Benny Mardones Interview

There are some people who don't need long, drawn out introductions. Benny Mardones is one of them. The people of Syracuse and Central New York know who Benny Mardones is.
He is the only artist of the 1980's to have made the Top 20 twice with the same record — "Into the Night". Originally a hit in 1981, it was back on the charts in 1989 after being re-discovered by radio stations across the country.
In the early 1980's, the rock press referred to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Benny Mardones as "the voices of the 80's. The three B's."
Well, Benny Mardones is back with "the voice for the 90's and Beyond."
His latest CD is titled "Stand By Your Man" (Curb Records), and Benny will be in Syracuse at the Landmark Theatre on December 27.
We spoke with Benny Mardones about his latest CD, his career, and his popularity in Syracuse.

Q. When Benny Mardones isn't writing songs, or rehearsing for an upcoming concert, what do you do with yourself all day? Is there such a thing as a daily routine?
A. I usually start my day off by going to the gym and working out a little bit. It depends, if I have sessions to do, I do that. Other times I sit at the piano and try to write songs. With the new album I've been on the phone a lot with radio stations. It's been crazy. I was doing like two morning shows a day and I was on the phone literally with 40-50 radio stations a day for six weeks. Calling every station and having them call me. It was just a mutual thing. Me trying to get the record airplay and them doing interviews, and me doing morning shows, and doing ID's and drops. You know, 'Hi, this is Benny Mardones. When I'm in Skokie, Illinois, I listen to WSKO.' That kind of stuff.

Q. And you've had to initiate much of this on your own, have you? Curb Records isn't doing much in the way of promotion for you?
A. You know, Curb Records and I right now are at odds. You're really the first person I'm opening up and saying something about it to; because it's not something I've been talking about to anybody. It's getting pretty obvious to people that know me, especially to my fans and people, back home. Curb Records put out 'Stand By Your Man' as the single and I loved the record. But, after 3 weeks, when CHR Radio didn't embrace it, they just moved onto another project that came out exactly at the same time called 'Fun Factory' who had just come off of a chart record. So, naturally when that record came out, the same time as mine, a lot of stations automatically were on them, because they just came off with a chart record, which is common sense. In 3 weeks, we had 47, 48 radio stations across the country playing the record. It was in Top Ten phones man, O.K. It was moving, but it wasn't enough for them, to stay with it, and put the independents on it. Independent promotion people, which you need in this world we live in to break records.

Q. Because there's too much product out there.
A. Exactly. You know how it works. So the thing is they pulled the indies off at the end of the third week. I went through the roof. I tried to handle it diplomatically at first, by saying, 'C'mon man, what are you doing? Why wasn't I told? Why are you doing this?' I just walked into the offices of Curb Records in Burbank and I mean I walked right up to the head of promotion and said, 'Are you out of your mind? You know, what are you doing man? Is this what you call promotion? Is this what you call waging a battle out there to try and sell something? There's two years of my life on this record!! It took me a year to write these songs. How dare you take two years of my life and work and after 3 weeks, turn your back on it?!' I tried in a very firm way without turning the desk over on him which the old Benny Mardones, trust me, would have done.

