Coming from a small town in Humboldt County, Randy’s 8th grade class had only seven boys. Luckily for Randy, out of the seven there was a drummer, bass player, and Randy on guitar. And so the first of many bands was born.
Michelle Lassle: When did you add singing to your list of discovered abilities?
Randy Cordeiro: In an original band in 1987. For years up until then I thought that maybe I could sing because I was developing my vocal skills in the driver seat while commuting to work every day. I had an original band and had been playing for three years in Arizona. We didn’t know any covers. I remember one specific party in Tempe, some guys were singing songs on acoustic guitar, and they were playing songs like Brown Eyed Girl. Everyone was so into it, singing along. They handed me the guitar, and I didn’t know what to play. I knew the songs I grew up with, but those weren’t the best sing-alongs. Shortly after that I learned Sweet Caroline to pull out for times like that. I had no idea it was going to go over bigger than Brown EyedGirl, but it did.
ML : How did you land on Neil Diamond?
RC: The first time I performed Sweet Caroline was at an acoustic night in Tempethat was hosted by Robin Wilson from theGin Blossoms. People from different bandswould get up and sing a couple songs. I wasdoing original music but decided to throw Sweet Caroline in with it. I thought for surepeople would be booing, but it just broughtthe house down. People loved it. So Istarted doing a weekly Monday night NeilDiamond song.
ML : The same one song?
RC: No, every week I sang a different song. I became obsessed with throwing in a new Neil Diamond piece each time. It kind of brought me to a new place of minimalism in music. The original band I had, we were so influenced by Oingo Boingo, Dixie Dregs, and stuff that was a little more complicated. We were more progressive rock/alternative. It had to be complicated and original for us; that’s what we were into. But then when I was re-¿ listening to all the Neil Diamond songs, I was getting a new appreciation for simplicity. I was starting to hear songs that I never heard growing up. One song called Do It, an oldie from the 60s, has two chords, E and A. I was blown away by what a good song it was with only two chords. Then my musical taste started changing, and we ended that band in 1991. I started writing songs differently. It was weird how Neil Diamond was the one who kind of led me through that change. I started buying up all the old albums. We threw Super Diamond together in 1992 and started playing in 1993. It really took off. It was so much more powerful than just a guy with guitar.
ML : Did you already know all of the band members previously?
RC: I had just met them right before we created the band. I was singing solo around San Francisco. Some bands ¿ wanted me to sit in as a guest, and we would do one or two Neil Diamond songs. That’s how I was introduced to a lot of musicians. Super Diamond members were in different bands I had sat in with. A lot of people were anti Neil Diamond back in 1992. At least half of the people would laugh and make fun of him. I don’t see that as much anymore. He has some kind of new cred. He’s getting awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think being the theme of Saving Silverman made him kind of cool with the young Jack Black fans. It’s a movie where the stars of the film are in a Neil Diamond cover band, and they kidnap Neil Diamond. It made him relevant to a lot of the youngsters.
ML : And you guys played at the premier for the movie?
RC: Yes, and Neil Diamond and the five main stars of the cast sang with us. Neil was telling the rest of the cast to take the mic, and Jack Black didn’t know the words to Forever in Blue Jeans. That was the second time we shared the stage with Jack Black. The first time was when we were playing at the Viper Room in Hollywood, and his band Tenacious D was opening for us. That was the mid 90s when they were brand new, and I had never heard of them. We were just watching them in awe; we loved them. The Saving Silverman party was the second time we shared the stage with Neil Diamond also. The first time was on that same stage at the House of Blues Hollywood for one of our shows there. He came to see us. He came backstage before the show to meet us. While we were talking with him, I asked him if he’d like to sing a song, expecting he would say no. But he said yes. He came out for the encore song and sang I Am, I Said. When he came out it took about fiveminutes for him to be able to start singingbecause the audience was going crazy.They were so loud.
ML : Which celebrities have come up and performed with you guys?
