Jazz Weekly: Richard Bennett: Ballads in Otherness
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George W. Harris

January 21, 2019

While making a successful living as the first call guitarist for the likes of Mark Knopfler and Neil Diamond, Richard Bennett has also quietly amassed an impressive catalogue of his own. Classy and understated, his albums are reminiscent of the days when instrumental bands such as The Ventures, The Shadows, Santo and Johnny or Johnny and the Hurricane’s ruled the airwaves in the 50s and 60s. His latest release is a glowing gem, as he calls up his friends on his iphone for a polished and classy read of originals. Bennet plays guitar and steel, adroitly mixing and matching with a string section as well as Roger Spencer/b, Ted Tretiak/dr, Nick Bennett-Andy Reiss/g, spooner Oldham/B3, Lindsay Bennett/p-key, Charlie McCoy/vib, a handful of horns, strings and even VOX.

His guitar voice and style evokes the lyricism of Johnny Smith, as on the warm “No Matter The Odds” and relaxed “This Love Remembered” while he hiply swings on a jazzy “Intermezzo.” Hints of the Everly Brothers are strummed during “Come Summer’s Sun,” Roy Orbison’d nostalgia with horns create a gently dramatic “Dauphine Noir,” and some Duane Eddy twang rockabillies for “Eye For Hire.” Piano and ethereal voice make for a pastoral “Pretty Pillow” with Bennett taking you to the local VFW on the rural “Waltz For A Wayard.” Obviously, he knows how to boogie the blues, and gets juke jointy for “”Bo-Kay,” but for the most  part, Bennet takes you to the local lounge of second sets of the night, as on the relaxed “This Side of Truth.” Charming in its gorgeous and elegant simplicity-the more you listen the more you appreciate it. Any chance for So Cal gigs with this band on a night off from Knopfler?

Nicholas Bennett
Premier Guitar Album Spotlight: Richard Bennett’s 'Ballads in Otherness'

Richard Bennett

Ballads in Otherness

A studio veteran with thousands of sessions to his credit, Richard Bennett is also an ace producer and Mark Knopfler’s longtime guitar foil. But to instrumental guitar fanatics, he’s the keeper of the flame for a style of guitar instrumental music that’s been largely forgotten. It emerged in the late ’50s as electric guitar and stereo vinyl first gained popularity, and—until it was swept away by the British Invasion—permeated movie soundtracks and TV themes. For a refresher course, check out Tony Mottola’s Mr. Big (1959) and Al Caiola’s Golden Hit Instrumentals (1961). These guitarists had serious jazz chops, yet embraced twang and tremolo, and made LPs using cutting-edge studio technology of the time.

Which brings us back to Bennett’s Ballads in Otherness. Echoes of these greats, as well as Duane Eddy and the Shadows’ Hank Marvin, resound in the album’s 13 originals. The tunes evoke saguaro, chaparral, and wide-open roads—the call of the West half a century ago. But for me, the most compelling aspect of Bennett’s music is his gift for writing memorable melodies and executing them with ringing, old-school tones and impeccable technique, whether on electric 6-string or sweet steel guitar.


Ballads in Otherness is also filled with superb chord-melody playing—another skill that’s on the brink of extinction. “Al Casey was my good friend and mentor,” Bennett says of the Wrecking Crew guitarist, “my entree into the Hollywood studio world of the swinging ’60s. He opened my ears to people like Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, and Johnny Smith. The chord-solo pieces are my nod to those guitarists.”

Bennett is a time traveler, bringing vintage instrumental guitar into the 21st century. If you lived through that earlier era, Ballads in Otherness will take you back. But if you’ve never absorbed these sounds, it makes a fabulous introduction.

Must-hear tracks: “Come Summer’s Sun,” “Eye for Hire,” “This Love Remembered”

Nicholas Bennett
In the Press

Richard Bennett: Contrary Cocktail - Vintage Guitar (October 2015)

Mark Knopfler: A conversation with the band - Napa Valley Register (September 2015)

Infamous Angel - Oxford American (June 2015)

Lee Ann Womack Preps Limited Edition Vinyl for Record Store Day - Rolling Stone (March 2015)

Lee Ann Womack's Trouble In Mind Limited 3-Song Vinyl - Grateful Web (March 2015)

All-Star Tribute to Mr. Pedal Steel - Vintage Guitar (October, 2013)

Peter Cooper on Music: Veteran sideman Richard Bennett savors support role - The Tennessean (May, 2013)

Greg Brown - Freak Flag - Direct Current (May, 2011)

Super Session Ace Richard Bennett- Guitar Player Magazine (September, 2010)

"Code Red Cloud Nine" CD Review - Vintage Guitar (October, 2008)

Steve Earle Brings It All Back Home - HollyGleason.net (January, 2008)

A Memorable Riff - Dirty Linen (October/November, 2007)

A Chance Meeting - The Hindu (March 12, 2005)

Super Unknown Guitarists You've Gotta Hear! - Guitar One (January, 2005)

"Themes From A Rainy Decade" CD Review - Guitar Player (November, 2004)

Notorious Cherry Bombs Kick-Off Labor Day on "Today Weekend" - Press Release (August 20, 2004)

In Review / Compact Discs - Shepherd Express Milwaukee, WI (August 12-18, 2004)

Cherry Bombs Burst Back On Country Scene - USA Today (August 6, 2004)

Cherry Bombs Reignite - Tennesseean Nashville, TN (July 24, 2004)

Known for guitar solos, Bennett goes solo for a change - Tennesseean Nashville, TN (July 17, 2004)


Guitar Player Magazine interview September 2010

WHEN I STEP BACK AND CONSIDER MY CAREER, I CAN’T account for it,” says Richard Bennett. “If I do anything well, it’s being a second banana. I thank my lucky stars I get to putter along, decade after decade, playing guitar and making records.”

