Golden Oldies, Gold Diggers

Lafayette's reigning lounge singer masters everything from Neil Diamond to 50 Cent.

It’s around 10 p.m. on a Thursday when the Rude Bros — two twentysomething dudes clad in T-shirts and lit up to eleven — careen into Petar’s Restaurant and Pub in Lafayette. Shouldering through the crowd of surgically preserved middle-aged couples, pigtailed and cautiously inked St. Mary’s coeds, and white boozehounds of all ages, the Bros make their way to the section of bar that wraps around “Diamond” Dave Hosley’s keyboard. One of them hangs back; the other hollers over Hosley’s tip jar. “Dave! Dave!!!”

The fortyish singer has just finished dedicating Chris DeBurgh’s “Lady in Red” to a table of ten Red Hat Society ladies, those “women of a certain age” who don purple dresses and red hats while flash-mobbing themselves everywhere from Disney World to Golden Gate Fields. As he turns to Rude Bro #1, Hosley’s modest blond pompadour bobs slightly, a smile firmly fixed behind his headset mic. “Hey,” he offers.

His calm demeanor does nothing to soothe the blotto fanboy. “He wants you to play … he wants you to play …” Rude Bro #1 points helplessly to his goony buddy.

“You let me know when you decide,” Hosley deadpans, hitting a few buttons on his Roland keyboard and Dell laptop before launching into “Unchained Melody,” dedicated to a recently engaged couple. When he’s done, Hosley turns back to the Bros, still agitating at the tip jar. “Have you come up with anything yet?” Hosley grins politely, but it’s clear they’ve only got a few seconds to make their request; two women are already jockeying at the jar, dollar bills in hand. “Yeah!” the first Bro screams. “He wants you to play Nelly! He doesn’t think you’ll do it!”

Goony Rude Bro #2 beams, goonily, from the bar.

“Okay,” Hosley replies, pressing a few more buttons. Hot in … he barks into his mic. So hot in herre … so hot in …. The St. Mary’s girls swarm the floor. A yuppie couple (yupple?) show off salsa moves. When Hosley gets to the line Girl I think my butt gettin’ big!, he pantomimes checking out his own ass; the Rude Bros high-five.

It’s just another night at Petar’s, a Lafayette institution since 1959 wherein ivy covers the dark-wood walls, just about everyone is a regular, and Hosley has been the in-house entertainment since 1986, when the Berklee School of Music grad followed a woman out to SF from Connecticut. Diamond Dave is often compared to Oakland’s legendary Rod Dibble, that walking encyclopedia of song who has been enabling crocked crooners at The Alley bar for four decades. But there’s more than a tunnel separating tony Lafayette from egalitarian Oakland now; when Hosley came on board at Petar’s, the joint had a distinctly Alley-esque setup, wherein one female piano player had been leading sing-alongs since God was a little girl.

Diamond Dave shouldered the unenviable task of killing off karaoke for good. “All they said was, ‘By the way, if someone asks for the microphone, just tell them you can’t give them the microphone, that you’re the only one that’s gonna sing,'” he recalls. “They didn’t say, ‘People have been coming in for 25 years and expecting to sing, and all of a sudden this thirty-year-old guy is going to tell them, I’m sorry, you can’t use the microphone anymore.'”

But Hosley’s predecessor moved up the street, and the old-timers went with her; five or six years later, he had his own crowd. Now you can see him every Wednesday through Saturday, from 8 p.m. “till the music stops.” Diamond Dave is an all-occasion crowd-pleaser: Everything from the Killers to the Romantics, from Cole Porter to Big & Rich resides under his MIDI belt. When he does Rod Stewart’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” he does so complete with Rod Rasp(TM); when he plays “Copacabana,” he busts out live congas.

And when the crowd wants hip-hop, Hosley provides. Though a white guy dropping Sir Mix-a-Lot on the ‘burbs certainly smacks of irony, Hosley wields enough sincerity and enthusiasm — not to mention chops — to effectively knock all comparisons to SNL-era Bill Murray right out of your sneering head. And he’s rewarded with a rabid fanship, one that largely couldn’t tell R. Kelly from R. Crumb if it weren’t for his playlist. “And,” he adds, “they probably don’t catch a lot of the lyric that goes by, which is maybe good.”

It was mid-2003 when Hosley started cutting his Darin and Diamond with urban bling. Patrons kept asking for 50 Cent’s “In da Club,” so Hosley took it home and tried it on for size. “And I’m thinking, ‘Mr. Late-Forties White Lounge Guy doesn’t have any business singing this song,'” he explains. “And so I kept rehearsing it, though I didn’t have the guts to play it during the night. And then this black chick that I know came in and said, ‘C’mon, you’ve got to do 50 Cent!’ And I said, ‘Honey, I don’t know if it sounds good.'”

So he proposed a deal: He’d try it if she’d offer a brutally honest critique. His friend loved it, and so did the rest of the crowd. Now Hosley adds new hip-hop numbers to his set on a regular basis; Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” is next.

“In a way, it’s simple,” Hosley says. “You’re always looking for something that’s in their consciousness somewhere, that you’re going to be able to connect with.” On the same Thursday night the Rude Bros begged for Nelly, Diamond Dave charmed an elderly couple onto the floor with Elton John’s “Your Song”; the gentleman mouthed the lyrics into his lady’s ear as he danced her around. “If you don’t get the guy in the corner with the latest Killers song,” Hosley concludes, “you might get him with a song by Johnny Cash. Or he might be a reggae fan and he likes Bob Marley or something. I’m just trying to hit as many bases as I can.”

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