ARCHIVE LIBRARY

BEEF

by Jerry Honigman

Dan Diefenderfer is a unique individual. Some people call him a wild man. Some say he’s crazy. Some are awestruck by his ability to work hard, play hard, live and love hard, and simultaneously party hard – morning, noon, and night. Most folks just shake their heads, smile and simply say, “Dief,” as if that sums it all up. And it kinda does.

I brought Dief out to Los Angeles in 1978 to be a part of my band, The Romeos, and he immediately took to the town like a duck to water. We were involved with some of the top musicians in the world, and he fit right in. He lived at James Newton Howard’s house for several years. James was in Elton John’s band at the time and would go on to become one of the premier movie soundtrack composers for the next several decades, earning many Academy Award nominations. Through that connection, Dief toured with Elton a couple of times just because they wanted him around, until they didn’t. Dief. Cher called him “Beef.”

He hung out and became friends with Toto, Little Feat, Mike Finnigan, and more. We had a friend, Dr. Eugene Schales, who was a physical therapist and had 22 clinics in the L.A. area and was the team doctor for the Raiders, who were in Los Angeles at the time. He lived in a fabulous house on a small mountaintop in Brentwood where we’d sometimes party. It had panoramic views of the greater Los Angeles area, from downtown to the ocean and out to Catalina. There was an underground wine cellar carved into the mountain, and many more bells and whistles. One Thanksgiving, Dief was going over to Gene’s to cook the turkey and trimmings when Gene decided to call and invite his friend David over and told him to bring his guitar. All that afternoon, Dief and David Crosby spent the hours pickin’ and grinnin’, swapping stories and playing Crosby’s tunes, CSN&Y tunes, Dief and the Romeos songs and more. Only Dief.

Enough smoke. Let’s meet the real Dief. When the Romeos’ national tour took us to New York in 1980, we were scheduled to open for Roy Orbison at Town Hall in Manhattan. Cool gig. Backstage before the show, one of Orbison’s team noticed Dief wearing his ever-present, signature Ray-Ban glasses and reminded us that was Roy’s trademark look and Dief wouldn’t be allowed to wear his at the show. A few minutes later, Dief encountered the legend himself in the hallway, and as they approached each other, Dief dramatically whipped off his shades, threw them on the ground, and stomped them to bits, after which he threw back his head a gave a hearty laugh. Roy dug it. When we took the stage to start the show, we launched into the dramatic intro to my song “Read a Page a Night,” which, after the big start, would come to a silent halt which would then be filled by Dief’s lone guitar providing a bed of strummed eight-note chords during which I would step to the mic and start to sing. So, we played the big intro, stopped to let the silence bring the tension, and then I stepped into the light at the microphone, waiting for Dief’s chords – which never came. We all turned to see Dief with his eyes closed, intently strumming his instrument, but with no sound coming forth. He had forgotten to plug in. Dief. After a moment’s embarrassment, we started over and delivered a smoking and well-received set to save our collective face.

It was around this time that the world was introduced to “Chef Dief.” Now, don’t get me wrong, the boy can cook, but he just can’t help going over the top. In 1984, the food universe was going Cajun/Creole crazy. Paul Prudhomme was a star, and people were following the fad like sheep. Ignorant sheep. As long as the word “blackened” was in front of something, they thought it was the hip thing to eat. “Hey, come over for dinner tonight, we’re having blackened liver and onions, and, for dessert, blackened tiramisu.” Well, a new restaurant was opening in Beverly Hills on La Cienega, smack in the middle of Restaurant Row. It was called The Ritz Café and was promoted as a real-deal New Orleans Cajun/Creole experience. Opening night was packed with eager diners waiting breathlessly for the promised trendy faire being prepared by the lauded and much ballyhooed, you guessed it, Chef Dief! He had actually bluffed the owners into believing he could deliver on this grand scale. And during his time there, he would frequently come out front into the dining room to accept any and all praise which might be offered, resplendent in his filthy, sauce and food-stained apron and proud grin on his face. This lasted only a couple of weeks before it was realized that a charlatan had hustled his way into this prestigious position. Like I said, the boy can cook, but he was vastly unqualified to run the kitchen of a five-star Beverly Hills restaurant. He was demoted to shucking oysters, which, in true Dief fashion, worked out much better for him. He earned ten times more money working out front at the oyster bar and schmoozing the customers for tips. Dief.

His Cheffing days didn’t end there. Through friends, he landed the gig as chef for a resort in Palm Springs. He kept telling us how great it was and that he was killing it there. So, one weekend, Dony Wynn and I decided to go there and check it out. One night as we were hanging with him in the kitchen, Dief pointed to a pair of blue-haired old ladies in the restaurant and said, “Watch this. They ordered Bananas Foster, one of my specialties and a real show-stopper.” As he brought the dish to their table, he realized he’d forgotten a way to set the confection ablaze, so he proceeded to bum a light from one of the ladies, who dug a Bic out of her purse. Then, with the bananas glowing with fire as he brandished the dish with a dramatic flourish, the time came to snuff the flames prior to service. However, instead of covering the dish with some sort of cloche with which to extinguish the fire, he merely reared back and blew all over the plate before proudly serving their portions with an endearing smile. Dony and I had to hold each other up to keep from falling to the floor laughing. Dief.

When he lived in Nashville, Dief, along with the great Leon Medica, would play around town in a loose- knit configuration of players they called Bayou Degradable. Dief or Leon would book a gig, quote a price, and then put together an appropriate band for the occasion. One particular occasion was a celebration for Tim McGraw upon achieving his first Top Ten hit with “Indian Outlaw.” Dief promised to deliver a genuine Louisiana Cajun experience for the crowd which consisted mostly of other musicians and music executives. Pre-Faith Hill, Tim was there with his mother. Confident he was delivering the real deal that was hoped for, Dief hired famed Cajun fiddle player, Rufus Thibodeaux for the gig. Rufus was as Cajun as they came and was revered for his true-to-his-roots playing. He even had played on a couple of Neil Young albums, “Comes a Time” and “Old Ways.” So, as they were setting up for the show, Dief went over to Rufus with pen and paper in hand ready to write down the set list. He asked Rufus what songs he wanted to sing, to which Rufus replied, “Mais, I don’ sing nuttin’, cher. I play the fiddle.” Did that deter Dief in any way? Of course not. He proceeded to front the band singing in fake patois as if he was delivering true old-timey Cajun music from the swamp. They’d start a song, and he would sing something like, ”Tout les soire comment pas c’est la Dijon pour mes amis. Dans le pue avec connais mon Jolie Blonde.” Total nonsense. For two hours. Gibberish. The audience loved it. They thought they were being transported to South Louisiana. Afterwards, as they were packing up, Rufus came over to Dief and said, “Mais, how you got my number?” Dief pointed across the room to Leon who saw them looking over at him and smiled and waved. Rufus turned back to Dief, “Lose it.” Dief. Or, as Cher would say, “Beef.”

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