Bennett is one of those rare musicians who can expertly support another artist’s vision, yet also nurture his own. As a studio guitarist in Los Angeles and Nashville, Bennett has done thousands of sessions. His credits include Joan Baez, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Glen Campbell, the Everly Brothers, Roseanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Barbara Streisand, George Strait, George Jones, Neil Diamond, Waylon Jennings, Smokey Robinson, Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, the Ventures, and Duane Eddy. Bennett has also produced acclaimed albums by Steve Earle (including the epic Guitar Town), Emmylou Harris (Cowgirl’s Prayer), Marty Stuart (Hillbilly Rock, Tempted, and This One’s Gonna Hurt You), and the Mavericks (From Hell to Paradise).

As a member of Mark Knopfler’s band for more than 15 years, Bennett has toured the world five times, played on all Knopfler’s albums since Golden Heart, and contributed to his film scores for Wag the Dog and Metroland.Despite a busy schedule of roadwork and sessions, Bennett has managed to record three instrumental albums of his own: 2004’s Themes from a Rainy Decade, 2008’s Code Red Cloud Nine, and his latest, Valley of the Sun [Moderne Shellac]. On Themes, Bennett explored the twangy crossroads of Twin Peaks and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. On Code Red, he revisited the swinging sounds of ’60s West Coast jazz. For Valley of the Sun, Bennett shifts between these worlds to create a sonic memoir of his life as a budding guitarist in Arizona.

You describe Valley of the Sun as a collection of 11 love letters.

The title is a term folks use to describe Phoenix, where my family moved in 1960 when I was eight or nine. There was music everywhere—every cocktail lounge had a pianist, every beer joint had a country band, there were jazz mills, and you could hear Mersey beat and surf music at the teen clubs. Phoenix also had a healthy recording scene back then. Duane Eddy recorded his hits there, and that’s where Waylon Jennings got his start. It was a Mecca for a youngster getting his first guitar.

What was that first guitar and your reaction to getting it?

Well, my reaction was love at first sight, though I can’t speak for the guitar. I’d been pestering my folks for one, so after a weekend trip to Nogales, Mexico, they returned with a e-size steel-string. No brand name, but boy, I sure loved it. It hangs in my music room now. I look at it and touch it every day.

What was your first electric?

A Kay Vanguard—a two-pickup solidbody that should have been a Hawaiian guitar, the action was so high. I just played it and played it. I was on my way, or so I thought.

When I was 14, I started playing with weekend club bands. I wasn’t old enough to drive, so my folks would chauffeur me to these horrible places where I’d play from 9:00 until 1:00 in the morning. My first steady gig was every Friday and Saturday night at Mac and Marge’s Snake Inn, down in South Phoenix. Their clientele lived week to week in a little motor court next to the club, and it was really the end of the line. I saw people getting pool cues busted over their backs, but I was thrilled to be there—I was playing guitar and making six bucks a night.

What kind of music?

It was country. But because the next youngest guy in the band was about 40, we weren’t playing country music of the day. We were playing country of their day—Bob Wills, Webb Pierce, and Hank Williams.

Who were your influences?

Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Ray Edenton, and James Burton were my guitar gods. I was aware of the Beatles, but I had my hands full just trying to make sense of three chords. It wasn’t until later that other vistas began opening up for me.

There’s a strong swing current in your playing, which must have snuck in via Hank Garland. Absolutely. And Cliff Gallup, once I started expanding my horizon. I became a huge Barney Kessel fan too.

Valley of the Sun covers a lot of sonic turf. Did you set out to write a musically diverse album?

Actually, I cut four or five tunes with no intention at all, other than getting them down. Listening back, I thought, okay, that’s a pretty disparate collection. Now what? I couldn’t hear a thread running through the music and that worried me. Then the penny dropped: Of course, it’s all music that surrounded me in Phoenix. That’s when the concept took hold. When I was producing an album with Emmy [Emmylou Harris], I remember her saying, “You start out making the album, but about a third of the way through, the album tells you what it’s going to be.” That’s exactly what happened with Valley of the Sun.

Where did you record Valley and how long did you spend on it?

I recorded it with George Bradfute at his studio in Madison, Tennessee, which is also where I cut my previous solo albums. George owns Jim Reeves’ old house, and the studio is downstairs in what used to be the rec room. George is a fantastic musician with great ears. Like me, he’s also an avid record collector, so I can say, “George, we need 1957 Ray Conniff echo,” and he’ll know what I’m talking about—and if he doesn’t, he’ll flip through some vinyl and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t pull out a 1957 Ray Conniff LP. We’ll put it on, and he’ll go, “Okay— got it.” I still record to analog tape and George has a 1" 16-track deck, which is cool, too.

Making an album, I tend to complete one song at a time. Once a tune holds water compositionally, I’ll call a session and we’ll cut it in the morning. I’ll finish it up during the day and that will be it. I might not go in again for several months. Valley of the Sun dragged on for about a year, but if you were to add it up, we spent maybe 20 days in the studio.

Valley features a lot of orchestration. Do you record live or build up the sound with overdubs?

I’d love to be able to track everything live, but because of space constraints I generally start with a four-piece rhythm section consisting of another guitarist, bass, drums, and me. Then I gently sweeten those tracks with live strings and horns.

On a couple of tunes, I played most of the instruments myself. I had an idea for arranging “Saguaro,” the opening track, but wasn’t sure if it would work. So I booked a morning session with George and threw down a quick sketch with me playing drums, percussion, rhythm guitar, and the melody. Listening to it after lunch, we thought it sounded pretty good, so I replayed the electric guitar, wrote out a cello part, and on we went.

What were your main guitars on Valley?

Since 1982, I’ve played an early-’80s Fernandes replica of a vintage Strat. I used it quite a bit on Themes from a Rainy Decade, and I came back to it for a lot of the tracks on this album, including a jazz-flavored tune called “Barton’s Theme.” That’s my 1956 Gretsch 6120 on “Nadine’s Scene” and “A Sunset Ride.”

Those familiar with your playing know to expect twangy Western and swinging archtop tones, but “A Sunset Ride” sounds like an homage to Chet Atkins.

After I’d written the melody, I tried to figure out my role in the tune. It’s like you become an actor in someone else’s play. I tried many different ideas, but I couldn’t get a grip on my part. As a lark, I thought, what would Chet do? And then the whole thing fell into place. My guitar teacher in Phoenix, Forrest Skaggs, had a band called the Sunset Riders and some of my first gigs were as a Sunset Rider. So it’s a nod to both Skaggs and Chet.

What are you playing on the swing tunes?

That’s a 1963 archtop built by William Barker, a luthier from Illinois. That guitar belonged to Al Casey. He was part of the Wrecking Crew—A-team session players who cut hits in Los Angeles for everyone from Nancy Sinatra and the Mamas and Papas to the Byrds and the Beach Boys. Al had studied with Forrest Skaggs about 15 years before me. In fact, I met Al through Skaggs, who I’m sure persuaded Al to take me under his wing. Al became like a big brother to me. He died in 2006 and I miss him terribly.

Is the Barker a historic guitar?

It is indeed. It’s the rhythm guitar on “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” and it’s the electric guitar that kicks off “Never My Love” by the Association. And it provided the fingerpicked and rhythm parts on “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the theme from Midnight Cowboy. Al bought it from Bobby Gibbons, a wonderful guitarist who did a lot of record dates in the ’50s and for years backed Tennessee Ernie Ford on his TV show. Bobby bought the Barker new in 1963 and sold it to Al in ’66, I believe.

What amps did you use?

I mainly used an early-’70s Polytone 1x15 combo that belonged to Al. For “And So It Seemed” and “Ciné Capri,” I used a Jennings amp for its tremolo. After Tom Jennings sold Vox in the late ’60s, he built these for a short time. It’s basically an AC15 in a different cabinet.

You’ve spent much of your life in the studio, guitar in hand. Do you remember your first session?

I sure do. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was still living in Phoenix, but I’d arranged to stay with Al and his wife in L.A., and work at his music store five days a week. Al would take me around to sessions, as would James Burton and [Wrecking Crew bassist] Joe Osborn. I remember going to a 2:00 session with Al on August 1st, 1968, just to observe and maybe learn something. This was a fullblown Hollywood date with horns and a complete rhythm section.

They’d called three guitar players, but by 2:00 only two had arrived. While waiting for the third guitarist, they ran the charts for the three songs they were planning to track. By 2:30, the other guitar player still wasn’t there. When the arranger, H.B. Barnum, asked, “What are we going to do now?” Al replied, “Well, my buddy here plays guitar.” Barnum said, “Okay, give him a guitar and let’s go.” So I played my first session sitting next to Al.

How did it go?

I was so scared, I don’t remember, but I think it went fine. I’d kept my ears open during the rehearsal, so I was able to dodge my way through the charts. It was amazing: I’d just turned 17 and now I had everything I wanted in life. It was like getting laid the first time—that was it, man.

But then I had to go back to school and run around the track with kids—it was strange. Of course, I couldn’t tell anybody I’d done a Hollywood record date because they’d think I was full of crap. Somehow I got through that last year of school. I graduated on a Friday and the next day I left Phoenix and moved to L.A. On Monday morning I was working at Al’s store, teaching guitar and meeting people. Eventually the sessions started coming in, and I never looked back.

"Code Red Cloud Nine" CD Review
Vintage Guitar

October, 2008

Richard Bennett

Code Red Cloud Nine

Moderne Shellac Records

As a guitarist, Richard Bennett is the best of all possible things; a modest, immensely skilled and empathetic player who is at home with the West Coast semi-bebop to A-list pop music session work. He even recorded with T-Bone Walker.

On the 12 original instrumentals here, his jazz side is on display, and it better illustrates his clean, unaffected style and tone. The expected guitar influences show up, of course - Kessel, Montgomery, Christian... but someone with Bennett's all-encompassing taste and talent and experience couldn't be expected to draw from only one well. As a composer, he sources Burton Lane ("April By Twilight"), Harold Arlen ("When Connie Used To Care"), Duke Ellington ("Spring Stepped In"), Henry Mancini ("En Trois"), and Dimitri Tiompkin ("Right On The Price, Right On The Corner"). But he does it with a gleeful originality and without a touch of snobbery, gracing "Connie" with a bluesy air and putting a trace of Santo and Johnny in "Samba Soleil." Best of all, Bennett and his hand-picked ensemble (especially Jim Hoke on an array of reeds) swing - gloriously - from one end of this fine collection to the other.   - RA

Steve Earle Brings It All Back Home

January, 2008

"...I have a friend who likes to refer to musicians of unprecedented skill, especially guitar players, as witches. Richard Bennett, who co-wrote some of the songs herein and anchored the Guitar Town sessions, is a witch of the first order. With an arsenal that includes an oversized hollow body Gretsch, a white Telecaster, a six-string bass, Bennett scrawls and etches tone and shape and feeling on Earle's Everyman psalms and ravers. Liquid in one place, bottomy in another, it is a muscular thing being done - and Bennett provides much of the structure."

From article on Steve Earle's Guitar Town by Holly Gleason, who has written for Rolling Stone, Creem, Musician, Interview, Pulse, the New York Times, the L.A. Times

A Memorable Riff
Dirty Linen

Dirty Linen #132

October/November, 2007

A Memorable Riff

Who's one of the most popular musicians in Nashville right now? If you say, Toby Keith or Keith Urban or even Gretchen Wilson, you may get your arm twisted by a squad of regulars at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge or the Bluebird Cafe. Most likely the man of the hour is Richard Bennett, a handy session musician, touring sideman, and bustling record producer who's been bouncing around music studios for more than four decades, working with such musical icons as Mark Knopfler, Peggy Lee, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and Marty Stuart.

Bennett is articulate and soft-spoken, and fairly circumspect about his contribution to popular music. He still takes guitar lessons, studies scales, and is eager to point out that he's constantly expanding his own skills on the six-string because he thinks good musicians never forget to keep moving forward. "No matter how good you think you are, you can always improve. The best guitarists I know never stop learning. And there's always a new trick or technique around the corner."

Bennett, who got the music bug listening to hillbilly and Hawaiian music while still in diapers, got his first guitar by the age of 11 in Phoenix, Arizona, and began taking lessons in 1962 from Forest Skaggs, a Western bandleader who had his own Saturday night dance-hall special called "The Arizona Hayride." Al Casey, a top area session musician and friend of Skaggs, became Bennett's mentor, and when the former moved to Los Angeles in 1969 to do session work there, Bennett came along for the ride. In L.A., thanks to Casey, he got to meet and play with all of the big shots in the recording studios: Joe Osborn, Larry Carlton, Dean Parks, James Burton, Hal Blaine, Barney Kessel, and others. He was still in his teens, but he was learning fast. When Neil Diamond asked him to join his touring band in 1970 after hearing him play, Bennett jumped at the chance, and for the next 17 years, Bennett toured and recorded with Diamond, picking up tips on how to stay focused on stage and how to arrange a "good" song into a Top 10 hit single. When Bennett was asked to produce Steve Earle's groundbreaking album Guitar Town in 1985, the doors began to swing wide open, and soon he was producing records for Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, the Mavericks, Marty Brown, Kim Richey, and a host of others.

-- T.J. McGrath

A Chance Meeting
The Hindu

India's National Newspaper

March 12, 2005

A Chance Meeting

Richard Bennett

Richard Bennett, Neil Diamond and Mark Knopfler's guitarist, loves the Hawaiian guitar.

It was nice to catch Richard Bennett all informal at his door. Sometimes you go straight to them on instinct that they would be nice. Richard was more than nice. In the midst of getting prepared for his concert, he said he was fine spending a few minutes on himself and Knopfler.

What kind of music and guitar work does Richard like? He says "Hawaiian and jazz. "But I should say country and blues too have an equal say in me. And I grew up listening to lot of rock 'n' roll. It is really a stew of music."

Who has influenced you most? "Steve Phillips, Hank Marvin, Chet Atkins, Lonnie Johnson, Oscar Moore, Martin Grady, Bernie and the like." The 50s and the 60s have been a favourite of his.

Richard has been playing the guitar for 30-odd years now. He graduated from high school back in 1969 and moved on to Los Angeles. "My training in music began on records in studios. I started as a studio musician."

How does he like it live? "Studio is all about controlled, and focused drive and music. Live is about reacting to an audience and to your own music."

And then he surprises you on turns in his guitar career. "I've worked with Neil Diamond for 17 years. The connection happened through a musician friend of mine. I'd do the recording."

In 1985, he moved to Nashville as studio musician. There he met friends again who put him on to Knopfler. "That's how I got to know him. We hooked up and worked together and brought out our first album, Golden Heart."

On working with Neil Diamond and Knopfler? "Well, they are two different people. Two different approaches to music. Neil's background is the New York 10 Pen Alley kind, where as Knopfler is from country and blues."

On Knopfler himself? What is it to work with him? "I think he is one of the best living songwriters."

And just as you walk back to the lobby, you find the man himself. Mark, I love your songs, says this fan. He turns around and with a warm handshake and says: "Thanks very much."

Chance is beautiful.

-- G.N. Prashanth

Super Unknown Guitarists You've Gotta Hear!

January, 2005

Opening Axe

Had Richard Bennett been the usual A-list session ace - he's played with Liberace, Barbra Streisand, and Billy Joel - he wouldn't have rated a mention here. But upon moving to Nashville from Los Angeles, Bennett produced and played on Steve Earles' Guitar Town, and in the process defined modern "twang."

Interestingly, the road from jack-of-all-trades to country specialist was quite natural for the guitarist. "Some of my earliest musical memories are of hillbilly music," he says. "It's always been some of my favorite music. When I moved to Nashville in the '80s, the people there hadn't quite come out of country, so they thought I sort of reinvented white bread!"

Guitarists known particularly for their picking - Mark Knopfler, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and Duane Eddy - regularly call Bennett to enhance their creations. When he first began working with Knopfler, Bennett remembers asking, "What am I going to bring to this party?" But he quickly found the answer: "It's Mark's spotlight, but there is some pretty creative second-banana-ing going on, too. Sometimes it's only adding rhythm guitar, but that's my favorite thing to do."

Bennett's first solo record, the evocative instrumental workout Themes From A Rainy Decade, reflects his love of songs in general - whether they be in pop, country, or movie soundtracks. in addition to the complex harmonies, the disc offers some noirish ambience, which was added after the fact. "I would cut the tunes as naked as I could; that way, there's no hiding," he says. "Then, later, when we added some reverb, it sounded glorious." Never a fan of notey riffs, the tasteful Bennett adds, "Just give me three notes and a melody."

-- Michael Ross

"Themes From A Rainy Decade" CD Review

November, 2004

Richard Bennett

Themes from a Rainy Decade

Moderne Shellac

Session guitarist and producer Richard Bennett has worked with many greats, including Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, the Everly Brothers, Ringo Starr, Steve Earle, Marty Stuart, Mark Knopfler, and Billy Joel. After years of playing a supportive role, Bennett has finally stepped into the spotlight with a solo album, and it's a moody masterpiece. Imagine the intersection point of Hank Marvin's keening Strat in the Shadows' "Apache," Vinnie Bell's throbbing baritone in Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks Theme, and the lonesome, reverb-drenched electric in Ennio Morricone's theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Springing from this crossroad of cosmic twang, the 12 instrumental originals on Themes from a Rainy Decade sound like music from another era. Bennett's tones glint like molten silver, his attack is unerring, his vision is relentlessly melodic, and the band's accompaniment is appropriately retro. Many pickers visit the world of surf-meets-chaparral, but it's obviously Bennett's home.

-- Andy Ellis

Notorious Cherry Bombs Kick-Off Labor Day on "Today Weekend"

August 20, 2004

Notorious Cherry Bombs Kick-Off Labor Day on "Today Weekend"
Sept.4 Performance Takes Rockefeller Plaza, Rocks New York

New York: When they were a scrappy bar band burning down Southern California, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown et al never thought they'd be jumping Lear jets and stringing together network tv appearances in support of their little kick-out-the-carbons side project. But a lot has happened since an expatriated Texas poet/performer pulled his buddies together to play for laughs and beers -- and now, following a bravura "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," the Notorious Cherry Bombs have been tapped for not just "Today Weekend's prestigious outdoor concert series, but they're anchoring Labor Day for the top drawing weekend wake-up show.

"We got Rodney coming in over night from California," laughs Vince Gill, "and some of the other boys coming from parts asunder. It's a little different than back in the day when we all lived pretty near each other and drove to the gigs, but it's pretty much fun, too, which is what this whole Cherry Bombs thing has been throughout."

With The Notorious Cherry Bombs sitting at #1 on the Americana chart, Nashville's version of the Travelling Wilburys is making in-roads the old-fashioned way: building it slowly and using the music to do it. While "It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night" flirts with country radio, reviewers from USA Today to Entertainment Weekly to ultra-hipster music magazine Blender and roots-country fanzine Country Standard Time are all hailing the reunion of Rodney Crowell's little side project to expand the musical possibilities of the songs he was writing.

"All the places we've each been in our career led us back together," says the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter. "Tony's produced and signed everyone from George Strait to the Mavericks, Lyle Lovett to Patty Loveless -- making him Nashville's version of Ahmet Ertegun, Vince grew up to be Entertainer of the Year a bunch of times, Richard Bennett helped define the Steve Earle guitar sound and now trades licks with Mark Knopfler and no one plays the steel like Hank Devito. Then when you factor in the guys who're filling in for our missing players -- Michael Rhodes, who plays with everyone from Steve Winwood to Larry Carlton, Eddie Bayers, Jr who was Larrie Londin's protege and John Hobbs who created the piano parts for everything from Merle Haggard's 'Mis'ry & Gin' and George Strait's 'Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,' you know you've got some serious music happening...

"And what's cool about 'Today Weekend' is they're going to let us play enough that people will have a real feel for why this band is so magic. We've got three songs to go in a bunch of different directions -- and just like when we were kids, we've got just the players to really do it. So what if I have to fly all night to make this happen? That's just part of the fun!"

In addition to their performance on "Today Weekend" Sept. 4, the Notorious Cherry Bombs will appear on the Grand Ole Opry August 28 and perform a very special show at the Ryman Auditorium Sept. 10, as part of the historic venue's celebration of their 10th anniversary of once again being an active concert venue. What happens next is anybody's guess, but given that it's the NCB's, chances are it'll take music to a whole lot of other places on its way.

In Review / Compact Discs

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
August 12-18, 2004

Themes From A Rainy Decade
(Moderne Shellac)

Mention Richard Bennett's name to guitarists who know and stand back while a deluge of superlatives pours from their lips. He has been producing and playing for a long time, most notably with Neil Diamond, Emmy Lou Harris, Steve Earle and now Mark Knopfler. What he hasn't done until now is his own record. With the release of Themes From A Rainy Decade, he corrects that glaring omission with winning style.

As a guitarist obsessed with melody and chord structure, Bennett posits a series of gorgeously sculpted instrumentals that cry out for their own movies. In "Blue At Best," the most black and white song on the collection, it isn't hard to picture a world weary detective of some sort trodding the foggy streets. "Riviera," a bright, Ventures-ish number, could not take place more than a mile from the beach. "Hawkins Street," his tribute to the old RCA Studio B in Nashville, is as close as any guitar player has gotten to evoking the warmth of Floyd Cramer's "Last Date." Each song on the project continues along these lines - referencing familiar genres while still striking these ears as something entirely new. Not a bad trick, but also not an easy one.

- John Sieger

Cherry Bombs Burst Back on Country Scene

August 6, 2004

Cherry Bombs burst back on country scene

Backup band makes 1st CD

by Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY

Outside Nashville, the Cherry Bombs might not carry much cachet. But inside Music Row, it's the name of legend, a mythic backing band mentioned in the same breath as Buck Owens' Buckaroos, Merle Haggard's Strangers and Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours.

The band releases its first album this week, but its history goes back nearly 25 years. Formed early in the 1980s to back Rodney Crowell and his then-wife Rosanne Cash, the Cherry Bombs took the core of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band. Crowell played guitar and bolstered the band with folks who'd played with the likes of Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond, plus a hotshot guitar picker who split his time with Pure Prairie League.

Nearly every Cherry Bombs member went on to bigger things. Crowell and that young guitarist - Vince Gill - wound up being chart-topping country singers with more than 22 million album sales to their credit. Keyboardist Tony Brown and bassist Emory Gordy Jr. became two of Nashville's most powerful producers and executives.

But back in the early days, Crowell just needed a band with which he could make good music and have fun.

"I was making a record in Sausalito," recalls then-California resident Crowell. "I called (drummer) Larrie Londin to come," Crowell recalls. "He was a session guy, and he became the guy that said, 'This is a band. I want to play in this band. When you go on the road, I want to be in this band.'

"It just grew from there. I did some tours, and when the tours would run out, I started looking for records to produce so I could keep the band together."

The band eventually split up, though many of the members have worked together on albums through the years. Brown signed both Gill and Crowell to record deals. Brown and Gordy co-produced Steve Earle's landmark Guitar Town album, which prominently featured Cherry Bomb Richard Bennett.

Most of the group reunited in November 2002 to play three songs at a music-industry banquet where Crowell received a songwriting award.

"I said, 'We sound better now than we did 25 years ago,' " Crowell says. "We started talking about it, and it didn't go away."

The reunion nearly ended prematurely when, in April of last year, Brown fell on a stone staircase, severely injuring his brain. Brown spent several days in a coma and several months recuperating.

"My hands got kind of stiff, and I had to do some physical therapy to get them where they would react to a demand from my brain to play an octave, as opposed to almost an octave," says the producer of albums for George Strait and Reba McEntire, as well as Gill and Crowell. "It took me six to eight months before it felt natural again."

Crowell says Brown's recovery time allowed the other members of the band to get a clearer picture of what they wanted to do. "It became a more cohesive record than it probably would have been," he says.

Crowell and Gill spent some of that time writing songs, including one that wound up being the single, It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.

"I tell you, I've played a lot of music for people over the years, and nothing has made people respond like this thing has," Gill says of the honky-tonk novelty number. "I did it for the first time at a gig down in Florida. They were all singing along at the end, and they were standing up and cheering. I thought, 'Oh, boy, we've got something going on here.' "

Though nearly all the album's songs are new, The Notorious Cherry Bombs often recalls the band's early '80s recordings behind Cash and Crowell. "We didn't revisit the songs, but we revisited the grooves," Brown says.

Even though all the Cherry Bombs have other jobs to fall back on, Gill has high expectations for the album and hopes to do others.

"We're not going to hang our heads and feel like we shouldn't be successful with this because it was just for fun," he says. "We'd love to sell a zillion records off it."

Reads like Who's Who

A number of stellar musicians, including some of the genre's best guitarists, have played with the Cherry Bombs over the years. The roster, present and past:

Current members

Eddie Bayers: Perhaps Nashville's most-called session drummer of the past decade, Bayers was a protege of the late Larrie Londin, the Cherry Bombs' original drummer.

Richard Bennett: After the Cherry Bombs, Bennett became an in-demand guitarist working with the likes of Steve Earle and Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. Bennett recently released a solo disc, Themes From a Rainy Decade.

"Tony Brown: Brown came out of the Southern gospel world and played piano for Elvis Presley before becoming a Cherry Bomb. He has since become one of Nashville's top producers, working with the likes of George Strait and Reba McEntire. A top executive at MCA Nashville for years, he's currently a senior partner at the Universal South label, which released the Cherry Bombs album.

Rodney Crowell: Crowell hit his commercial stride after the Cherry Bombs disbanded. In 1989, his Diamonds & Dirt became the first country album to yield five No. 1 singles. He's also had songs covered by Tim McGraw, Bob Seger and many others.

Hank DeVito: Steel guitarist DeVito came from Emmylou Harris' Hot Band to the Cherry Bombs. Having written hits such as Juice Newton's Queen of Hearts, he's the group's third writer, contributing two songs to the album.

Vince Gill: Gill is one of country's most successful artists over the past two decades, with 16 Grammys and more than 40 top 40 country hits - including When I Call Your Name, I Still Believe In You and Go Rest High on That Mountain - to his credit.

John Hobbs: The Cherry Bombs' second-generation keyboardist is also a songwriter, producer and session player in Nashville.

Michael Rhodes: One of Nashville's most-recorded musicians, Rhodes replaced Gordy on bass.

Past members

Emory Gordy Jr.: Before the Cherry Bombs, bassist Gordy backed Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond. Afterward, he became a successful Nashville producer. Gordy is married to singer Patty Loveless and has retired from live performing.

Albert Lee: This virtuoso British guitarist, who has backed the likes of Emmylou harris, Eric Clapton and the Everly Brothers, occasionally played with the Cherry Bombs during the early '80s.

Larrie Londin: Londin was a Motown drummer and later played on many Nashville records. He died of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. The Notorious Cherry Bombs is dedicated to him.

Jerry McGee: One of the guitarists from the pop instrumental group The Ventures, he sometimes stepped in during the group's eraly days.

