Benny Mardones Interview
Benny Mardones is certainly no stranger to Syracuse, N.Y. In fact, you
could almost say that Syracuse is Benny's adopted hometown. His popularity
here is nothing short of phenomenal!
He's performed in just about every venue you could think of, including
the Landmark Theatre, Longbranch Park, Le moyne Manor, Mac Arthur Stadium
(now known as P and C Stadium), and the Turning Stone Casino.
For those who don't know, let's review a little of Benny's past. He was
born in Cleveland Ohio, but spent a great deal of his time in Savage, Maryland.
His first album was on Private Stock Records in 1978. Produced by Andrew
Loog Oldham (co-manager and producer of the Rolling Stones and one time
publicist for The Beatles), featured players included Mick Ronson (David
Bowie's guitarist) and Jerry Shirley (Humble Pie drummer.)
Benny's second album, ''Never Run Never Hide" (Polydor Records) produced
the hit" Into The Night",
Originally a hit in 1981," Into The Night" was back on the charts
in 1989, after being re-discovered by radio stations across the country,
making Benny Mardones the only artist of the 1980's to have made the top
20 twice with the same record!! A second album for Polyder produced the
crowd pleaser ' Sheila C
In 1982, much of the Rock Press referred to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger,
and Benny Mardones as 'The Three B's' and the 'Voices of the 80's.'Benny
Mardones was riding high!!
He was making $35,000 a night for concert appearances. He had fancy sports
cars. His own private plane. A country home. And all the good times money
can buy. Then Benny's good fortune went bad thanks to cocaine.
Dropped by his record company and broke, Benny spent much of the mid 1980's
trying to get his life back on track. Syracuse has always been good to Benny.
His concerts here were always sell-outs. A couple of independent albums
released in Syracuse, one called "Unauthorized" and the other "American
Dreams" sold 16,000 copies each.
In 1987, Benny was given the key to Syracuse by Mayor Tom Young. What
is there about Benny Mardones that's so special? It's his voice. This guy
can really sing. He has no gimmick. He's never been hyped and doesn't need
Benny Mardones is a Class Act in a business that is not known for class.
On a personal note, this writer has interviewed close to a thousand entertainment
personalities, but none more then Benny Mardones. This interview marks the
forth time I've talked to Benny in thirteen years.
We're proud to present an interview
with the one, the only - Benny Mardones.
Q - Does Benny Mardones have a record deal as we speak? Have you been
in the recording studio?
A - I'm not in the studio recording. Well, I'm recording, but I'm writing
Q - Does that mean you have a record deal in the works?
A - Well, I really can't believe that you brought that up, I can't believe
that you mentioned that. In the past 3 or 4 days this amazing thing has
happened. In 1980, as you know 'Into The Night' first came out, sold millions
of records and established me as an artist. Then ten years later, 'Into
The Night' came out again, like fell out of Heaven, and boom it was a hit
again. Anyways, now it's ten years later and I just found out it's gonna
be in the brand new Sylvester Stallone blockbuster movie 'Driven' which
is the quintessential race car movie which is coming out in the spring (of
2001). They want a brand new version of 'Into The Night' with me singing
it. I thought they wanted somebody else to sing it, but no, it turns out
they want me to sing it. So, all of a sudden, in the past couple of days,
record labels have been calling which is really weird.
Q - Before all of this happened, what were you doing?
A -I was out on tour all summer with Britney Spears, because I co-manage
Stryke 5 which is this really cool vocal group that we found in South Florida,
last year. That was quite an experience being on tour with Britney. (Laughs).
These kids have a new record coming out on Epic in January. They're gonna
be out touring with either Backstreet Boys or 98 Degrees. I co-manage Stryke
5 with Lou Ann Nast, Tommy Nast's wife: the legendary Tommy Nast from 94
Rock. Now he's a Big Shot with FFX and Clear Channel. Her and I manage this
group and we've been out on tour with em', and we got em' signed to Epic
Records! Our first record which is coming out in January is a re-make of
Barry Manilow's 'Mandy'. And pal, when you hear these Black kids and this
Italian kid sing, it will slow people’s minds. People don't even know
what song it is, but, we debuted it on tour with Britney and the crowds
went crazy. It's gonna be a big record. So, I figured that management was
where my life had taken me. Then, my publisher called me and says, it looks
ninety-nine percent like 'Into The Night' is the center piece song, which
is at a very poignant place in the movie.
