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Lance Diamond shone brightly in Buffalo’s music scene

My wife has often enjoyed telling this story. But when she told it one more time on Sunday night, we didn’t laugh and clink glasses, as was the norm. Instead, we sighed, and raised a pint to a friend gone too soon.

One evening in the late 1980s, Kim was out for dinner in downtown Buffalo with some fellow University at Buffalo students. One of them couldn’t wait to get through dinner, because he had plans for the group.

“We’re going to the Elmwood Lounge to hear this singer, who is the greatest lounge singer of all time,” Kim’s friend Kurt gushed. “And I want to introduce you all to these guys from this band who will be there. These guys are gonna be huge, I swear!”

That was the night she first encountered Lance Diamond, who died Sunday of complications resulting from heart disease.

And the guys from that band that was bound to make it? Robby Takac and John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, whose friendship with Diamond endured over decades and included several stellar performances, among them a recording of Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” widely considered an underground classic.

Diamond bridged the seemingly massive chasm between lounge music, old school R&B, Vegas-style soul and gritty punk-pop. He was the guy everyone loved, whether they hung out at the old Continental four nights a week, or only ventured into the city proper once every two months for dinner, a play and maybe a late-night cocktail.

He was a living legend who could play a wedding, a lounge, a casino, a rock club or a massive outdoor stage during the Buffalo summertime, and the results would be the same – people danced, people sang along, people hoped Lance would throw them a rose or a cufflink.

And people smiled.

Even those who encountered Diamond on a less consistent and more casual basis recall him as a man who treated people with the same graciousness whether he was on stage or off.

“I just want to pass on what a great guy he was,” said Jay Kick, who tended bar at the Elmwood Lounge, where Diamond was the house act for years. “Everyone knew he was an incredible entertainer. But he was a really, really great guy. I worked at the Elmwood Lounge and lived in the neighborhood for years. He would always say hello whenever I saw him, in or outside of the club. It always made me smile. And man, he put on one hell of a show.”

Buffalo artist Don Keller remembered Diamond’s “great voice and the great heart.” The two worked on a number of graphic design projects, including the sign that hung above the Elmwood Lounge for decades, and his “Lance Diamond Christmas” CD.

“I think his version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ with Them Jazzbeards is one of the best Christmas renditions ever,” he said. “We became good friends over the years, right through his impassioned involvement with Music is Art. He always called me ‘Keller,’ and rarely ‘Don,’ in that great baritone voice of his. I really loved that.”

Seamus Gallivan, a contributing News reviewer who presented Diamond as part of last summer’s Live at Larkin concert series, recalled the commitment the singer brought to his performances, even after his health had begun to fail.

“As I led an exhausted, sweat-drenched Lance offstage and through the howling crowd, he put his hands on my shoulders for support as people applauded and patted him in adoration,” Gallivan recalls of that night at Larkin.

“I felt like the manager of a prizefighter, exiting the ring in victory – only in this case, the hero returned for an encore. In this moment – his final bow before such a big crowd – he left as he lived, a supremely gracious and grateful ambassador of love, the life of the party, a consummate showman and true champion.”

As I write this, I’m looking at the mantelpiece in my living room, where a rose that Diamond handed to my wife during that performance at Larkin Square this past summer holds pride of place amongst the family photos. And I’m remembering earlier days during that same summer, when I took in a pair of Goo Goo Dolls shows with Diamond, and he spoke freely of how much that band meant to him.

“That feeling was most definitely mutual,” Takac said. “We loved him, and he taught us so much. Perhaps the lesson he taught us that made the most impact was this – your fans and the people who participate in what you do, they are the ones who matter, and they mean everything. He’d tell us that, whether you’re performing for three people or 30,000, you give the same, and you give it appreciatively. We’ve never forgotten that. And we saw Lance live it. He loved Buffalo and Western New York. He’d say to me, ‘Man, I can walk anywhere in this town, and people know who I am,’ and he totally loved that. ‘These are my people, and this is my place,’ he’d say. And he meant it.”

Takac met Diamond in 1986 when he moved into a house on the West Side, where Diamond lived until the end.

“There was this really cool hallway in that building, and Lance used to sing there, because the acoustics were so cool. Soon, we’d be playing guitar in the hallway with him while he sang, and me and John (Rzeznik) and George (Tutuska, original Goo Goo Dolls drummer) became fast friends with him. It was really interesting, because what each of us did was so alien to the other. We really had no idea about the world Lance came from, and he really didn’t understand where we were coming from, either. But we felt his passion, because it was unmistakable. And he loved our energy and our irreverence.”

Mike Slomowicz, who has been the guitarist with the 24 Karat Diamond Band for the past three years, was also inspired by Diamond’s work ethic. “He taught me so much about stage presence, dynamics, and showmanship,” the guitarist says. “On stage, he gave everything he had, whether the audience was 10 people or 10,000.”

Photographer and Music is Art Foundation board member Bob Mussell recalled his friend as “one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever met.” He credits him with imparting great wisdom on a regular basis. “Lance and I never left each other without hugging and saying ‘I love you,’ and I am so happy for that now. He meant so much to me that I’m having trouble expressing it in words.”

Though his health had been an issue for several years, Diamond never stopped working. It was in fact the last-minute cancellation of his annual New Year’s Eve concert that alerted many in the community to the severity of the situation. Diamond, according to his business partner Steve Reszka, had a number of artistic ideas in the pipeline for the new year at the time of his death.

“He had two major projects,” Reszka says.“The first was a CD of all original material, written by Lance. He was working on it at (Takac’s) GCR studio. Lance already had the vocals recorded. The second was an independent movie in preproduction called ‘Me & Lance Diamond,’ that two guys from Los Angeles – one a former Buffalonian – wrote and were producing. They were looking to start shooting in the late spring or early summer. Lance would have played himself.”

Of course. Because no one could’ve played him more convincingly.

“It just doesn’t seem real,” Takac said. “He had plans.”

Lance Diamond was a kind and compassionate man, a humble character who considered himself lucky to have meant something to so many people in Buffalo over the years.

He was a beautiful guy. And he will be missed. Terribly.

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