Capital Radio (2-9-90)
(Song: “Cracklin’ Rosie”)
Claire Martin: Good evening, and welcome to the first in a series, “They Sold A Million.” Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to stars from the 60’s and 70’s, and playing their music. Tonight, my guest is Neil Diamond, whose career spans more then 25-years as a singer and songwriter, and whose million seller albums include, “Moods” and “Hot August Night.” Neil, your work’s always been a mix of ballads and rock. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
Neil: I love to sing ballads, and I love to get into the high-energy music as well. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to do both.
And, that’s basically what I’ve been doing for the last, almost 25-years.
Claire Martin: How about the balance for you, between being a performer and a songwriter?
Neil: Well, there is a difference between the two. Writing is kind of a private activity. It’s usually a dialogue between you and yourself. Presenting music to an audience is an entirely different kind of a thing, and it’s much more fun. There’s no question about it. You’re sharing what you have. At this point in my career, I’ve got an audience that, thank goodness, is appreciative and anxious to hear the music. And so that’s always the most fun for me. The writing is difficult, but I think, in a way, is satisfying in a deeper sense. You can write something, and whether it does, or doesn’t turn out to be something special, you can believe in your own mind that it is something special that you created in the privacy of your own work studio. So, there are different little bonuses that you get from each of those areas.
(Song: “I Am…I Said”)
Claire Martin: Can I go back to the early days? I have the publicity angle of you being about 14, and given your first guitar. Is that the truth?
Neil: Yes, I was about 14 when I got my first guitar. I wasn’t given it. I paid it off. It was 10-dollars, and I paid it off, a dollar a week to the music teacher, and I took lessons for about 6-months. I remember going to school one day, and during a break, I was in the auditorium, and there was a young man who was playing piano. He was a classical pianist, and I thought, wouldn’t that be wonderful to learn. As soon as I finished school that day, I went home and I spoke to my guitar teacher, and I said I don’t want to study guitar anymore, I want to study piano. And he was quite upset, but not really upset, because his wife was the piano teacher. So, I just moved over from Mr. Kessler to Mrs. Kessler, and she taught me piano for 6-months, or a year. I’d been singing along with the radio, just like all kids do, from the time I was a youngster. Once I learned a little bit about the guitar and a little bit about the piano, I was able to then make up my own songs.
Claire Martin: You say, “All kids do that”, but this kid actually stepped over into the professional world. How did that happen?
Neil: I think probably because it was something that I continued doing. I sang as a kid. When I was in high school I began studying guitar and piano and then to write my own songs, and to meet other people who were writing songs, and then to actually, just out of curiosity, to bring some of these songs around to music publishers to see what they thought, whether they thought they were real songs. They didn’t love anything, but they also asked me to come back, and bring whatever I wrote back to them. So, little by little, I became involved professionally, from just something I love to do, to something other people love to hear.
Claire Martin: So then, how did you then get your first hit as a performer?
Neil: Sometime in 1965, I was signed to a music publishing company, and I asked if I could hire two of their other writers to produce my records. So we began to do that, and looked around, and shopped around, and found a record company that would sign me, and would allow me to go in and do one recording session—two or three songs. And fortunately, the first release, which was, “Solitary Man” made it onto the charts in the states, which gave me a little cash, and gave me a little creditability. The next release was a song called, “Cherry, Cherry” which did very, very well in the states. It was a top-5 record, and from then, on, I haven’t stopped. I’ve been professional since then.
(Song: “Cherry, Cherry”)
Claire Martin: Then came a string of hits for other people. The Monkees, and Lulu.
Claire Martin: And of course, “Kentucky Woman” by (???) What’s it like having people like that perform your songs?
Neil: Well, it was wonderful. And as a matter of fact, I think that the fact that I had my own hit out, and then it was followed by the Monkees doing, “I’m A Believer” had a great deal to do with my continuing success, because I suppose people believed I wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, with a one-hit record, that I could not only have my own hits, but could write for other people. So it was an important combination at that time. Of course, I was thrilled. The Monkees record was the number one single in The United States. It sold 6-million copies, which was extraordinary, it is extraordinary. I’ve never done it since. That, and, “Cherry, Cherry” and the records followed, really established the beginnings of my career.
(Song: Monkees perform, “I’m A Believer”)
Claire Martin: The Monkees with their 6-million seller, “I’m A Believer”
penned by Neil Diamond, tonight’s guest on, “They Sold A Million.”
Claire Martin: After your success with, “I’m A Believer”, you could have carried on, writing hits for yourself and others. But you didn’t; if anything, you took a sideways move. Is that something you do often?
Neil: You know, you do grow up, hopefully mature a little bit, and then the music is a reflection of that. So as I grew older and had more experience and learned more as a writer, the music changed. And it went from, “Cherry, Cherry” to “I Am…I Said”, which is quite a large jump. I think the music really reflects the writer and the personality. So as I grew up, I think the music grew up as well.
Claire Martin: Let’s talk about your involvement with the film world. Starting off with a cult film, a little know film, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”
Neil: Well, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” was a very popular book in the States at one time. I think it may have been popular here, and was kind of like a cult book. It was so popular that Paramount Pictures decided that they would make a film of it, which was a very difficult kind of film, just seagulls. And I was asked to write the music for it, and to write the songs for it. At first, I didn’t think I could do it. I turned it down, and I was asked again a couple of times, and finally decided I would take the chance and to see if I could write some songs for some birds. So that’s basically how it came about.
Claire Martin: It wasn’t exactly a critical success, was it?
Neil: It was an unusual project, and not a typical movie in any sense of the word. Very philosophical–very spiritual. But for me, it was a tremendous success because I had the chance to grow a little bit in so far as the kind of music that I could write, and wanted to write. Of course, the album was very, very successful, so it was a good thing for me to do.
(Song: portion of “Skybird”—music only)
Claire Martin: On the other side of the coin, we have, “The Jazz Singer”, which reached a totally different audience.
Neil: Yes, “The Jazz Singer” was much more of a commercial success as a film. Also the recordings were very successful and accepted by the public. It also gave me the opportunity to be an actor for the first time, and to work with none other then Sir Laurence Olivier. I think the whole film was kind of a special experience for me, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was completely exhausted by the schedule. Acting during the day, doing the scenes, and working on the music at night. So I was kept quite busy. But, working with Olivier was wonderful. Working on the film, I think helped me as a stage performer. I also learned quite a bit about the value of work.
I had to show up every morning at 8:00 and I couldn’t leave until 6:00, even if I wanted to, although, one day I did leave. I couldn’t take it anymore. I said, “I’m going. My band is rehearsing and I’m going to sing for a few hours. Enough of this acting silliness.” It was generally a very positive experience for me. A very good experience.
(Song: “Love On The Rocks”)
Claire Martin: Could you be tempted back to do more acting?
Neil: I’d like to do more, but I don’t think my life will revolve around acting or filmmaking. I could be wrong. But I don’t get the same feeling from it as I do when I have written a song that I’m particularly fond of, or have done a performance in concert that I feel good about.
Music is very immediate and very satisfying. An actor’s life is not a very happy life, from what I’ve seen. Unless you’re a major star and can work when you want to and with whom you want to, it’s a very difficult life. For me, music is always there when I want it. I can always write. I can always find somebody who will show up at a concert somewhere. That’s a very satisfying kind of feeling.
Claire Martin: I think this has to be the understatement of the year. You always find someone to show up the concert.
Neil: Well, you know, you never do know. I keep my fingers crossed, and say my prayers every night. Before the tickets go on sale to any performance, you never do know if they’ll remember you, or if they will show up, or if newest guy on the block is the one that they really want to see. So I never did take that for granted. I’m always surprised and thrilled when I get the news that we’ve “sold-out”, and we’ve got to add new shows, and, “Can’t you extend the tour?” You know, that’s music to my ears.
Claire Martin: Something else that strikes me about your fans is they span all across the age ranges.
Neil: I like that. I think I realized that there was a very wide diversity of people at the concerts, sometime in the early ’70’s. I thought when I first realized it that this is a problem here. I don’t know who I’m performing to. There are kids, and there are teenagers, and there are young married people, and there are old-timers. Well, who am I performing to? Let’s just get this straight, ladies and gentlemen. It confused me for a while, until I realized that the music is very diverse; I’m thankful it appeals to such a diverse audience, and just let it be as it is. I’m pleased that everybody’s here and I’ve begun to accept it and I’m very pleased with it.
(Song: “Song Sung Blue”)
Claire Martin: You’ve been listening to “They Sold A Million” on Capitol Gold with Neil Diamond.