to go to the casino and stand in line or you mailed in a check and took your chances of what you were going to get. So that’s what we did and me, my friend and my mother went.”

While already a big fan of Diamond’s music, seeing him live added a new dimension to Garrett’s admiration for the singer.

“There was no one to me that could hold a candle to Elvis,” Garrett said. “Even when I was getting to see those last few wacky years of Elvis when he would rant and you never knew what you were going to get, he was still Elvis. But I saw Neil and I was completely in awe. This was Neil Diamond in his younger, charismatic days. In his day, he could hold his own onstage against Elvis. I was dumbfounded. I was expecting it to be good, but I wasn’t expecting to be in awe of him the same way I was of Elvis.”

Garrett would see Diamond 16 more times in concert, including what turned out to be his final show in the U.S.

“In 2017-18, he was doing his 50th anniversary tour and here’s the kicker, I wasn’t going to go because he bypassed Vegas,” Garrett said. “He picked 50 cities and Vegas was not one of them. Not knowing it would be his last tour, I wasn’t going to go. But, there was a friend of mine that lived in L.A. and she had never seen Neil Diamond and her birthday was in August. So I said, ‘Would you like to see Neil Diamond?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ So that’s why I went. He had two concerts at the L.A. Forum and I went to the second one. After that he went to Europe but as far as the U.S., that was his last concert. Then he announced to the world that he had Parkinson’s and that was the end of that.”

Garrett not only got to see Diamond on stage, but for the past 25 years or so, he has become Diamond on stage, starring in his own show, Neil Diamond The Tribute. Before that, he was covering Diamond songs, among others, in his cover band.

“Way before I was being Neil Diamond, from 1980-1995 I had my own cover band in Vegas called Rock & Roll Heaven,” Garrett said. “We were pretty successful, we worked a lot and got to travel to London, Norway and Aruba and do things most cover bands don’t get the opportunity to do. I was the lead singer and obviously Neil Diamond being one of my big influences, I did a lot of his stuff. So when I sang his songs, I would try my best to make it sound like him, and obviously people thought I did. I used to hear, ‘You sound just like him. You need to go try out for Legends in Concert.’ After 15 years of having the band, I decided to give the impersonation thing a shot.”

Legends in Concert was a popular impersonation show operating out of many locations with several people portraying music’s biggest stars with a limited slot within one big show. It was an opportunity to gain some recognition in the tribute world.

“I made a video and sent it to the producer of Legends in Concert in Las Vegas, but he wouldn’t give me the time of day in 1995,” Garrett said. “So I sent it to my friend in Hawaii, who was the Elvis in the show there. So he brought it to his boss in Hawaii, who happened to be Paul Revere of Paul Revere and the Raiders, who were a very popular band. So my friend brought him my video and at first he turned me down because he said, ‘We’re making changes in the show right now.’ However, nine months later, I got a phone call from Paul Revere and he said they were ready to add a new member.”

Garrett had his shot, but had to pass the test for Revere at a live audition, singing to tracks without any production.

“He (Revere) was coming to Vegas for a show and he wanted me to audition live for him,” Garrett said. “So me and my band were playing at a club at that time and I asked the owners if I could do something in the afternoon. So we set that up and he watched me sing about four songs to tracks and he asked me if I wanted to come to Hawaii for a few months. I went to Hawaii and my three-month temporary gig turned into three years. Then I came back to Vegas in ‘98 and worked with them on and off here in Vegas and around the country.”

However, Legends in Concert only provided a short set within their show for each person, and with Diamond’s prolific catalogue and adoring fans, Garrett knew he could do a full show on his own.

“I made the decision I would go off on my own and do my own Neil Diamond show, as opposed to doing an impersonation show with other people,” Garrett said. “Now I’ve been doing it for many, many years, all around the country.”

He’s played just about every showroom in Vegas, and has become a household name in Laughlin, playing for the past several years at the Riverside Resort.

“It’s my favorite place to go for a lot of reasons,” Garrett said of Laughlin. “When I go there I get to take my hat off and stay for five nights. They’ve always treated me really well at the Riverside. I love that showroom. After it was renovated a few years ago, I was the first musical act to play the room. A lot of my fans in that area and California come see me. Every year I look forward to Laughlin.”

He’s back in town for his usual August stay at the Riverside, Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 18-21.

“I always come in August because I pay tribute to the series of ‘Hot August Night’ albums,” Garrett said. “The Neil Diamond I portray is the Neil Diamond from the early ‘80s, like ‘The Jazz Singer’ Neil Diamond. To most people, that would be the signature look, at the height of his career — the high-energy, charismatic guy with sparkly shirts. I play the most popular songs I can stick into 90 minutes. Every year I change something, but for the most part, it’s the monster hits.”

Sing along to “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “America” and all of Diamond’s biggest anthems when Garrett returns to celebrate a few hot August nights in Laughlin.