The ballad of Ricky Diamonds

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      By Matt Coté

      Whatever happened to the crooner? Why is Michael Bublé the sole heir to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Paul Anka? He’s not: there’s also Ricky Diamonds, an oversexed former Las Vegas icon currently marooned in the tiny backwater of Golden, BC.

      Or so the story goes. Diamonds is the comedic alter ego of roots musician Eric Larocque, formerly half of the folk duo Broken Down Suitcase, later called Broken Brothers.

      Larocque first conceived the character while struggling to establish himself as a solo act in Vancouver. Sick of inattentive audiences, he showed up to a gig at his workplace, the Shameful Tiki Room, wearing a bedazzled blazer and ascot, and appropriated the flamboyant persona of a bloated, washed-up lounge singer. He tore into exaggerated karaoke renditions of Neil Diamond and Roy Orbison songs while accosting patrons with grotesque body dancing. He wandered up to tables to steal creamers while indulging in off-colour banter drawn from the ’50s.

      “I literally just wanted to be an asshole, and I wanted to sing in front of people,” Larocque admits to the Straight. “I wanted to make fun of the audience…  to have people go, ‘What the fuck is happening?’”

      Eight years later, that kamikaze mission has grown into a stunningly well-produced EP called In the Rough, and a short film titled Ricky in the Rough that hopefully will be a springboard to an ongoing musical comedy series. What’s more, Ricky Diamonds has built a cult following in the unlikely borderlands of BC and Alberta, filling bars, emceeing festivals and playing corporate gigs for companies as big as Bombardier. And his new, original music is so vexingly excellent, it calls into question whether any of it is even a joke anymore.

      Shortly after creating Diamonds, Larocque moved back to Golden, where he’d met his then-wife while ski bumming in his early 20s. Though he gave up on music at that point, he kept playing Ricky Diamonds as a comedy act at all his old venues.

      “It was out of this insecurity from not being original,” Larocque says. “I was just a solo guitar guy, and, you know, there’s an awful lot of them. It was hard in Vancouver. It’s competitive, and I’m not a competitive person.”

      Ricky Diamonds flipped that script, folding irony in on itself to re-appropriate it from the cool kids. The point was not that Diamonds didn’t care what anyone thought, but that he actually reveled in his audience’s contempt. He accosted them with gratuitous legato, cringey jokes, belches in the middle of songs, and a superiority complex—frequently demanding that patrons “shut the fuck up.”

      Audiences picked up on the gag and loved it. When Larocque played Interior BC and Alberta, instead of pissing people off, he’d get rebooked the same night. But no one was having more fun than the entertainer. Since then, the line between Diamonds and Larocque has blurred, and he’s come to truly love the musical genres he luxuriates in.

      “There are a million people spoofing lounge singing,” Larocque notes. “Like the Bill Murray or Andy Kauffman thing. But why can’t it be both, why can’t it be funny and good music?”

      With the release of In the Rough—co-written by Tyler Allen of Calgary’s Red Hot Hayseeds—he posits that it can. And in the short film, now available on his website, Diamonds’ backstory is fleshed out.

      Produced, directed and co-written by Elora Braden, and clocking in at 28 minutes, Ricky in the Rough tells the story of a man who once owned Vegas, but whose lady, Trixie Diamonds, cast him out. So Diamonds hits the road, choosing Golden because it sounds fancy, but is distraught to learn it’s a blue-collar “shit hole.”

      Over time, he nonetheless wins over the rough little town to become its most beloved entertainer (mostly at birthdays and staff parties). While the film, which Braden conceived as a pilot, is aptly rough around the edges, the comedy is hard to compare. It’s reminiscent of Schitt’s Creek and Letterkenny, but has an auditory edge on both of these.

      The production quality is wholly amplified by the music, which stands on its own as overwhelmingly listenable. If you play In the Rough on Spotify and let the algorithm take over, it follows up with Nathaniel Rateliff, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and Paul Pena. The score is infused with elements of slow jazz (“Your Way”), Motown (“Walking On A Star”), and even western swing (“My Path is Clear”). The songs are earworms that borrow so satisfyingly from past traditions you can almost guess the next lyric.

      Produced by Vancouver’s JP Maurice, Diamonds’ studio band hails from the city and includes Bend Sinister drummer Nick Petrowich. But his nine-piece live band, the Rhinestones, is made mostly of the Red Hot Hayseeds (plus a freelance horn section).

      Since moving back to Golden, Larocque has suffered both a divorce and a pandemic that killed live music for a time. But his own life, like most of ours, has bounced back, and the tale of Ricky Diamonds is a version of his real story. He still feels somewhat exiled from Vancouver, but has since found comfort in an obscure little town he’s begrudgingly come to love—all because it can laugh at itself. 

      In the Rough is available now.