He's no diamond in the rough, but rock band polished his act

InterviewDecember 17, 1989The Buffalo News

AFTER A DECADE and a half as one of the area’s most polished lounge singers, Lance Diamond is uncovering a new facet of his career, thanks to a scruffy rock band young enough to be his kids. The group in question is the Goo Goo Dolls, the enfants terribles of the alternative rock scene here. Diamond’s life hasn’t been the same since they brought him in for their remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner” for their “Jed” album, released last spring on Metal Blade Records.

Finding the neatly-pressed Diamond and the shaggy Goo Goos under the same roof seems improbable, but that’s exactly how they came to work together.

Three years ago bassist Robbie Goo Goo moved into the West Side building Diamond lives in. Diamond had played a prom at Robbie’s high school. They introduced themselves, jammed a few times in each others’ apartments and they’ve been fast friends ever since.

Diamond’s muscular delivery of the Creedence song created a stir among alternative rockers here and across the country. From the heavy metal fanzines to Billboard, reviewers cited it. Diamond gets phone calls from radio deejays in California and Arizona.

Around town Diamond has come to be lionized by a generation that’s the antithesis of his lounge clientele. Kids in torn jeans and studded leather jackets step up to greet him in such alternative rock havens as the Pink Flamingo and the Continental.

The Goo Goos were so pleased that they’ve gone back to the studio for two more collaborations with Diamond.

One is a high-energy remake of the Temptations’ 1960s hit “My Girl” for their next Metal Blade release. The other is a self-written holiday song called “Do You Believe,” which also features two other prominent local alternative rockers — keyboardist David Kane and singer Pauline Digati.
“Do You Believe” is being released independently this week as a 300-copy limited edition cassette single with a sneak preview of “My Girl” as the B side. Proceeds will be donated to Friends of Night People.

Diamond also turns up as a special guest at occasional Goo Goo Dolls shows. Tossing out long-stemmed red roses, like he sometimes does on his lounge dates, he wowed crowds at the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at Buffalo State College in October (where the Goo Goos opened) and at last month’s Buffalo Area Music Awards.

Next Saturday evening finds Diamond and the Goo Goo Dolls together again in an all-ages “Christmas Spectacular” in Wise Guys in the University Plaza, this time premiering a newly worked-up Motown medley in addition to their studio songs. Friends of Night People will benefit from this collaboration too.

“This Goo Goo Dolls project has been great for me,” Diamond said last eek over lunch at the Elmwood Lounge, the Elmwood Avenue nightspot where he’s been performing Friday and Saturday nights with his own band for the past year and a half.

“When I first told people I was going to do this, they laughed,” he added. “But I look at it this way — you have to take chances in this business. When you start categorizing yourself as one certain kind of thing, you start to mimic yourself. I try to do anything that’s good. And this Goo Goo Dolls project is awesome.”

Inspired as a child by his uncle, Billy White, a balladeer in the Nat King Cole style, Diamond distinguished himself in the ’70s as one of the few black musicians locally to play steadily in the top nightclubs.

He began with a group called the New Breed, then spent about four years with the band Isaac after its lead singer, Ike Smith, set off on his own. He left Isaac to start the Lance Diamond Show and through various incarnations, including five years of touring military bases in Europe, that’s what he’s been doing ever since.

“There are so many great musicians I’ve had the honor to work with,” Diamond declared. “Drummers like Mike Caputy and Eli Konikoff. Keyboard players like Doug Gaston, Bobby Jones and Kevin De La Pinta. Great horn sections with Nelson Sky and Dick Griffo. Guitar players, I’ve got some awesome ones like Steve Camilleri and Tyrone Williams, Andy and Freddy Ripello. I’ve had the cream of the crop. Name any musician in this city and they’ve probably played with me.
“I came from that Pine Grill school of thought that said you had to dress the best and sound the best. I’ve spent over $50,000 on equipment that was stolen and on clothes. At one time, I could go two weeks in a row and never wear something twice, and that was when I was working six nights a week in the hotels.

“Everything I’ve done has been to look the part of the entertainer I’m trying to be,” he added. “Most of my friends own their own homes and have beautiful cars. That didn’t come into my life because I had to buy microphones and hire sound companies. Plus if you work two weeks and you’re off three weeks, all the money you make in those two weeks is gone.”

When Diamond left the road and came home to Buffalo in the mid-’80s, only a handful of the places he used to play were still featuring lounge groups.

He took a day job as a security man at Bennett High School and was utting together a big show group called the Family Jewels for an engagement at the Inferno in 1986 when he fell down a flight of stairs during an altercation. He never got to play the Inferno with the Family Jewels.
Diamond sustained a severe back injury in the fall. Hospitalized for seven weeks at the time, he’s suffered bouts of intense pain ever since. Four times a week, he goes for therapy.
“Nine nights out of 10, he’s in pain when he’s singing,” said Van Taylor, Diamond’s keyboardist, during a Saturday night break in the Elmwood Lounge.

Pain has forced Diamond to alter his singing style — he’s had to find a different way of breathing — but it hasn’t diminished him as an entertainer.

In the Elmwood Lounge, he appears for each of his three sets in a fresh shirt, a tie and a jacket with a flowing pocket handkerchief. By the time he finishes the set, he’s worked his way down to his shirt sleeves and dancers are crowding the floor in front of him.

His band is considerably sharper and more aggressive than the average twice-a-week outfit. In addition to the well-traveled Taylor, a writer and producer Diamond has known since the New Breed days, he has a potent young guitar-bass combination in Joe Mahfoud and Dave Malia and a remarkably strong female drummer named Robin Wilson, who doubles on vocals.

Diamond’s association with the Goo Goo Dolls, meanwhile, has given the Elmwood Lounge a mix of patrons that’s found nowhere else in the city.

There are formal folks on the way home from the Theater District, lounge regulars in their casual best and dressed-down rockers in T-shirts. On this particular Saturday, members of the group the Pluto Gang were in one corner and Robbie Goo Goo jumped up to join Diamond on the “Soul Man” part of his Motown medley.

“One of the secrets of my success,” Diamond said, “is my longevity. There’s no reward like running into someone who says, ‘You know, you were right. You’re still doing it. It wasn’t some fad.’ My fans are not fans any more. They’re family now. They’re two generations.

“But the best reward in this business is getting recorded and getting that big break for a record deal. If I’m fortunate to get that, that shows that hard work and determination pays off.

“Last week I got a call from Loudmouth magazine and they’re telling me people all over the country are interested in this Lance Diamond guy. Here I am coming out with one of the wildest bands in the country. And I love them and respect them. You know, I wouldn’t perform with them if there wasn’t something there.

“There they are without shoes and socks, bouncing off the walls. And here I am with $500 suits and throwing out roses. It’s all about show business, but it’s heartfelt. It’s a breath of fresh air. If it catches on with the right people, it could catch fire.”