Q. And probably did do.
A. Well, I actually did, years ago to the President of Polygram (Records). But, the thing is, that's the old Benny Mardones. Let me tell you, this guy took me to the edge. I said, 'How can you do this man?' He had been the most enthusiastic voice about this record. The truth is, the album was originally gonna be released May 21. 'Baby Tonight' was gonna be the single, which is my favorite song on the record. Around the third week in April, 'Stand By Your Man' comes around, the song. I wanted to take these four kids in who I found singing on the street corner. When Shaun LaBelle who's been with everybody from Prince to Jody Watley, I mean he's a great record producer and writer; when he heard me do the lead vocal, the guide track, for these kids, he said you're crazy. You have to do this. This record is huge for you. I did it. The people at Curb Records heard it and said you gotta do it. This is the title of the album. This is the single. I said, What about Baby Tonight? 'We'll follow up with Baby Tonight, but let's get this out right now!' They were convinced it was an instant hit. After 3 weeks, when a hundred radio stations weren't playing it, man, they just simply went on to Fun Factory.
Q. Where was your manager when all of this was going on?
A.Well, here's the thing. I just got a brand new manager. My former manager during this time was becoming my former manager. It was like the end of a marriage. You know what I mean? When it's the end of a relationship, or a professional relationship, and all this stuff is going down, you can't go crawling back to this person, and say, 'C'mon man, step in and help.' To some degree, he tried to remedy the situation and was totally ineffective, no fault of his. It was totally Curb's fault. They were being totally inaccessible. And, it really fell on my shoulders. So, once again instead of being the artist, I had to put on the hat of a business person too. I had to call them and say excuse me, this is my life we're talking about, what are you doing? When I got no satisfaction and nothing said to me made any sense at all, I then walked in over there. I grew up in the streets man. If I have something to say, I'm gonna look you right in the eye and say it to you, face to face. I tried to do it their way. I tried to do it the corporate way, by letting attorneys, and phone calls, and managers, and faxes and all that. But, when it comes right down to your life and your survival, and something you believe in, those are the times in your life when you can't go to other people. You have to stand up for yourself, and that's what I did. They responded with, we'll give you a release. I said 'Fine, I want a release off the label. Up until this past Friday (November 15) I was in the process of not only getting a release from Curb Records so I could go to another label, but also getting re-recoding rights so I could re-do 'Baby Tonight' and the songs, and put 'em on a new album somewhere else. My lawyers called yesterday (November 21) and we were just told that they've just released the record in England. Some major label heard the album over there and flipped over it, thinks it's a hit, has released it, and hasn't even told me yet what label it is. It could be SONY. It could be WEA. It could be anything. I have no idea who. So now, Curb doesn't want to let me go, because God forbid if I have a hit record in Europe, and I'm a free artist over here. So, that's where it stands right now.

Q. You should be on SONY Records.
A. I’ll never be on SONY as long as Michael Bolton is on SONY. Michael Bolton’s and my vocal styles are very similar. As long as Michael Bolton is on SONY. I’ll never be on SONY. Believe me.

Q. Two, can be better than one.
A. Well, you never know. But anyway, my new manager is a guy by the name of Andrew Trueman.

Q. Never heard of him.
A. Well, he's represented such bands as Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Bay City Rollers, Yngwic Malmsteen.

Q. So, basically a small time guy.
A. Yeah. He left the business in 1988 and was introduced to me recently by the head of E.M.I. He said, 'Ben this is someone that can do right by you, and get your career where it needs to be.' So, we had about 5 or 6 meetings, and played a couple of rounds of golf with the guy.

Q. I hope it works out. You may remember that I did express concern to you, when I heard about you signing to Curb in 1989. Curb was home to The Judds, Marie Osmond, Johnny Lee, and Wayne Newton. I couldn't understand where you would fit in that picture.
A. I was coming in, when they were just attempting to begin opening themselves up to a pop, rock side of demographics. They were gonna open up a pop division and all that, and I saw that as an opportunity, had it been done correctly. I saw that as an opportunity to be a cornerstone artist on a label.

Q. I see Jeff Porcaro played on two of your songs. How did that work?
A. Well, Jeff Porcaro was the original drummer on 'How Could You Love Me,' and on 'Run To You'. What we did is, we saved his drum parts. You see? We re-built the tracks. We re-did the vocals. We re-did a lot of things. We saved Jeff’s drum parts because, because.

Q. Because they're that good.
A. Because life is short pal.

Q. Especially in L.A.
A. Man, I just had a double murder right out on the beach, two hundred yards from my house, two nights ago. I woke up yesterday morning to the police at my door.

Q. You think it's time to move back to Syracuse?
A. (Laughs). Man, I tell you what, if I could play golf year 'round I would.

Q. Maybe we could accommodate you. Would you mind playing golf in a mall store?
A. (Laughs.) Hey man, listen I love Syracuse. My business is out here. That's really the deal. I'm an East Coast guy, born and raised. I'm out here. So while I'm out here, I'm making the best of it.

Q. Have you ever played the grandstand at the New York State Fair?
A. I never have. I played Miller Court (new Cole Muffler Court).

