"I was about 11 years old. At that time I was living over in the public housing projects, Littlepage Terrace. These people would come pick us up and bring us to church in Kanawha City on Chesterfield Avenue, the Church of Christ. There are no instruments in the Church of Christ, it's all a cappella. So you have to kind of be able to sing.
"They would hear me singing 'Amazing Grace' or 'How Great Thou Art' or whatever and they'd turn around and go, 'Oh my goodness, young man! Do you realize you sound like Neil Diamond?'
"I was, like, who is Neil Diamond? At the time, I thought he went to my church and I just hadn't met him yet."
A few years later he got his hands on the soundtrack to "The Jazz Singer," which starred Diamond and his songs. He went on to learn Diamond's tunes and hits like "Sweet Caroline," "Hello Again" and "Love on the Rocks."
While working the desk at a Charleston hotel, Denson's muses simply could not be contained and he'd sing some of these songs to guests. They liked it. Management -- not so much. "I was called into human resources and sort of given the option of not singing any longer to the guests and keeping my job," he recalled.
He chose the muses.
"Really, the Black Diamond Show was born out of a desire to eat. I walked out, I remember, from the hotel and looked up at heaven and said, 'Well, God, it's just me, you and Neil Diamond now.'"
Surely, it's an anecdote he has polished and repeated for years. But it's no less true that he has found a niche in an often unforgiving music business. "Little did I know I would never look back again. We're now, I'm proud to say, celebrating the 10th year of The Black Diamond Show," Denson said.
Keep in perspective that he's not playing the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and he plays a lot of corporate functions and private shows. But it's still Vegas, baby.
"I have a rockin' band. We play on the Strip every so often, a little place on Las Vegas Boulevard called Bootlegger Bistro. It draws in a very eclectic audience. We're there once a month, then I'm touring pretty much the rest of the time."
As a man who knows how to make connections, Denson has become pals with The Pointer Sisters, whose stage presence he has studied keenly at scores of shows. In April, he hooked up with King Errisson, Neil Diamond's percussionist and a pre-eminent session player over the years for everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. to Barbra Streisand.
Errisson, reached by phone, said he is hoping later this year to co-produce a CD by Denson (working title "The Black Diamond Experience") with soul music artist and record producer Jerry Williams Jr., better known as Swamp Dog.
"I got to hear him and liked him a lot -- he's a very nice young man. A very talented guy," said Errisson. "We're going to record an album as soon as he's available. There are certain things I'd like to see happen that only a person close to Neil Diamond would know what to do."
Errisson has forwarded Denson's music to Neil Diamond's office in hopes the star might invite his vocal impersonator on stage one day. "I got an e-mail back from the office and they told me they had heard of him long before I did -- and liked it."
Denson hopes someday to finally meet the man who, in a fashion, punches his meal ticket. At the same time, at age 46, he'd like to try and introduce some of his own material into his career. "It would be fun to actually do my own original stuff and see how it's received."
But the Black Diamond knows he owes all to that other Diamond.
"It's a great gig and he's definitely taking me for a great ride. I'm riding his coattails. I make no pretense that I'm not. I love that audiences seem to be getting a kick out of it."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at Doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3107.