He is the frontman, the star, if you will, of Diamond is Forever – a show that successfully presents the music of Neil Diamond live, and in the flesh, in a way that is perhaps second only to Diamond himself. Yet, despite being born in Detroit, the US, David Sherry is more than upfront about his Maltese lineage. “I feel Maltese and I’m very proud of it too,” he tells me when we meet up to talk about his life in music. Pointing out that his family name is actually Xerri, he explains that his grandfather was born in Valletta and emigrated to the States back in 1919, allegedly aboard the Olympic, sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic.
“Although he was born in Cleveland, my dad spoke fluent Maltese, but he never taught me the language unfortunately,” Sherry recalls. This proved to be a setback – albeit a small one – when the family eventually moved to Malta. “I was about 15 years old at the time, and the only Maltese words I knew were tini bewsa (kiss me)and jien inħobbok (I love you).” These phrases probably did come in handy at some point all the same, but Sherry says his first impressions of living here weren’t exactly great. “As you can imagine, coming here was a bit of a culture shock to me at first,” he admits. “From colour TV and countless radio stations back home, I suddenly only had access to Rediffusion and a couple of channels on black-and-white television.”
Nevertheless, he insists that his stay in Malta – which lasted a couple of years – was crucial, in that it introduced him to the stage. “Fortunately for me, this kid next door told me about a dance,” he recalls. “I liked music, and I liked to meet girls too, so off I went and it was just great.” The dance was a 4T’s event (4T’s being the youth organisation Teens & Twenties Talent Trust), and proved to be a beacon of light for Sherry. He joined the youth group, which besides staging social events for young people also involved them in civic duties, nurtured their spiritual development and, perhaps rather significantly in Sherry’s case, encouraged them to become involved in the arts. “I must admit that I’d been attracted to the stage from the minute I saw Diamond perform. I was 13 years old then, and it was my first ever concert.” Sherry says that right there and then, he realised what he wanted to do in life. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an actor or a singer, but I knew the stage was my calling.”
With a love of music already embedded in his heart, the 4T’s gave him the perfect opportunity to follow his dream. “It really was the perfect place for me. I learned how to sing, dance, play the guitar and perform on stage there,” he recalls, the glint in his eye reflecting just how dear to his heart this period of his life still is. “The 4T’s gave me my first stage, my first audience, my first applause, my first success and my first realisation that I had some talent,” he continues. “And suddenly it dawned on me that perhaps if I worked hard at developing it, maybe people would want to come and see that I had something to offer the world.”
As with all artists, success didn’t come easy and Sherry says he travelled far and wide, performing in several countries around the world before returning to the US. “I have to say the whole experience was incredible,” he reminisces. Being on the road is most definitely a learning experience, and there’s no doubt it all helped him to become the artist he wanted to be. “Playing to different people helped me develop the way I could connect with an audience through music and convey a message,” he says, drawing a parallel with that same feeling he himself had felt the first time he’d heard Diamond sing Sweet Caroline.
For the past decade, Sherry has been staging – and quite successfully too – the Diamond is Forever show. Some may be quick to pass it off as a tribute show, but Sherry is adamant it is much more than that. “The band is about recreating a feel of Neil Diamond in concert and on record,” he emphasises. “This show offers something different; for example Neil has 20 different versions of Sweet Caroline; our version takes what I love from the original version, but also slips in the various elements that have given that same song different flavours over the years.”
He concedes that the image is heavily influenced by Diamond’s own, but beyond that every effort is made to avoid falling into the trap of being a tribute or covers band. “Many of our versions are morphs, as you can’t really mess with the master’s version, but we make use of the various available arrangements.” And what about the fact that his voice sounds so much like Diamond’s? “It is my natural voice – I was blessed with it,” he replies. “I sing with my own voice, my own passion. It’s true that I do sound like Neil but I’m not trying to – I just sing from the heart.”
More recently, just last July as a matter of fact, Sherry released his debut studio album Glory Road, initially here in Malta and then internationally. A collection of hits from his popular Diamond is Forever stage show, the album was mastered by Randy Sterling, an original member of Diamond’s band. “Randy also plays bass on Holly Holy and I’m really honoured he is involved in this record.”
Of course, Sterling isn’t the only connection Sherry has with Diamond, as he also got to meet the man himself. “Yes, we met backstage at one of his concerts and I was surprised, and honoured, he actually had heard of me.” Further to the album, a video for the title track, also the lead single off the album, has been filmed. “We spent a month travelling around Europe, taking every opportunity to shoot footage for this video, Malta included of course.” Before leaving he shakes my hand, assuring me he will be in touch very soon to let me know when the video for Glory Road is out. “But you know Malta is forever in my heart, so you’ll be seeing me here again soon enough,” he says, with a wink that makes me think his next visit will almost certainly be more than just a holiday. “I’ll tell you about all of that later.”
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (29 September, 2013)