Q - I know Stallone was handled by the people at the William Morris Agency.
Is that who placed your song in the movie?
A - No, actually Mark Freed, my publisher. He's the President of Spirit
music, the company that handled my catalog.
Q - Whatever happened to that Showtime documentary on you?
A - Well, that's full-blown. They showed it at the New York Film Festival
in September. It got rave reviews. The Weinstein’s came in from Miramax
Pictures, for a private showing as did HBO. The people from the Sundance
Film Festival came in and saw it and literally lauded the guys that did
it - Greg Ross, and Will Keenan. Greg Ross is sort of the quarterback of
this thing. Will Keenan is his partner. They showed it to the guy from Sundance
and let me tell you what happened. The Sundance people gave him a one week
extension to the deadline to add another 15 minutes to what they already
had, to make it enough length to fit within the restrictions and rules of
The Sundance Film Festival. So, it's being debuted at The Sundance Film
Festival. So, it just seems Roy Orbison up in Heaven and said hey, let's
do something nice for Christmas and all of a sudden within a few days, this
Stallone thing happens. The Sundance Film Festival want to debut the documentary
and I get to come home for a early Christmas Show (at The Turning Stone
Q - There was a time when you were living in Syracuse. Do you now have
to live in Los Angeles? What's the advantage to you?
A - Well, I live in California because I lived in New York for years.
I lived in Syracuse for a while when I was really into Recovery and trying
to straighten out my personal life which had really taken a nose dive. I
had a lot of personal issues I was dealing with back in those days. There
were guys from Syracuse that stepped up for me, like Joey Demaio and Peter
Salameno and Uncle Tommy's out here now. And of course all the fans from
Syracuse stepped up for me. So, it was a place for me to heal myself and
lick my wounds and try to find some direction again in my life. But, other
than that I had a home for years in Woodstock, New York. So, I lived in
New York for 17 years, but it got to a point where the winters weren't too
good for me. Southern California is great. My son lives with me now. He
was living in Northern California with his mother. As a matter of fact,
Michael is coming to the concert at Turning Stone. So, that'll be the first
time my son has been back in New York in 3 years. He's real excited too
Q - Did you ever meet Elvis?
A - Yeah, I did. I met him at Madison Square Garden in 1973. Jerry Weintraub
brought me backstage with Joel Diamond (Benny's Manager) and I got to meet
Q - What did you and Elvis say to each other?
A - I talked to him for about 10 minutes. What do you say when you meet
the king of Rock 'n' Roll? What are you gonna say, great show? So, I just
walked up to him and started laughing. I put my hands up like, what the
hell am I gonna say to you, man? You're the king, man. Jerry said, ‘Elvis,
this is Benny Mardones. He’s ayoung singer. Someday this kid is gonna
be a star.' He said, 'Well, I wish you a lot of luck.' I said, 'Man you
know you've changed my life. Anything I could ever say to you I'm sure has
been said a million times, but, I said “Life comes down to a handful
of moments, and right now this is one for me. Thank you." We talked
for a minute and then I started to leave. As I got close to the door I turned
around and said "Okay okay. I can't leave without an autograph, and
he started laughing. So, he opened up an attaché case and took out
a private picture and he signed it' To Benny —Best Wishes, Elvis Presley.'
He gave it to me and said, "I'll see you on tour. And that was it.
Q - How were you discovered?
A - I was a writer. I walked into Mercury Records when I was a kid and
met a guy named Joel Diamond, who's probably gonna be involved in the new
'Into The Night,' in one way or another. He let me hang out in his office
for a couple of days. I remember he introduced me to Muhammed Ali who was
still Cassius Clay back then.
Q - You've met 'em all haven't you?
A - Yeah, at one time or another my boy. I sat there for about 4 or 5
days and I said to him 'I love that you let me hang out at your office.
