Diamond in the Rough
Local singer salutes Cat Stevens.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Local musician Bryan Diamond remembers the first time that he heard the music of Cat Stevens. It was the last days of junior high school, and his then-girlfriend brought over the 1970 Stevens album Tea For the Tillerman, which includes the classic “Wild World.”
“I was very busy making out at the time,” he says. “But upon a second listen, I became enamored with Cat Stevens and totally forgot about her.
“The way [the album’s] designed, it’s all got purpose,” he says. “It was unique compared to other singer/songwriters at the time.”
Diamond’s own music career started by playing now-defunct local venues like The Hatchcover and The Buckeye in the late ’70s. Now a longtime local music fixture, Diamond has sprinkled “all the popular ones” by Stevens into his countless cover-heavy shows at local venues including The Mucky Duck and Spanish Bay’s Trap’s Lounge, where he currently performs every Friday and Saturday night.
But two years ago, Diamond devised a way to move himself from the corner of noisy local bars to a place on a stage where he would be the focus. Inspired by Santa Cruz’s White Album Ensemble, which performs Beatles albums in their entirety at regional venues, Diamond decided to do his own tribute show to Stevens, since he knew a great deal of the singer/songwriter’s material already.
The musician debuted the show, which he called “Peace Train,” this past March at Monterey Live. Though Diamond had done thousands of gigs over the years, the impending Monterey Live performance rattled him. “I was beside myself,” he says. “I was very nervous, because it’s more of a concert setting than a barroom setting.”
The evening’s emotional charge threatened to overtake Diamond while he played the Stevens acoustic ballad “How Can I Tell You.”
“I sort of choked up a little,” he says. “The music still affects me. I’m not just playing it, I’m feeling it.”
Backed by bassist Marty Lydon of Mike Beck and the Bohemian Saints, multi-instrumentalist Andy Gilhooley of Grumbling Ginger and violinist Laurel Thomsen of Sweetfire, Diamond’s initial Stevens tribute show was a rousing success. “It went so well– a standing ovation, two encores– I said I’m going to have to do this again,” Diamond says.
Since then, Diamond has done the hour-and-45-minute show, which includes 26 Stevens songs from classics like “Moonshadow” to lesser-known gems including “Don’t Be Shy,” at Monterey Live again, as well as Felton’s Don Quixote’s and Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Theatre. “I didn’t even realize how endearing he [Stevens] was to so many people,” Diamond says.
Diamond says that some of the show’s appeal is that the songwriter addressed timeless issues like peace and love. “It’s about what we’ve been talking about since 1968,” he says. “It’s still relevant.”
Currently, Diamond’s Peace Train ensemble has expanded to include multi-instrumentalist Tim Bennett and drummer Hiram Fernandez of the former local rock group Coco Beat. Diamond has begun to think of new tribute shows– like maybe Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks– but right now the Stevens show is so popular that he will keep doing it. “I just wanted to do this one time,” he says. “I just wanted to walk away, but no one is letting us.”
To view a clip of Bryan Diamond performing “Peace Train,” go to www.montereycountyweekly.com/music.
BRYAN DIAMOND AND PEACE TRAIN play the music of Cat Stevens 7:30pm Sunday, Dec. 21, at The Works, 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. $10. 372-2242.