Cherry Bombs Reignite

Nashville, Tennessee, USA
July 24, 2004

Cherry Bombs reignite

First single from reunited '80s band veers off Gill's usual path

by Peter Cooper, Staff Writer

Back then, in the early 1980s, there was no fame to encroach on the fun. There were no expectations to shade the reality of the thing. There was just music, and some men who sought to play it with feeling.

The band was Rodney Crowell's. He was the front man, he wrote most of the songs, and they were the players, the Cherry Bombs. The sound, though, was something beyond what might be expected of a touring band. They all knew that, and even the ones who went on to far greater notoriety - Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown - missed the Cherry Bomb days from time to time.

"Sometimes, now, I get tired of talking about me," said Gill, who has gone on to write and sing a slew of country hits since the days when he was Crowell's guitar player. "I get tired of always doing my deal: doing gigs, another record, more gigs, more talking."

"Yeah," Crowell interjected, sitting across the table from Gill at a Nashville office. "It's like, 'Gag me with a Vince.' "

Gill laughed at that. He laughs at much of what Crowell says, and the two share the ease of old friends. They also share a new project: Gill, Crowell, Brown, guitar wizard Richard Bennett and slide guitarist Hank DeVito have regrouped for a new album that releases Tuesday called The Notorious Cherry Bombs.

The original Bombs drummer, Larrie Londin, passed away in 1992, and Eddie Bayers now mans the kit in his place. Keyboardist John Hobbs and bass man Michael Rhodes also have been called in to assist. (Another notable ex-Cherry Bomb, Emory Gordy Jr., is not along for the reunion.)

The re-grouping has produced a new single, Gill and Crowell's co-written It's Hard To Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your #&% Out All Day Long. That's a long way from Gill's sweet love ballads, and that's OK with him.

"This is out of the norm," Gill said. "But on the other hand, it's probably the most familiar thing I've ever been a part of. I feel more comfortable singing high harmony for Rodney, playing a loud Telecaster, than anything I've ever done. There's a comfort there that I wouldn't trade, for nothing."

The rough model for the Cherry Bombs was Emmylou Harris' Hot Band, a group that Crowell helped bring to greatness in the mid-1970s. Though she was not yet a well-known or profitable artist, Harris insisted on touring with a band that included some of the finer musicians around - a group using several members of Elvis Presley's band, including guitar hero James Burton. The record label had to pay more to employ Burton in the Hot Band, but the resulting performances helped build buzz and momentum.

Harris also hired young gun Crowell and recorded some of his early songwriting triumphs. (Bluebird Wine, 'Til I Gain Control Again, etc.) When Crowell left the group to begin his solo career, he began to consider the merits of building a Harris-like ensemble that would be able to take his already sturdy songs to a higher level.

"When I was making a record in California (1980's But What Will The Neighbors Think), I hired Larrie Londin to play drums, thinking I was hiring a massive session player," Crowell recalled. "Larrie made me start thinking about the Cherry Bombs, 'cause he was so into the notion of the band and the feeling. When the record was coming out he called me and said, 'When you tour, I want to be in this band.' I said, 'I can't afford to pay you.' He said, 'It ain't about money.' "

With Londin and Emory Gordy Jr., Crowell had a world-class rhythm section. DeVito offered a steel guitar that grounded everything in country music while allowing for rock excursions, and the sometimes-revolving guitar slots included virtuosos Richard Bennett, Albert Lee and fresh-faced Vince Gill. Tony Brown, fresh out of Presley's band, played keyboards.

The Cherry Bombs barnstormed the country, playing some legendary shows (one of which was an Austin City Limits episode recorded in August 1981) but spawning exactly no hit records for Crowell. The Bombs also toured with Rosanne Cash - Crowell's then-wife - and played on several of Cash's classic early albums (most impressively, Seven Year Ache and Somewhere In The Stars).

Bands without hit records don't tend to stay together for too long, and members shifted in and out of the Cherry Bombs. By the mid-'80s, the Bombs' name was gone, though DeVito and Gill remained in Crowell's band. By then, bass man Michael Rhodes had joined, beginning a longtime partnership with Crowell. Rhodes was there when Crowell's star finally rose in 1989, on the strength of the platinum-selling, Tony Brown-produced Diamonds and Dirt album. Soon after, ill would become a country star in his own right with hits such as When I Call Your Name.

"Water takes the shape of its container, and everybody in that Cherry Bombs band went on to become the beautiful human beings that they are in this world," Crowell said, noting Brown's position as an influential producer and executive, and Bennett being one of Nashville's premier guitarists.

Even with all the individual successes, people occasionally grew wistful for the Cherry Bombs' blend of highly musical aggression and sensitivity. The 2003 ASCAP country awards dinner found the guys back onstage together, and that experience spurred The Notorious Cherry Bombs album coming Tuesday.

The intent of the new record isn't to recapture old glories, so much as to renew acquaintances and see what happens in the process. The band is, of course, quite different. There's no Gordy and no Londin (Bayers played Londin's old Cherry Bombs drum set, which Gill set up in the middle of the studio), and Crowell is now more a band member than a bandleader.

"I don't think there was any notion of 'Let's go back and show the world how great we used to be,' " Gill said. "We made a record of things that don't necessarily pay homage to our past. They're new songs. My favorite compliment of the whole project was (Crowell's wife) Claudia pulling me aside when we were making the record and saying, 'I love having you around: Rodney's happier. He's having a blast.' That was a great compliment, that we were doing something that was even more important than a record."

