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It's the Black Diamond's time to shine

WANT TO GO?

The Black Diamond

WHERE: Appalachian Power Park

WHEN: After Thursday night's game, which starts at 7:05

TICKETS: $5 or $7 in advance (depending on seating), $7 or $9 at gate, $5 after game for concert only

INFO: 304-344-2287CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thursday night at Appalachian Power Park, West Virginia's one and only Black Diamond returns for his first public show in the state in more than a year a year.

Theron Denson, calling from his new home in Nashville, said he was looking forward to getting back to Charleston and will be bringing his band, The Black Diamond Experience, with him.

"It's going to be our debut in Charleston," the Neil Diamond tribute artist said excitedly.

Things are really looking up for the 48-year-old. After spending the last few years roaming from city to city, the singer settled in Nashville last fall, where good things just seem to keep coming.

"The reception to the show here has been pretty amazing," he said. "People are hungry for it. Everybody loves Neil Diamond."

Or if nothing else, they love the idea of a flamboyant African-American from the hills of West Virginia singing the very white pop star's hits and eerily sounding like the Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter.

"I got an agent," Denson said. "I've been playing around town, and I've got a band!"

The band, he explained, formed after National Record Store Day in April. Denson was hired to play at Groove Records in East Nashville.The crowd, he said, was phenomenal.

"They told me it was the biggest crowd they'd ever had for Record Store Day."

Others noticed, too, including a four piece rock outfit, who called Denson up and asked, "Hey, do you need a band?"

Denson laughed.

"Let me think," he said. "Yes!"

With the band, the singer thinks things could really take off for him. Denson is friendly with members of Neil Diamond's band, including Diamond's percussionist, King Errisson.

"We've been talking for a couple of years," Denson said. "He's offered to co-produce an album with me once I get the band tightened up."

The record, he said, would include a couple of Diamond covers, but mostly new material. That project would be the fruition of a dream that began 15 years ago.

Denson started off as a karaoke singer with a sound-alike voice who began performing the songs of Neil Diamond at Charleston area bars and restaurants in the late 1990s. In 2000, he started playing on his own at local clubs, particularly The Empty Glass.

Over the next 10 years, Denson developed an act and became a regular on the Charleston music scene as well as other venues around the state before branching out further. Like Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. he played Las Vegas, though not as a headliner.

Denson said he was happy for Murphy, but he sounded a little disappointed, too. In the weeks following Murphy's 2011 win on "America's Got Talent," Denson said he reached out to Murphy's camp to see if there was any interest in maybe the two of them performing together somewhere in West Virginia.

"I've got a couple of Frank Sinatra songs I do," he explained. "They're songs Neil Diamond covered, so I do them, too.

"I think it would be a great duet to see a couple of hometown boys rockin' a little bit of Neil and a little bit of Frank." 

So far, there hasn't been much interest.

"We've had no contact."

Denson said he loves West Virginia, but it's only through leaving the state that he's found real opportunities as an artist and personality. Most of them have come at unexpected times.

Three years ago, Denson was sitting in a television studio green room with several other guests, each waiting to take their turn on the Dennis Bono show in Las Vegas.

He said, "It was me, a writer named Scott Nollen and that guy from 'Laverne & Shirley' -- the one who played The Big Ragoo, Carmine. His name was Eddie Mekka."

While waiting around, the three started talking. Mekka kept asking questions; he found the singer fascinating. Denson laughed and said Mekka exclaimed, "A black Neil Diamond! Now I've seen everything."

While Mecca and Denson did most of the talking, the writer was listening. Nollen had written several biographies, including books about Jethro Tull, Abbott and Costello and Boris Karloff. He thought Denson's story was pretty interesting, too.

"Scott said my story had everything people want to read about in a biography -- struggles, setbacks, triumphs."

According to Nollen, the book will be published through Baltimore's Midnight Marquee Press. Denson said, "The hope is for it to be out in March."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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