King of Diamonds

Rob Garrett’s tribute to Neil Diamond is so good, so good, so good.
First and foremost, Garrett is a loyal fan, and he has clearly understood how much Diamond’s music has meant and continues to mean to people all over the world. His show is all about recreating the music, the instrumentation, the entire stage persona of this iconic entertainer, down to the tiniest little inflection and nuance, with the utmost respect.
His philosophy is — the fans deserve nothing less. No caricatures or cartoonish performances here. As a result, this is one of those rare instances where the tribute is as close to the “real Neil” as it’s going to get.
Diamond has sold more than 135 million records since the start of his career in the 1960s, and is one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, so nothing but the best performance Garrett can deliver is good enough.
Diamond was one of the few who also had a hit just about every time he was up to bat musically — songs like “Sweet Caroline,” “I Am … I Said,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Hello Again,” “Play Me,” “Love on the Rocks,” “America,” and “Solitary Man.” Not only were they hits, but for many people, they became part of the soundtrack of their lives.
The music matters to the fans and Garrett digs deeper than most tributes to bring that same power and raw emotion to the signature Diamond vocals. There is so much more to his rendition than sparkly shirts and sideburns.
Diamond announced his retirement from touring last year. Fans were devastated, especially one of his biggest fans.
“It made me very sad at the time because the announcement came two days before his 77th birthday and when I saw him last year at the L.A. Forum, it turned out that I saw him at his last U.S. concert. It was my 17th time going to his concerts,” Garrett said. “But he did say he was going to continue to write and record.”
Diamond has been a popular personality to emulate for many a tribute artist, surpassed only by Elvis and the Beatles. Garrett has been honing his craft for 23 years, becoming one of the best tributes in the business and his resume proves it.
In 1974, he moved from New York City to Las Vegas along with his parents and younger brother. In 1980, he formed the group Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven and for 15 years achieved prominence as the leader and front man of one of the city’s premiere oldies and classic rock groups.
Garrett saw Diamond in his first Las Vegas concert engagement when he made his Las Vegas debut opening the Theater for the Performing Arts at the Aladdin Hotel/Casino in 1976.
“He held the audience including myself spellbound, and broke all existing Las Vegas concert records at that time,” Garrett stated. “I had been a fan since 1969 and I’d always thought that he had written some of the most poignant lyrics I’d ever heard and I knew he had a way of expressing his lyrics that no other singer-songwriter had done so before or since.”
In 1995, Garrett was hired by John Stuart and Paul Revere (of The Raiders) to portray Neil Diamond in the “Legends In Concert” show in Honolulu — the city’s biggest theatrical show and most popular impersonation show in the world. What was to be a two-month “trial” engagement for Garrett ended up being a three-year gig.
In August of 1998, Garrett returned to Las Vegas. Since then, he has kept up a steady tour around the country (and occasionally the world), performing in more towns and cities than most tribute artists in the industry. He developed a large following and is known worldwide as the “King of Diamonds,’’ one of North America’s most popular and sought after Neil Diamond tribute acts. He also makes regular stops in Laughlin at the Riverside Resort.
What makes him one of the best is his reverence for Diamond — and how he believes the man and his music should be treated.
“I call myself a ‘by the book’ artist,” he explained. “In other words, I rarely do anything on stage that he didn’t do or wouldn’t do. I never step out of character. Basically, Neil Diamond has his base show, he has songs he has to do, and then he alternates some in and out. I do the exact same thing.”
This year, Garrett will be changing things just a bit.
“We’ve added in some new songs, and I touch upon some things I don’t usually do, without giving too much away,” he said. “We’re doing a couple of his more contemporary songs, from his more contemporary albums, and that’s something I’ve never done. I always strictly go with the classics — ’cause there were so many to choose from anyway.
“I’ve also always strayed away from doing anything he has not written, but we’re doing one of his from one of his Hot August Night albums that he did not write,” he added. “We’re testing the waters with different things, and I’m excited about that.
“I think the audience is ready for something a little different — I change songs out anyway. Every engagement we’ll pull something out and put something in. Obviously, there are songs that have to be there, the same way he would have done them in the show. I happened to handpick these particular ‘new songs’ and I think they’ll like them.”
The show also will reflect a milestone anniversary.
“This summer marks the 50th anniversary of ‘Sweet Caroline,’ so we’re gonna do something different. I’m not going to give you a spoiler on that one,” he laughed. “It’s going to be a surprise.”
He also said that song is the reason Diamond continues to attract a younger crowd.
“I always see some young people no matter where I go. He has definitely rolled over to the under-50 crowd, and the main reason for it is two words, ‘Sweet Caroline.’ It’s probably the most popular karaoke song and I say people in their 20s — college kids they go into bars, they drink and they’re singing it and they’re singing it everywhere.”
Now that Diamond is no longer touring, Garrett feels an even greater responsibility to bring an honest representation of the singer’s music to the masses.
“I absolutely feel more of a sense of obligation, a good obligation, but it’s still an obligation for me,” he said. “To me, it’s something I enjoy doing and I have every intention of keeping his legacy going. There are a lot of people that never got the opportunity to see him live.
“I’m never going to play the sizes of places he’s played, but in my own little cubbyhole, wherever I am, I’m going to do my best to give people an idea of what it was like to see Neil Diamond in concert during the late ’70s or early ’80s.
“After seeing him 17 times, I’m pretty familiar with his on-stage persona and his personality. Hopefully it’s something I get to do for a long, long time,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and the shows in Vegas and around the country, everywhere I go, they all appear to sell out, which means people still love him.”
Garrett returns to Don’s Celebrity Theater with his show “Neil Diamond — The Tribute” Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 7-11.
“I always look forward to playing Laughlin,” Garrett said. “Laughlin is the only place I work where I get to hang my hat for five consecutive nights, which I usually don’t get to do. I get to stay put. I get to relax, I don’t have to pack and unpack, I get to sit for a bit. The next day, I know where I’m going, and I know what I’m doing and I enjoy it immensely. Plus the audiences are always — and I’m going on five years there — extremely receptive and appreciative, and great. I look forward to Laughlin every single year, it’s one of my favorite places to go.”


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 14-18  (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info