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