Photo by Stephen Thorburn
For the past 28 years, Rob Garrett just hasn’t been himself.
That’s because he has been spending a huge amount of time also “being” the legendary American singer-songwriter Neil Diamond. But in case you think it’s only a stage he has been going through, his longtime case of “split personality” has led him to being recognized as the best Neil Diamond impersonator in the world. Just ask Alexa or Siri.
Garrett recently opened in Alexis Park’s 125-seat modern Pegasus Showroom, performing every Monday through Thursday at 9 pm. There, he gives enthusiastic audiences a 75-minute up-close and personal view of the career and life of Diamond through song and video. It’s a remarkable likeness since Garrett looks like him, dresses like him, and sounds like him as he treats folks to Diamond hits such as “Sweet Caroline,” “America,” “Cracklin Rosie,” “Love on the Rocks,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” and “I Am…I Said,” and gives some pertinent facts about the entertainment icon.
“I don’t do anything half-assed,” Garrett smiles. “I am very meticulous so that there are no mistakes, I did what Austin Butler did with Elvis. I studied Neil Diamond and put a lot of time into perfecting him. I watched videos; I spent years getting down every nuance of him. I studied him like a scientist would study an atom molecule. There are a lot of coincidences between Neil and myself. We were both born in Brooklyn; we are both Jewish, and we both moved to the West Coast, him to California and me to Las Vegas.”
“Nobody writes songs like Neil Diamond –his words and his music have always been special to me,” he adds. “His music hits home with me; he has written songs in every genre that people can relate to. I never get tired of performing him and I love the audience’s reaction. His music brings out a lot of emotions. He wrote all the songs we know, all his hits, either by himself or with a co-writer.”
Garrett’s avid interest in Neil Diamond began when he moved to Las Vegas in 1974 and started his own band, Rock and Roll Heaven, for which he was the lead singer. His three musical heroes were Diamond, Elvis, and the Beatles and he sang a lot of their songs, doing his best to sound like the original artists.
“Neil Diamond got a lot of attention from the people in the audience,” Garrett recalls. “They said that I sounded a lot like him. It was in the late 80s that I realized I needed to make a change. I started thinking about doing an impersonation show. The band was working 5 to 6 hours a night and a lot of Legends in Concert performers came in. They were each doing a 20-minute slot in the show and were getting paid three to four times what we did.”
“I made a video of myself doing Neil Diamond and sent it to a friend in Hawaii who was portraying Elvis in the Legends show in Hawaii,” he continues, “He took it to Paul Revere, who was also performing in Hawaii. Nine months later, my phone rang – Paul liked the video and told me he was coming to Vegas and asked me if I would do a private audition for him. He had me sing three or four songs to track and told me that what I had just done was the hardest thing in the world to do. He hired me and I went to Hawaii and worked in his show for three years.”
When Garrett returned to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 1998, he never looked back. He bought Neil Diamond costumes, including a copy of the signature sparkling blue shirt Neil wore while singing, “America” (made for Garrett by the son of the tailor who made Diamond’s original shirt) and ended up in Legends in Concert for five years. But what he wanted was to do his own show and so he created one and ended up performing it in several Las Vegas casinos.
While Garrett says that Diamond is aware of him, the two have never personally met. He saw Diamond perform live in a 7.500-seat arena for Bicentennial Week in 1976 and says that he was mesmerized by the icon’s charisma. He tried once on his own to get backstage but was unsuccessful and never tried again.
“I don’t run after celebrities,” he says. “Ron Tutt’s daughter was my backup singer for years. Ron Tutt was the drummer for both Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley. His daughter introduced me to her dad and in 1981-82, Ron and his wife Donna, who worked for Neil, got me backstage three times but Neil was never there. But it was through Ron’s daughter that Neil heard of me and he knows that I do a tribute show to him in Vegas.”
Though in January 2018, Diamond announced his retirement from touring due to Parkinson’s Disease, Garrett notes that it has not hurt the legend’s popularity. His songs are ingrained in the fabric of American music and people from all over still clamor to hear it. Garrett provides an authentic recreation of the sound and soul of Neil Diamond,
He is a shining example of how a “Diamond in the rough” went on to become highly polished at his craft for everyone to enjoy.