Allynn brings Neil Diamond tribute for WCMA concert

Keith Allynn was a standup comedian as a teenager and an Elvis Presley impersonator after leaving the U.S. Navy, but he makes his living these days performing the songs of Neil Diamond.

It all started to impress a woman.

He sang “Hello Again” from “The Jazz Singer” in his best Neil voice to impress a Diamond fan. It worked. That woman now is his wife, and she’s the one who encouraged him to leave behind the King and become the Solitary Man.

“There were too many Elvises in Branson,” Allynn said during a telephone interview in advance of his performance Tuesday at Packard Music Hall as part of the Warren Civic Music Association’s 2018-19 season.

Allynn always was a gifted mimic, which started his performing career, an odd choice for someone who describes himself as being on the autism spectrum.

“I was kind of an odd duck,” he said. “I grew up with what they would have referred to Asperger’s syndrome (today). They didn’t realize what autism spectrum disorder was then. You were either ‘Rainman’ or you weren’t.

“I had different abilities, different quirks, and one of them was parroting, mimicry. I always made people laugh with impressions of different people in school.”

For his 14th birthday, his friends took him to an open mic night at a local comedy club. His age and his comfort on stage impressed the club’s owner, who started booking him around the country. He toured with Tim Allen and opened for such acts as Chris Rock, Robin Williams and George Wallace.

He draws on that comedy background for his Neil Diamond act.

“We do call our Neil Diamond tribute Branson’s only romantic comedy,” he said, explaining how he weaves the story of his relationship with his wife between the songs. “There’s a comedy of errors all the way through it. Everything is true, but the best comedy comes from real life.”

Because he breaks character between songs, Allynn doesn’t consider himself a Neil Diamond impersonator.

“I try to emulate him as close as possible, but I don’t pretend to be Neil Diamond and I don’t like it when people call me an impersonator. I sound like him when I sing the songs. I also emulate his voice in the different time periods. I do a couple newer songs and use that deep, rich, raspy voice. With the songs from the ’60s, it’s higher pitched, almost a low tenor timbre to the voice.”

Allynn’s setlist spans Diamond’s career, but the majority of the setlist comes from that sweet spot between 1968 and 1975, he said, when Diamond recorded such songs as “Sweet Caroline,” “Holly Holy,” “Solitary Man,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “I Am … I Said,” “Song Sung Blue” and others.

“In my opinion, he’s the greatest songwriter of our time,” Allynn said. “There may have been some better songwriters, but they’re not here anymore. He and Bob Dylan are the only ones left. And Willie Nelson.”