Q. It's a 15,000 seat grandstand. Wynonna drew 5,000. Tim McGraw 7,500. You could probably fill it. Why don't you perform there?
A. I don't know man. Maybe I will. That call really isn't up to me. That call is up to the promoters and the State Fair people. For years Mark Gummer kept me working a lot of good outdoor shows. I did McArthur Stadium. Mark Gummer was an ally of mine, but Joe DeMaio is the man that's doing the Landmark. He's really kind of taking care of things for me back there. Jim Button of Glacier Ridge has been like a pillar beside me. Jim Button is the owner of Herkimer Wholesale, which is Glacier Ridge and a bunch of other things. Through them I've now gotten lined up with NASCAR for 1997, the Rolling Thunder Tour.

Q. It was reported that you were going to get your name on the race car of Todd Bodine, and sing the National Anthem at a big race in Rockingham, North Carolina...
A. I was supposed to sing the National Anthem at Rockingham in North Carolina.

Q. Here's my point, and I'm not trying to be mean, but, what exactly is that going to do for your career? How does that elevate you to the next level in the music business?
A. Well, it's not a point for doing something for my career. We wanted the record to be played in North Carolina. I was asked to come down there and do it. The point is, NASCAR fans are great rock 'n' roll fans. They would love songs like 'Baby Tonight' and 'Sheila C and 'Run To You'. They love any kind of music. It's just another demographic really for me to be exposed to and to play it. A lot of artists believe it or not, have been broken by doing that. NASCAR draws 150,000 people and on off weeks they draw 25,000 people. If you’re doing a show on the back of a flat bed truck called Rolling Thunder, and you’re singing and playing music to 25,000 people, listen man, if you’ve got the goods, you just get more fans. Then, they want to buy your record. That will turn into radio play and that’s how you build a career.

Q. You expressed an interest in getting on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. How’s that going?
A. Well, the thing is, let's be realistic about it, the people at The Tonight Show love my voice. They love my stuff. But, the truth is, you need to be on radio for them to be willing to let you come on there, so that people who know you're gonna be on The Tonight Show want to tune in; 'I want to see that guy that sings that song.' If you're not getting any substantial radio airplay, it's real difficult for them to do that. It's really a situation at the Jay Leno Show where I have a friendly relationship in that they like my stuff, and love my voice, and they love 'Into The Night.' That's really what it all started about — 'Into The Night.' Everybody from Jay Leno down to the people who make those decisions in the Talent Coordinators offices all love 'Into The Night." So its like, are you kidding, Benny Mardones can consider himself on the 'A List.' But, they tell my agent at William Morris, the minute he's bubbling under the charts on Billboard, he doesn't have to be on the charts, we'll give him a shot. But, one has to come before the other, because otherwise it's just unrealistic. It doesn't make any sense for them to put Benny Mardones on 'The Tonight Show' if I don't have a record that's being played on radio around America.

Q. Do those same rules apply for Conan O'Brien's Show?
A. Let me tell you, when 'Dream Baby' was out, I had a chance to do that show. Management decided you don't want to trickle up, you want to trickle down. You want to do The Tonight Show first because at the time 'Dream Baby' didn't do it. We thought “Stand By Your Man” would. But, they're waiting for anything at all to happen with one of my records, and I have an open door at The Tonight Show.

Q. Besides Syracuse, you're popular in Cleveland and New Orleans, is that right?
A. Believe it or not, New Orleans played 'Stand By Your Man.' I don't know if Cleveland did. There's about 30 cities around the country that did play 'Stand By Your Man.' It went Top Ten on their radio list. Without Curb, it's faded out. I was Number Two in Hawaii. I was on all the radio stations in Hawaii. They wanted me to do a show with Keith Sweat in the Virgin Islands. Then this stuff with Curb happened. Whatever destiny or the gods have in store for me. I'm pretty anxious to see, I have no idea why it's coming down the way it's coming down. All I can do is keep moving forward and keep the faith.

Q. You say in the inside booklet of your CD, 'I felt like giving up and walking away." If you weren't singing, what would you do?
A. I was born to do what I do. I was born to sing.

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