Why do you let me hang out at your office?' He was the head of the publishing
co. He said, 'I like to talk to you. You tell great stories.' And he said
'I never turn my back on a dream. That's how stars are born.' A couple of
days later he said, 'This is Alan Miles. Alan doesn't tell stories or write
lyrics but, he plays piano. Alan, this is Benny Mardones. He don't play
piano, but he tells great stories, and I think if you put it on paper it
would be great.' So, me and Alan sat down together and the first song we
ever wrote was 'Too Heavy To Carry.' I didn't know what to write about so
I wrote about losing somebody in my family when I was a kid. My mother used
to say 'The Lord never makes a burden to heavy to carry. She used to always
tell me that. So, the song was 'Too Heavy To Carry.' And the song is 'Tar
paper shanty on an old dirt road.' Seeing my mother working made my blood
run cold. People making fun made me wonder and doubt. Why the lord chose
our family to have to go without. I'd shout out in anger, a child stricken
with fear. But my mother's voice used to dry away my tears and she'd say
'The Lord never makes a burden too heavy to carry. Never put the challenge
where it can't be won. You see some people got to try just a little bit
harder before their life's work is done.' I wrote that and believe it or
not, three weeks later Brenda Lee recorded it. (Laughs). And so, we went
from being on the 'Memphis Portraits' album produced by Chips Moman and
Brenda Lee. And, that's how my career sort of got started. After I wrote
about 19 or 20 other cover songs for other artists and noticed that a lot
of 'em were singing the lines like I wrote 'em, Joel Diamond said 'I got
an idea. Why don't you make the records?' So, I started singing. At one
time in New York City I was the King of Demos and the King of Blue Eyed
Soul they used to say. I was called the King of Blue-Eyed Soul' cause I
was this white boy in New York City that used to hang out at the Baby Grand
up on a Hundred and Twenty Fifth and Broadway, up in Harlem. I'd get onstage
with a lot of the Black bands and jam with 'em. I got a reputation as being
this singer from somewhere and they'd never heard any white kid sing like
this. Really, it started from there. Richie Havens heard me sing in Woodstock
one night at the Joyous Lake, which is where everyone from Bob Dylan to
Janis Joplin, to The Band has played. That night the late, great Paul Butterfield
was onstage with Bernard Purdy. Aretha Franklin's drummer, Cornell Dupree,
her bass player, Richard Manuel, David Spinosa on guitar and the late Richard
T. on keyboards. They were the greatest New York session players in the
country. They were on every hit record that was being cut. That night, the
owner of The Joyous Lake Ron Marion said 'Benny get up and sing. Nobody's
ever heard anybody sing like you.' And I said 'Yeah, but what am I gonna
do?' He goes, 'Don't worry about it.' I said,' I better not.' He waited
until a break, and went up to Gordon and Bernard and said, "This is
Benny Mardones. Let him sing a song." They said, 'What do you want
to do?' I said, 'Do you know Chuck Jackson's Stand By Me?' They said 'yeah.'
I got up and sang it, and ten minutes after I got offstage, I went up to
the bar to have a drink. I hear a voice that said 'Do you play piano?' I
turned around and it was Richie Havens.
Q - Ten minutes singing 'Stand By Me'?
A - I stayed up for about 3 or 4 songs. I did Summertime, and maybe 'Knock
On Wood.' I told Richie Havens I don't play piano. I didn't know how to
play piano. He said, 'You got two weeks.' I said o.k. So I went and bought
a chart that showed where my fingers go for chords. I learned how to play,
A,B,C,D,E,F,G,E minor, A minor, and that was it. Two weeks later I was at
the Wakiki Bandshell in front of 6,000 people playing, opening for Richie
Havens. I toured all over America, culminating opening for Peter Frampton
and Dave Mason at Madison Square Garden where he did 'Frampton Conies Alive'
which careened his career out of control. From there I was signed to Private
Stock, and from there I started making records.
Q - What a story! I don't believe something like that could ever happen
again to a young singer.
A - Yeah. Of course everybody only sees the glamour. Don't forget my friend,
the music business is a shallow and cruel money trench. A long plastic hallway
where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. Hunter Thompson.
Q - Is Benny Mardones a rock 'n' roll singer or is that term to narrow?
A - I see myself across the board. I love rock 'n' roll. I love pop music.
And, I love R and B. R and B is what I was breast fed on. I was raised listening
to The Dells, and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and people like that.
That's my roots, man.
Q - Why do you think it's been such a struggle for you to get even greater
A- That's a long, hard question with a longer, harder answer, and one
that I don't know for sure the answer to. Some night I think I know and
other nights I'm not so sure. It's something I've had to learn to live with.
You take life and you try to make everyday the best you can make it. A lot
of times you just don't have answers. The funny thing with me is when I
stopped trying so hard, things got easier for me. I don't think God put
me here to have one hit record, even though it was a hit twice. So, I must
be here to do something.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved