Friday, July 03, 2015

LA History: The Neilists


The AV Club just wrote up 2(!) posts about Neil Diamond, which reminded me that I hadn't yet talked about one of the weirder projects I played in: The Neilists.

The Neilists were a Neil Diamond tribute band. But not like our-totally-not-rivals Super Diamond or The Hot August Knights. Those bands attempt to create a simulacrum of Neil Diamond, and impersonate his exterior.

The Neilists weren't just about covering. We were about uncovering, recovering, Neil's bizarre rock side.

Hot August Night

John Vurpillat and Ryan Kirk burst into my room, sweaty and hoarse, late one summer evening.

"DUDE. Check this out!" They slapped a cassette into my stereo and pressed play. Ryan's uniquely tuned guitar chimed over the distinctive "Monster Kick" from my Roland R-5 drum machine. And then Ryan started singing...

L.A.'s fine the sun shines most of the time
The feeling is...laid back
The palm trees grow and the rents are low
But you know, I've been thinkin' about makin' my way back...

"Dude, is this Neil Diamond's "I Am, I Said"?" I asked, before the song exploded into distorted guitars and yelling. After it was over, John said "Dude, I did a vocal, too!". His was just as over the top.

I had only one question: "WHY?"

Their answer, in unison: "Because he's fucking awesome!"

Beautiful Noise

I had acquired some vintage Neil vinyl as my parents surrendered their largely-unused record collection. Among other things, it had included the album "Stones", which featured Neil singing Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today", both of which my father also played on acoustic guitar and which imprinted themselves on my brain at a very early age.

Ryan had been rifling through my records and stumbled across this relic from the 70s, complete with interesting cover design. Working at a record store, he was also able to pillage the used racks for other pre-schmaltz classics-- Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show, Gold, Tap Root Manuscript.

He and John started picking songs from Neil's extensive catalog: "Holly Holy". "Soolaimon". "Desiree". "Cherry, Cherry". And of course, "America".

A few days later, in the studio, I remixed "I Am, I Said" so they both sang lead, trading off lines and singing in unison. They found a live drummer, their friend Paul....and suddenly I was the 2nd guitar player and backup singer.

We were a band.

I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight

We took the stage wearing gold lame jumpsuits with long black fringe. I don't know who got them, or where from, but they were very hot and after a few shows, stank to high heaven. A dog ate one of them eventually.

We played LOUD. People loved it. I remember after a house party, an older gentleman approached us and thanked us for reminding him of his teenage years. He was sincere. So were we. I think.

The Neilists played 5 shows and were written about 6 times, including a mention in "People" magazine, in an article about Neil's early-90s resurgence. Chris Isaak brilliantly covered "Solitary Man" (which we also did) on his otherwise disappointing "San Francisco Days" album. Urge Overkill covered Neil in "Pulp Fiction". Johnny Cash was still to come, but the other Neil tribute bands were up and running.

The Neilists followed me even after I left L.A. -- director David Sarich reached out to me and filmed me as part of his 2003 documentary "Feel Neil"

No comments: