In the music business there are many unsung heroes. While the bands may get the glory its the folks behind the scenes that truly get things done. One of those men behind the scenes is Dennis Diamond. Dennis Diamond is the guitar tech of guitarist Vernon Reid. Reid is best known for his fret work in the ground breaking rock band Living Colour. Living Colour recently played the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention this past February and I got the chance to hang with Mr. Diamond and pick his brain about being the behind the scenes go to guy for some of the best musicians in the world.
Associated Content: Dennis how long been playing guitar and performing?
Dennis Diamond: I started playing guitar at 13. Prior to that, I was playing drums starting at age 5. My interest in guitar grew from listening to two albums; Zephyr’s self titled album (Tommy Bolin was the guitarist), and Can’t Buy A Thrill, Steely Dan’s first album (Denny Dias and Skunk Baxter were the guitarists). I joined my first band at 14, playing in the house band of a bar in Brooklyn, NY.
They needed a rhythm guitarist and additional singer. The band was unique in that everyone in the band was under 16. However, we were not exposed to any corruptive behavior, like alcohol and drugs (we weren’t offered any), and we were subjected to periodic report card checks; if anyone was failing in school, they weren’t allowed to perform until their grades improved… and they were serious! The other unique thing about the band (Golden Fleece) was the ability to learn the songs of the day quickly and accurately.
AC: How did you meet Vernon Reid and how did you become his guitar tech?
DD: We both attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where coincidentally I also met Muzz Skillings but Vernon didn’t meet him there. One day I was walking through the lunchroom carrying a guitar case. We crossed paths, he said hello and we started talking about guitars and music; we’ve been friends ever since. It was my interest in guitar modding, building pedal boards and electronics that led to working on guitars in addition to playing. When Vernon was working with Defunkt, he called me to ask if I’d help him set up for a gig; it just grew from there.
AC: What do you like most about the job of guitar tech?
DD: I like to work on guitars; making them play easier and sound better.
I also like the traveling and meeting the fans at shows… the money’s not bad, either.
AC: You have been with Living Colour for a number of years and you were part of the Stones tour. What was it like touring with the Rolling Stones? What did you learn from that experience?
DD: It was an amazing experience! The Stones and their crew treated us like family; they were like regular people (just like Robert Palmer and his band and crew and Anthrax and their crew). I learned how to work shows professionally and the benefits of focus; the shows went by really quickly. That tour will be with me forever!
AC: Talk to me about your old band Royal Pain. How and when did you form?
DD: In 1986, I had the idea to reform a previous band, Wildchild.
That also was a black hard rock band, but more Prince influenced and without keyboards. Steve Williams (drums) and myself were playing in another band with Damian Jones (bass) and were the nucleus of the new Wildchild. After a while, we decided not to work with the lead singer any longer. Since he named the band, we had to come up with that, too. While working on Living Colour’s Vivid in ’87, I found an ad in a local music paper that was in the studio which was from a singer looking for a “Living Colour, Bad Brains type of band, but heavier”. We weren’t exactly that, but I was interested in hearing this guy.
When I met Radames (Vega, lead vocals), heard him and hung out with him, I knew the band was complete. We spent a lot of time writing and rehearsing, and while I was on L.C.’s tour in ’89, Steve left the band. When I got back, I asked Michael Crevier, who I had worked with, to fill in. Eventually, he became a full-time member. With the exception of Dennis Osborne on drums for about a year, the lineup’s been the same.
AC: When and why did Royal Pain break up?
DD: In 1994, after seven years and frustration over the industry, we decided to take a hiatus; we never broke up! In fact, we have been talking recently about doing new music and performing again this summer, so you’re getting the scoop; Royal Pain returns! We’re anxious to do it again; if the industry gets us this time; great! If not, that’s fine, too; it’s about the music, anyway.
AC: I assume you (along with Vernon and Konda Mason) were a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition. In your opinion what has been the biggest victory/accomplishment for the BRC?
DD: I wouldn’t consider myself a founding member, but I did join in the early days. When the BRC branched out to the West Coast and then worldwide, I think that was the biggest accomplishment for a grassroots organization. And when the first compilation album, History Of Our Future, was released, that was another milestone. Actually, there has been many victories the BRC has enjoyed; they had their own radio program (which still exists today on the web), more black rock bands were being noticed, and some were signed, there were writers and graphic artists that were coming in, making the BRC a multimedia organization that had to be contended with.
AC: In your opinion are things better, worse or the same in 2008 for African American rockers?
DD: I think it’s pretty much the same. No one bats an eye at a black rock artist now, so it comes down to the material and performance.
AC: Again in your opinion is there a still a need for a Black Rock Coalition? If so why?
DD: Absolutely! The BRC not only focuses on today and the future, but also the past; we still need that! They also bring the underground music scene to the surface; you don’t get that too often!
AC: You have been in and around the machine that is the record business. Do you have aspirations of fortune and fame in the music business or are you happy doing what you are doing?
DD: If I get rich and famous through my music, then that’s cool.
I’d really just want to live comfortably, because I don’t know what is to be rich. If I get there, we’ll have another interview.
I guess I have some degree of fame; people know me, and I enjoy a level of respect. I’m working to get more acknowledgement as an artist, but I’m obsessed with that; I write and perform as best as I can, and I slowly gain admirers and fans with that; I’m happy!
I’m also happy working as a guitar tech, because in my mind, it’s the same thing.
AC: I know you are involved with a number of music projects? What are you working on and what does the future hold for Dennis Diamond?
DD: For the last three years, I’ve been the guitarist with vocalist Trystette. T.M. Stevens is the bassist in the band. She has a CD out, Good Part Of My Soul. I joined the band after the recording, so I’m not on it. It’s interesting for me because it’s not music I’m known for, but I enjoy playing it a lot. The singer (Carrie Beehan) has been under the weather recently, so we’re on hold while she recuperates.
As mentioned before, Royal Pain will be working on new music soon and plan on performing this summer. On top of this, there may be a brief Living Colour summer tour. I like to keep busy, if possible.
AC: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Dennis and thank you for your patience.
DD: Your welcome, Dave! And thank you for asking the questions!