RC: David Spade sang Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show in a movie hewas in called Lost and Found. He was atour show at the House of Blues and cameback and met us before the show. We askedhim if he wanted to sing the song, and hesaid yes. His pal Rob Schneider sang withus another time. Mini Me took photoswith us after one of our shows there. FredSavage used to come to a lot of our shows.Axel Rose, I’m not sure why he was at one,maybe because of the mash up we do of Sweet Child of Mine with Sweet Caroline.The Edge from U2, I know he’s a NeilDiamond fan. Sandra Bullock was thereone night. Phil Spector, that’s how we methim. He was at our show one night andwanted to party afterward. So we did, andhe ended up at our hotel room. Here I ampartying with a legendary producer, and Ishould have wanted to hang out all nightand talk about music and listen to stories.Instead I snuck out and went to my room.He was very different.
ML : I’m curious. Did you train your voice to sound like Neil Diamond, or did you start singing and realize you sounded similar?
RC: Training my voice takes all of singing along to a song. There’s no real training. I can’t impersonate talking voices, but for some reason I can do singing voices. Sometimes I think why am I limiting myself to just Neil Diamond? I could be in Vegas doing 30 different artists! Doing voices is kind of fun. Neil Diamond is one of the many. I can do mainly low voices like Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Johnny Cash.
ML : You have Surreal Neil as your stage name. Who gave that to you?
RC: I gave that to myself because when I started out in Arizona, someone that heard me wanted me to play a party. He wanted me to dress up as Neil Diamond and play a set of his songs. He put on the flier, “With special guest Neil Diamond.” I wasn’t into that. I’m not an imperson ator. I’m just doing his songs with an alternative twist, a similar vocal style, and a surreal interpretation. So that’s why I had to come up with another name. I didn’t want to use my name because I had my original band and didn’t want my musical paths to cross too much. It was a perfect name for what I was doing.
ML : Are you guys in other bands outside of Super Diamond?
RC: Yea, that’s one of the best things about this band for me. I was able to quit my day job, and the time now that I have doing Super Diamond full time has been amazing. It gives me freedom to be able to record my own music in my studio. I used to have to work as an engineer five to six days a week, commuting to Fremont from San Francisco. I didn’t have much time for creativity. Luckily I was able to quit in 1998, so I have my weekdays free and tour on the weekends with Super Diamond. Some of the other members play in other bands right now. Some of the guys teach, like our drummer. He taught George Lucas’ son for a while.
ML : Do you have a favorite Neil Diamond song to perform?
RC: For me it’s Brooklyn Roads. I just really like that song. We do a version of it that doesn’t sound anything like the original. It’s a little more contemporary sounding. It’s danceable more than a ballad.
ML : Do you put your own twist on a lot of songs?
RC: Yea. I think we only do a few songs in a completely different way than the original. Neil’s quintessential love song, Play Me, we do more like Social Distortion, kind of grunge punk. That’s really fun.
ML : I saw you performed on David Letterman. Would that rank as one of your highlights while playing with the band?
RC: It is as far as prestige. It was awesome as far as being able to go on something so big in pop culture; that part was great. But it was kind of a stressful experience for me. My in-ear monitors, for the first time ever, fell down my neck. The band was about to be introduced, and I was trying to get my hand down my back and couldn’t reach it. The stage manager reached down for me and pulled them up just in time. It was also freezing, so everyone was bundled up like we were going skiing.
ML : What other remarkable venues have you played in?
RC: The largest audience we ever played for was the Women’s World Cup at Stanford. We played after the game, and I think it was around 80,000. We’ve done a lot of baseball stadiums for after game shows or fundraisers. I like the variety though. When you do too many big places, the small places become fun and vice versa. We’re lucky to have done so many varieties of types of shows from clubs to corporate events, fairs, outdoor concerts, weddings. We have a pretty good balance. Some of the shows at county fairs have been super fun, like the cat show that went on before us. One played drums, one played keyboard. They were called the Acro-Cats. Another fair, while we were playing, KISS started in the larger part of the fair. We overlapped by like 15 minutes. I don’t remember if anybody left us to go see KISS, but we left. When we were done we packed up really quickly and ran over to watch them. We’ve opened for Chris Isaac, Spoon, Modest Mouse, Bon Jovi.
ML : So 20 years and going strong. Is there a goal you’d like to reach that Super Diamond hasn’t accomplished yet?
RC: There are some goals we have. We’d like to get more symphony gigs. It’s amazing to sing a song and having 80 people playing the song along with you. We would like to make it to Europe and Australia finally. Neil is huge in Australia. I already feel really lucky because I never thought I’d be able to quit my job to sing Neil Diamond songs.