The Black Diamond, aka Theron Denson, is glad to be coming back to Charleston.
He’s always glad to get back, but some trips home are just better than others. On Friday night, the world’s best known (and possibly only) black Neil Diamond tribute artist headlines Live on the Levee for the city’s Fourth of July Celebration, which also includes a performance by Top 40/variety act Stonestreet and fireworks.
Playing a big, free show outdoors and in front of your hometown, “It’s what we call in Nashville, ‘the cherry gig,’” Denson said and laughed.
“It just doesn’t get much better, and I’m really glad to be doing it. I sort of see it as my way of saying thank you to Charleston and to all the people who believed in me.”
Denson emerged on the Charleston music scene in 2000 and was a regular fixture at clubs like The Empty Glass until 2006, when he moved first to Michigan, then Las Vegas and more recently to Nashville to chase his music dreams. Over the years, he’s opened for The Pointer Sisters and The Village People among others, appeared on late night talk shows and even met Neil Diamond.
In Nashville, he formed a band and was in talks to produce a record. His memoir, “Black Diamond: The Real Illusion,” was released last year, and he’s tried to stay busy, though lately, he acknowledged that’s been something of a challenge.
“My band sort of dissolved,” he said.
It was a mix of some dismissals and some people quitting, which started when his piano player bailed on a few shows in favor of a bigger tour.
“They do that in Nashville,” Denson said, wearily. “I learned an important lesson: always have a ‘B’ player to go to and probably a ‘C’ player, too. You have to make sure the gig goes on.”
Some of those gigs didn’t. The tribute artist said he had to cancel some dates, including one he was looking forward to in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But the performance in Charleston is a go. Denson said he’d be using local musicians on Friday, which is fine by him.
“They’re fabulous players,” he said.
A few of the people who weren’t going to get to see him in Michigan, he said, are making a special trip down for the show. Denson couldn’t help but sound pleased about that, but the sudden loss of his band gave him pause, he said. He considered hanging up The Black Diamond Experience.
“I really wondered if I was getting too old for this,” he said.
But then he got a call from a booking agent and was eventually signed to Union Artists Group, which represents a variety of indie music acts.
“They only have two tribute acts,” Denson said. “But they’re two of the biggest tribute acts in the world — Who’s Bad, a Michael Jackson tribute act, and Zoso, a Led Zeppelin tribute band.”
The singer said UAG agents told him they plans to send him out for corporate shows, as well as book him at fairs and festivals.
“They said maybe Bonnaroo. They told me they booked Zoso there last year and they did well, so why not?”
Even if he doesn’t get that gig, Denson thinks he has a pretty good chance of finding shows in Europe and Australia.
“The music of Neil Diamond is really popular over there,” he said.
Diamond’s music, Denson explained, is universal.
“It taps into the human psyche and totally relates to something in your life. It gets inside you, and once you hear it, the music is yours forever.”
Denson also said he’s been talking to a TV network about a reality program, a Black Diamond docu-drama. It’s still a little early, he acknowledged, but if things work out, he believes they could start filming in January.
Meanwhile, Denson want to focus on his show in Charleston.
“Live on the Levee has always been a fun event,” he said. “It’s family-friendly, breezy and fun. I’m proud to get to be part of it.”
Contact Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.