eil Sedaka had a very big impact on me. My senior year I went to Lincoln High School, and Sedaka was at Lincoln, and he was a professional singer. He had records out and you could hear them on the radio. Back then, you judged yourself against Sedaka.
In the back of my mind, I suppose I thought I could sing well as Sedaka. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had the nerve to get together with my friend, Joe Packer, who lived around the corner and was a trained operatic singer. We'd rehearse in my basement and try to be my idols, the Everly Brothers, which is hard to do if you're from Brooklyn.
After a lot of years of being a nobody writer, I had my first couple of hit records, "Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry," and I'd go out on tours. Whatever dates they offered, I took -- bowling alleys, ski lodges, bars in Florida. Anything to get out of Brooklyn.
I don't know how prolific I was, and I haven't always been hot during my career, but when you get your first taste of success, you don't want to drop the ball. And I was intent on not dropping the ball.
So my agent calls me -- he wasn't even my agent, he was a friend of mine -- and he says he's got three dates for me in Florida. He said they'd pay me $750 to go down for the weekend.
"My God," I said, "seven fifty!"
Of course, I didn't figure that the plane was going to cost so much, or that I would have to buy a new suit in Greenwich Village, and a new strap for my guitar. Or that I'd have to go down there and rehearse with a high school band, and then have to carry them around with me to six different locations.
Developing a stage technique during all this was difficult. I'm not a very good mimic. I realized after a few times that I didn't know who I was.
I tried to be Sammy Davis, and soon I realized I wasn't Sammy Davis. I tried Elvis. No, Elvis is very unique, you can't be Elvis. I tried Harry Belafonte.
What I found, of course, was that it just had to be me alone. I realized I couldn't imitate anybody. I had to figure out who I was, and then hope they would like me.
In a sense, I discovered myself on stage, discovered myself as a person. And that's all I've done ever since. Everything I've done on stage since my very early years is development, an enlargement of that whole thing.
I find it very hard to watch what to do as a performer because every couple of seconds I see something I do that I hate. I look terrible, or the shirt is horrible, or I sang that note wrong, or why didn't I direct myself to the audience, or why are my eyes closed.
Still, I remember a lot of performances, and most of the ones I remember are the early ones. I did a show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966 with about twenty other acts. It had a revolving stage. I walked on -- I didn't know who I was yet -- and I had on a big black cowboy hat, black shirt, black pants, black boots, and black guitar.
I sang the only three songs I knew, my hit record and two songs I learned at summer camp, "La Bamba" and "If I Had a Hammer." Fortunately, they only wanted me to sing three songs.
The band thing was funny. You had twenty minutes to rehearse with them, and twenty seconds before I went, some guy comes up to me and says, "I'm the new bass player. The old guy left." This is the Hollywood Bowl! So I cranked up my guitar very loud and hoped that everybody in the band would start with me and end with me. That was the best I could hope for.
I also remember Broadway, which was more than a little scary. In '68, maybe '69, I played Carnegie Hall, which was a little too early in my career to be playing Carnegie. Although it was sold out, no critics showed up. Not a single critic, which pissed me off and also caused me to fire my PR guy. My wife had taken the train in from California with a sick baby, we stayed in somebody's apartment, and no critics showed up.
Three years later, I had some success under my belt, so I thought I'd come back to town and play the Winter Garden and really kill them.
There was a certain attachment I had to the Winter Garden because I knew Jolson had played there. I loved him when I was a kid, and I loved his singing. I could feel his ghost there.
Also, West Side Story was at the Winter Garden, it was New York, so there was a sense of that excitement.
So I come back, and I'm at the Winter Garden and my picture is up on a billboard. It was scary, but I think I was probably too dumb to know how I had to act or how really important it was.
Opening night, I came out on the stage, I looked at the audience and they didn't look like a regular audience to me. They looked older, they looked like people who were there to stare as opposed to participate. So I said to the audience -- my first remarks -- I said, "Hello, my name is Neil Diamond and I intend to own you tonight."
There was a gasp from the crowd, an audible gasp. You don't own these people. It was not the right foot to start out on. I should have been a little more humble and said, "Love me," or something.
Well, they gasped and I heard it, so I said, "I'll settle for a long-term lease." There were some laughs, and we went into the show.
It took me a while to recuperate from that line. About half way through the show I started kibbitzing with somebody in the audience. Some girl started yelling requests. It was a small theater, and I had this whole conversation with her. She was just going on, and finally I said, "These Jewish girls are just impossible to control."
And she yells out from back, "I'm not Jewish." The audience fell down, and that broke the ice. I was actually saved by a shiksa for the first time in my life.
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