Known for Guitar Solos, Bennett Goes Solo for a Change

Richard Bennett, shown here rehearsing with drummer (and recording artist) Phil Lee, has spent his career playing guitar for a number of artists. He has just released the first solo album of his career.

Photo: Amber Arnold, Staff


Nashville, Tennessee, USA

July 17, 2004

Known for guitar solos, Bennett goes solo for a change

by Peter Cooper, Staff Writer

Richard Bennett worked for decades to make sure nobody knew who he was.

That's not to say he didn't make a name and reputation for himself. It's just that the name could signify so many different things that it ended up signifying little in particular.

"Richard Bennett" was the guy playing buttoned-down Los Angeles sessions with Peggy Lee. "Richard Bennett" was Neil Diamond's lead guitarist, and the guy who co-wrote Forever in Blue Jeans. His guitar work was the low, rumbling twang on Steve Earle's Guitar Town, or it was the choogling acoustic rhythm on Rodney Crowell's Stars on the Water, or it was a thousand other things on a thousand other stages and sessions. Richard Bennett was (and is) an integral part of Mark Knopfler's band.

"It's a bit like musical whiplash, and I never myself knew who I was," said Bennett, sitting in the basement music room of his Nashville home, amidst gorgeous old guitars and ancient albums that are played too often to grow dusty. "As a studio player, you take pride in being a jack of all trades. I think I've only recently come to shake hands with who I really am, and this new Themes From a Rainy Decade album (Bennett's first solo release) is the first time I've been able to show that to other people."

Which begs the question: "Who, then, are you, Mr. Bennett?"

"I want to be the Al Caiola of the new millennium," he answers.

The thing is, he's serious. Caiola was a top, New York-based session man who released albums of melodic, loungy, eminently hummable instrumental music. His guitar licks weren't meant to stagger, but rather to delight.

"Things I used to sneer at as a kid, these middle-of-the-road things, I've come to embrace now as great songs, great arrangements and great recordings. That's what I want to do. I'm a melodic guitar player, and I'm perfectly happy with that."

Bennett wasn't always happy with that. As a young gun session player in Los Angeles (he first worked professionally at age 17), he recalls "just wanting to be in Pink Floyd" at the same time he was making laid-back recordings with Peggy Lee, Liberace, Andy Williams and The Partridge Family. Throughout his recording career, he always has sought to bring edge and snarl, and since his 1985 relocation to Nashville he has played standout parts with Earle, Emmylou Harris and other luminaries: "If there's a great guitar lick on a Nashville record, there's a good chance Richard was the originator," Knopfler said.

Yet Themes From a Rainy Decade is not edgy or propulsive or anything of the sort. That doesn't mean it's dull, or that it ignores rock instrumental influences such as Duane Eddy or The Ventures. But it's meant as a pleasing, back porch Merlot of an album, not a barroom whiskey shot.

"I'm sort of over loud music and banging away on things," Bennett said. "I'm over people bludgeoning their instruments, and I was so into it for so long. I just like music now. Well-played, interesting music.

"Most guitar albums are just jamming, and they bore the (expletive) out of me. The ones that didn't were people like Tony Mottola, Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy. Now, why is it that those worked and the mass of the others didn't? It's because they started with proper, melodic songs."

Bennett moved to Nashville with hopes of becoming a full-time producer. After producing acclaimed albums on Earle, Harris, Marty Stuart and others, he felt that his guitar acumen was slipping, and he re-focused. He doesn't see Rainy Decade as a profitable career move - though he would like it if some of the songs find their way into motion picture soundtracks - and he'll continue to play sessions in which his playing has little to do with Al Caiola.

But if the instrumental album doesn't signal a major life change, it does offer a long-delayed introduction to the music-buying public. It's a hello and a handshake, from the new Al Ciaola.

Bennett bits

  • The diversity of Richard Bennett's recording credits is staggering. He is on albums by artists including Kim Carnes, David Cassidy, Chubby Checker, Rodney Crowell, Neil Diamond, Steve Earle, The Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Mark Knopfler, Johnny Mathis, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand and Trisha Yearwood.
  • Now in his 50s, Bennett carries himself with a professorial aura. It wasn't always that way: As a 19-year-old, he joined Neil Diamond's band and was the young, agitating element in an otherwise mellow group. "What I brought to it was ignorance and arrogance, I suppose," Bennett said. "I was wanting to be in Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or something like that, and I brought a bit of swagger. I was a bit of a bad boy, and that somehow worked. Neil and I got on well, though. He took me under his wing, like a big brother would."
  • Bennett's biggest hit as a songwriter is Forever in Blue Jeans, recorded by Diamond.
  • His stinging electric guitar kickoff to Emmylou Harris' Heaven Only Knows (from her Bennett-produced Bluebird album) was the first sound heard on The Sopranos' season-opening episode this year.
  • He played for Rodney Crowell in the Cherry Bombs band, and he is a part of the new Notorious Cherry Bombs' album (which includes Crowell, Vince Gill and Tony Brown and will be released later this month). "I love his playing," Gill said. "He's learned, and continues to teach, the great lesson of 'Say more with less."'
  • Bennett and Mark Knopfler are the only guitarists on Knopfler's just-completed Shangri-La album, due for release on Sept. 27.

Getting there

Richard Bennett performs two album-release shows in the coming days, spotlighting material on his Themes From a Rainy Decade album. He's at Tower Records' West End location this afternoon at 5 (no cover charge), and at Billy Block's Western Beat show Tuesday night at the Exit/In, 2208 Elliston Place. (Show starts at 7 p.m., Bennett is on at 9, and the cover charge is $5). Exit/In: 321-3340.