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Despite crash Lightning & Thunder still shine


It's been four years since "Thunder," from the Vegas-style, Neil Diamond tribute act Lightning & Thunder, lost her foot in a freak accident.

On the afternoon of May 10, 1999, the then-37-year-old was gardening in front of her South Side home when, out of nowhere, a car bulldozed into her, pinned her up against her house and severed her left foot. (On September 8 an almost-identical accident occurred when a car careened off of Howard Avenue into her front yard. Luckily this time Thunder -- and husband Lightning -- were inside.)

Although the duo lost a number of gigs following the accident, the cover-singing couple still played at Summerfest in late June with Thunder in a wheel chair. Miraculously, the singer/impersonator has since received a prosthetic leg and is able to perform a full show, walk her dog and even work out at Bally's.

"When we run into people who are handicapped they often tell her she's their hero. They look at her as 'the goal,'" says Lightning, 52, who performs as Neil Diamond, complete with sequined shirts, bell bottoms and Diamond's signature sideburns. Thunder, 41, impersonates Patsy Cline, Barbara Streisand, ABBA and Blondie.

Lightning & Thunder, who asked not to have their real names printed, have been together -- both on stage and off -- for 14 years.

In 1987, Thunder auditioned for Lightning's band, Positive Traction, but didn't make the cut. However, when Lightning decided to start the Diamond tribute band in 1989, he called Thunder from Florida and asked her to join.

"At the time I was single parent of two kids, living alone and transferring from one place to another," says Thunder. "So when Lightning called, I was like 'Why the heck not? I have nothing to lose.' I picked him up from the (Mitchell) airport on April 11, 1989 and we've been together ever since."

The couple, who refer to themselves as "America's Singing Sweethearts," were married during a set break while performing at the 1994 State Fair. More than 1,000 friends and fans attended their short-but-sweet wedding that was held near the main stage.

Before dedicating himself to Diamond, Lightning played with the local band The Esquires and was an Elvis impersonator, something he still occasionally does today.

"I've been impersonating Elvis all my life," says Thunder. "But there's so many guys doing Elvis, this is my niche."

When asked why he has a penchant for impersonation, Lightning simply replied, "People asked me to do it for years."

In order to prepare for his "role," Lightning says he studied Diamond by repeatedly watching his movie "The Jazz Singer." From the first time he watched the 1981 film, Lightning was blown away by the parallels between their two lives. Diamond's character was in an all-black band (Lightning was the only white member of The Esquires) and the two supposedly have a very similar stage presence.

And his studying paid off because Lightning definitely looks and sounds like the real Neil. "Many people have thought I was really him," he says.

Surprisingly, Lightning has only attended "five or six" of Neil's concerts and has never met the superstar. In 1996, Lightning & Thunder's manager sent a promo pack, including their CD "Hold on Clean Songs Thru the School of Hard Knocks," to Neil's people, but never heard from them. The couple once stayed in a Chicago hotel where Diamond was checked in and has connections to some of his employees, but still hasn't met the sparkly singer.

"The way I see it, Neil Diamond's still alive and I should get to meet him," says Lightning. "We've done thousands of shows promoting his music, you would think he would have some, I don't know ... gratitude."

But the couple has met, even performed, with some pretty big names. In the mid-90s they opened for Urge Overkill at the Metro in Chicago and performed "Forever in Blue Jeans" at the Marcus Amphitheater with Pearl Jam in 1995.

Today, Lighting & Thunder's performance schedule is finally heating up again after years of suffering from the accident that took Thunder's leg and the devastation of September 11 that greatly reduced bookings. Luckily it was only a matter of time before fans said "Hello Again" to this quirky, talented twosome.

Lightning & Thunder will perform on Sat., Oct. 4 at the Sand Trap (the golf dome), 11027 S. 27th St., in Franklin. Tickets are $8. Call (414) 303-2705 for more information.

They also have a show at Southridge Mall on Thur., Oct. 23 at 10 a.m. and a standing gig every Thursday night at the new Chicago club, Crush, on Diversity and Halsted.

They will play on Halloween night at Café Monmartre in Madison.

Talkbacks

OMCreader | July 27, 2006 at 10:50 p.m. (report)

MrWonder said: I had seen that a documentary was being done a couple years ago. With the Death of Lightening, I wonder whether it has ever been completed.

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OMCreader | May 7, 2006 at 11:48 p.m. (report)

Lightning said: Thunder's next cut(operation) is May 24th 2006

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