Music industry visionary Joel Diamond has been mentioned more than once as a possible replacement for the departing Simon Cowell on Fox’s hit show “American Idol.” The show could use a seasoned music industry veteran like Diamond.
His 36 Gold and Platinum album awards, and 54 Billboard charted records certainly attest to his credibility.
Ever since Paula Abdul left, there has been an outcry for a seasoned music business personality on the panel of judges — that could be Diamond.
He’s produced for the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck, Robey, Gloria Gaynor, the 5 Browns, David Hasselhoff and many others.
Diamond’s background in the industry covers music publishing, recording, arranging, and even identifying the next “big” thing. TheImproper caught up with him in his L.A. based studio between sessions.
IM: Tell us how the American Idol thing is progressing?
Diamond: Well you know it’s funny, I don’t know how the story got started but I did get a phone call about three months ago from either an assistant or secretary who identified herself as calling from Freemantle and asked “may I speak with Joel Diamond” and when I said you are speaking to him, she asked “I am calling from Freemantle and we would like to know if you are NY based or LA based?” And after I answered LA based, she said “thank you” and the call was ended without me ever having a chance to ask “why are you calling?” Then just about four weeks ago a blogger friend of mine, Artie Wayne, wrote about my taking the place of Simon, and it started a whole chain reaction. There are close to 400 friends who signed onto the blog. When I called Artie and asked him where and how he got this information about Ron Fair or I being the final choices, he said it came from a very reliable source but he had to promise them not divulge their identity
IM: Certainly with your background, it’s hard to believe you haven’t been a judge already.
Diamond: I’m a judge every day. I judge songs that people send me, judge my own songs I write, judge the people I work with or potentially will work with, and the judging goes on and on. I just do it covertly and not on national TV.
IM: : What makes a good song? A good artist?
Diamond: I know a song is good when I want to hear it all the way through and then I want to hear it even again. And what also helps me to determine a good song is when I just know the song was designed purposefully with a contagious hook that becomes (what they call in the business) an ear-worm and I can’t get it out of my head. A good artist for me is someone who I feel will fill a void in the marketplace. I don’t particularly care for copy-cats.
IM: When listening to a potential new project, what’s the first thing you’re looking for?
Diamond: Originality…which for me means somebody who has carefully and thoughtfully put their presentation together of how they want to get their message across be it a writer, singer, or both combined…yet I always keep in mind that some great singers may not necessarily be gifted with song writing ability but may be brilliant interpreters…the all time classic and best example of that is the one and only Frank Sinatra.
IM: Several of your biggest productions were before the advent of video and the web; but, clearly you plugged right in to all of that. Tell us the biggest differences between then and now.
Diamond: You had to contact as many people as you could within the scope of time and money that was available to you…today the world is the limit and time is on your side via the internet and social services; many former super star artists are having a whole new surge; case in point, my good friend and an artist that I had produced, Tommy James (former lead singer of the ‘Shondells’) who admitted to me that his songs are now being exposed to a whole new generation of ‘TJ’ fans
IM: Your PR-man told us you’re also working on several TV-ideas … can you tell us about that?
Diamond: I’d like to but you know how dangerous that could be…I truly believe that many people vibrate on the same frequency at the same time and it is bad enough when all of a sudden you see either multiple new TV Shows or several new films all come out at the same time about the same topic. As my projects start to materialize, I promise to get back in touch with you and let you know.
IM: Give us a memory from the first David Hasselhoff album.
Diamond: My fondest memory is when I had met David for the very first time when I was living on Central Park South in New York. His then new wife Catherine Hickland, whom I had known since she was 17 years old, called me and said they are in town doing the “Regis Philbin Show” and she would love to bring my new husband up to your penthouse to meet you. The moment David saw all my gold records hanging on the wall, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cassette of him singing and let me know that even with all his success as “Knight Rider” nobody would give him a record deal. Well I did. I signed David to my own label Silver Blue Records, distributed by Sony, and we ended up selling millions of albums in Germany which in turn ignited his entire record career.
IM: As a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Chess,” I have to confess I loved Robey’s “One Night In Bangkok” recording. Give us some intel on that.
