Seven years ago, singer Rich Kline decided to ditch the cover band he played in and start Diamond Dogs, devoted entirely to the music of his childhood hero David Bowie. With Kline in the role of Bowie, the band plays regularly on the local circuit. They dig deep into Bowie's catalog (they even know songs from 2002's Heathen and 2003's Reality) and have built up a stage show that now includes several costume changes. Kline recently told us what it's like to be a Diamond Dog.
When did your infatuation with Bowie begin?
Ah, Bowie for me started when I was between 8 and 10 years old. I had older friends who were listing to Diamond Dogs and stuff like that. Then much later, I was working in a cover band, and we would pepper the show with Bowie songs. Night after night we'd get, "You know, you do Bowie really good." After enough BW3s for 50 bucks a night, we thought, "Do we want to be serious about this and go all out and do the full-on tribute show?" We started that up in about 2002.
What's the challenge in impersonating him?
Costumes. Keeping the wig on straight. I've done a lot of theater, and doing something like Bowie is about not being myself onstage. To pull it off is to get into character. In certain ways, it's a lot easier. It's a lot easier to play in front of 1,000 people and pretend to be someone other than yourself.
Did you have to work on a British accent?
Let's just say it's a work in progress. I refer to it as the "we are not from here" accent. I don't know where I'm from, but it's not from here. I usually speak of Bowie in the third person. I keep the interaction to a minimum and let my keyboard player do the taking.
What was the public premiere of Diamond Dogs like?
We played our first few shows at a now-defunct bar called Squeeze Play out in Parma. It was interesting. There were people from other tribute acts and some diehard Bowie fans and curious people going, "What is he doing up there?" The first year of shows were some great learning experiences. We went through several lineup changes. By 2005, when we started playing House of Blues and summer festivals, it locked into place. I currently have the greatest collection of musicians that food stamps can buy. I have a super band, and it runs like clockwork.
Bowie went through so many phases. How difficult is it to incorporate as many of them as you do?
I like the challenge. For me, that was a really big thing. I had been singing in cover bands for quite some time when I started this, and I had had my fill of "Suffragette City." Because I'm doing a tribute, I get into the meatier stuff and the deeper cuts. I love his more obscure work: his Berlin period and the Trent Reznor phase. I just eat that up. I think he was reaching some great heights there. This is an excuse to dip into some obscure material. If I take it out as a tribute act, I can play songs like "Time" or "Station to Station," and that's where the real pleasure comes in for me.
Do most Bowie acts just settle on one period?
I tapped into a pretty good thing. As far as I know in the U.S. and Canada, I have only come across about four other Bowie tribute acts. There have got to be 100 U2 tribute bands and 50 Pink Floyd tribute bands, and yet it comes to Bowie and there's so few. There are more in Europe, and in Italy there are quite a few. The big guy here seems to be David Brighton who's out in California. He bounces between L.A. and Vegas. He does something similar to what I do. Most people say, "Let's do a set of Ziggy and then the 'Serious Moonlight' '80s stuff. So you put on your yellow tux and off you go. It's funny. I look at it as smoke and mirrors. For the first show, I had two or three costume changes, and now I go through seven or eight. The audience really digs that.
I don't think even Bowie does that anymore.
No, he just goes out as the elder statesman and gets to be himself. He plays a great selection of material. I hope he makes it out one more time because he goes over his whole catalogue. I was happy the last time I saw him because his set was similar to ours in terms of song selection. Then he had a heart attack in Europe and hasn't done much since then. He pops up now and then, but he hasn't put out any new material since 2003 and hasn't toured properly since 2004. I don't blame him; he's already made his money.
And you actually like his most recent albums?
I do. I definitely find value in everything he's done. Maybe not so much in the pre-Space Oddity stuff, but I'm not sure he finds much value in that either. It's unfortunate there's not a great outlet for that newer music. His big fans don't get to hear it so I like to throw a few in. I try to throw some of those tunes in so that if people hear it they'll want to go pick the album up in the $5 bin at Record Exchange.
Do you have a personal favorite album or period?
No. From each period, I can pick something. From the Ziggy period, I love Aladdin Sane. From the Berlin period, Low is phenomenal. From the '90s period, Outside is the best Bowie album most people have never heard. It's just a fantastic piece of work.
Have you ever met the man?
No. My bass player met him back in 1990. He said he's not as tall as you think he'd be. I'm met some of his side people like Adrian Belew and Reeves Gabrels and keyboardist Mike Garson. The're very nice guys. I even told Mike Garson I do a Bowie tribute act. He said, "That sounds like fun." I explained to him that it's not a career; it's just a great hobby.
Any chance you could pair up with a Nine Inch Nails tribute act and tour together?
I would love that. A couple of years ago, I did a show at the Phantasy that mimicked his '90s tour. That was a personal favorite for me. The crowd was receptive, which I appreciated, and that allowed me to do a lot from Outside and Earthling.
Bowie has a long history with Cleveland, one of the first cities to embrace his music. Was that something you were aware of?
Yes, I think that's why we do well around here. Cleveland in the '70s was great. Bowie and Rundgren and Springsteen. It's legendary. You can be proud to be from Cleveland. Look at what we were doing. I'm glad I have the ability to pretend to do that.