Diamond: When I was living in New York there was a very close lawyer friend of mine named Jim Peck who was an investor in Broadway shows and would always run the “musicals” by me for my opinion. In two instances at completely different times when I heard the music of a piano player and singer recorded raw from the “backer’s auditions” of two forthcoming Broadway shows entitled Chess and Le Cage au Folles,, I literally plucked out “One Night In Bangkok” and “I Am What I Am,” respectively from well over a dozen or more songs from each one of these shows and I told Jim that “these were the hits of the shows.”
At the time, I was managing a gorgeous model named Robey who did not particularly have a great singing voice but had a great speaking voice and I produced “One Night In Bangkok” with her; the speaking parts she handled brilliantly and as for the choruses, I hired studio singers to sing along with Robey. The result was a hit, No. 1 on the Dance Charts along with a No. 1 video.
When it came to “I Am What I Am,” although the original recording I had heard bordered on operatic, I just knew in my gut it would make a great club dance record and I was lucky enough to have had a great relationship with disco queen Gloria Gaynor and the next day we were in the studio and Gloria scored her biggest hit since “I Will Survive.”
IM: Music publishing is as big as ever; it occurs to me it’s something that public never quite gets, but it’s a huge area, right? Tell us about that.
Diamond: Songs live forever; s a perfect example is a recording artist who I literally discovered 30 years ago who wrote a huge top 10 record in the ’70s called “Into The Night.” Through a chain of events triggered by Scott Shannon the same song with the same artist (except this time with me producing) became a huge hit again in the 80’s. Cut to 2010, and Benny Mardones called me just about 30 days ago to let me know that Usher had recorded “Into The Night” and Usher’s new CD is currently charting No. 1 and “Into The Night” may well be his next single. Great songs never die.
IM: “After The Lovin’” must have been a big thrill. Tell us where you were when you realized that moment?
Diamond: I recognized the moment when my partner Charlie Calello and I were in the studio completing the final mix on “After The Lovin’” and Gordon Mills, then Engelbert’s manager, came in and said this song was not for Engelbert but would work better for his other client, Tom Jones. After Gordon left the studio Engelbert told me that Gordon did the exact same thing with his first hit that launched his entire career, “Release Me.”
Sure enough, several weeks later Gordon called me, just as he did with Engelbert for “Release Me” and told me that Tom did not like the song and I had his permission to release it on Engelbert’s new album. The rest is history. It became the biggest hit that Engelbert Humperdinck ever had in the United States.– No. 1 across-the-board.
IM: We just were played the Athene Noelle record, just terrific. Tell us about her.
Diamond: Athene is a world class opera singer with a love of the pop market. She is drop dead gorgeous, early 30’s, sings in eight languages, dances, acts and as a friend of mine put it, “has all the bells and whistles to become a mega star in 2010” We have created a production that is the first of its kind. “Inamorata” is based on one of the most familiar classical pieces “Moonlight Sonata” except this time with lyrics and a powerful dance/rave beat. The initial buzz is that Athene will go straight to No. 1 on the dance charts followed by a crossover on the pop charts.
IM: Considering all the roles you’ve played in this business, what’s been the best?
Diamond: The most fun that I have had thus far was being a recording artist for five different labels during the disco era. It gave me the benefit to completely round out my experiences of touching every segment of the entire music business from every vantage point – writer, producer, manager, executive and now recording artist.
IM: Who have been your role models in this business and why?
Diamond: David Geffen is certainly my role model. When I worked for Sony music publishing company which was then called April Blackwood Music, there came a time that I had to renew the contract of a songwriter named Laura Nyro It seems like yesterday that both Laura and her manager David Geffen were sitting in my office at 1650 Broadway. The deal was completed and it had become the first seven figure deal for Mr. Geffen who then parlayed his net proceeds into the David Geffen fortune we know of today. David’s story was and continues to be my inspiration, especially since I was part of it right from the beginning.
IM: What can we look forward to from you?
Diamond: The best is yet to come which is something I cannot talk about because, guess what, I don’t know myself yet what it is; but what I do know is that every new undertaking that I move into leads me into something bigger and better.