Gary James' Interview With
Benny Mardones

Spread the News - Benny Mardones is back! His debut album, simply titled "Benny Mardones" (Curb Records) reintroduces the world to the phenomenon Syracuse knows only too well - Bennymania. Included on Benny's latest offering is the song that put him over the top, the song that gained him national recognition - "Into the Night". First released on Polygram Records back in 1980, the song went to Number Eleven on Billboard's charts. Then something strange happened. Just this year, (1989) a radio station in Phoenix, Arizona started playing "Into The Night", and the response was so overwhelming, that Polygram re-issued the record. And once again, it went Top 20, making it the only record of the 1980s to make the Top 20 twice!

"Into The Night" is also featured on Benny's album for Curb and is being released in Holland, Italy and Japan. For those who don't know, let's review a little of Benny's past. Benny Mardones was born in Cleveland, Ohio and spent a good deal of his time in Savage, Maryland. 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. Benny Mardones' good fortune then went bad, thanks to cocaine.

Dropped by his record company and broke, Benny spent much of the mid 80's trying to get his life back on track. But Syracuse has always been good to Benny. His concerts here were always sell-outs. A couple of independent albums he released in Syracuse - one called "Unauthorized", the other "American Dreams" sold 16,000 copies each. And Benny was given the key to Syracuse by the Mayor two years ago. 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 to be. Benny Mardones is a class act in a business that is not known for class. Make no mistake about it - Benny Mardones is back!

Q - Benny, there was a time when it looked like you weren't going to get a record deal. You'd make an announcement at one of your concerts that a new record was coming out, and then nothing would happen. What was the delay in getting a deal?

A - Well, I don't really know. You know it's funny. I mean there are songs that I wrote 4 or 5 years ago that people just now are saying 'Oh, my God these are incredible'. You know What I mean? Everything has it's timing. Apparently, it wasn't time for me to get back up to the batter's box, up at the plate. I just kept doing what I was doing, eventually figuring that everything is in a cycle and that it would come back around to me, if I just maintained. And that's what I did. What I did instead of getting frustrated and throwing my hands up - I just kept writing songs, and kept working on getting myself in shape, so when opportunity did knock, I'd be ready to answer the door. And it did, and I am.

Q - Joey DeMaio, Mark Gummer, Eric Gardner, Rick Alberte and now Joel Diamond. You go through a lot of managers don't you?

A - Well, you gotta understand, managers are basically one step below child molesters. I've never had a great deal of passion for managers. First of all, most of the people you just mentioned - Joe DeMaio was never my manager. Joe DeMaio was just a dear friend and still is. He was somebody who, when my marriage fell apart and I could only afford to support one family, which was my ex-wife and son, I had no where to live myself. Joe took me into his home and allowed me to live at his home for a year and a half while I got on my feet and got my record deal and everything. I have a tremendous debt to Joe DeMaio emotionally, morally, and economically. I mean the guy rescued me when my marriage fell apart and I didn't really have anywhere to go. He took me in. Joe's a dear friend. Mark Gummer was never a manager per se. He was a promoter and a friend who tried to do something and managed me for a minute. Yeah, I do go through a lot and I have gone through a lot of managers. And, the blood letting may not be over. I have to find the right combination to make my career work. And Joel Diamond is the first step in the right direction.

Q - You met Elvis backstage at one of his concerts. How did that happen?

A - Joel Diamond. He was best friends with Jerry Welntraub and Jerry Weintraub was booking the Elvis tour. He had told Elvis about me. Elvis said it depended on how he felt, because he usually left right away after a show. Right after the show, somebody grabbed me by the arm and got back to the backstage of the Garden. I went into a dressing room, got frisked, cleared and taken into another room. There was Elvis. He stood and talked to me for 20 minutes, non-stop, just me and him. It was wonderful. He gave me a fantastic picture out of his attaché case and he autographed it for me. It was a wonderful, wonderful night in my life.

Q - You're also friends with Bon Jovi?

A - Yeah, Jon's a real good friend. As a matter of fact, I think Jon is going to co-produce my next album. As a matter of fact, I had meetings about it this afternoon. I knew Jon when he was 16 years old. I used to just sort of give him advice and encourage him, when to a lot of people, he was just a kid. I treated him with respect. And now, he's in my corner. I went to a show recently at the Orange County Speedway where Bon Jovi was playing. He knew I was there and he did a 5 minute intro to a song, talking about me onstage, and then went into the song. Plus his manager Doc McGlee is a dear friend of mine from the Barry Mraz days. Barry Mraz, who was my producer for two albums and did 'Into The Night', was managed by Doc McGlee as well. Doc and I go back ten years.

Q - When did you know you could sing?

A - Well, I thought I could sing and I started singing as a little boy. I started singing rock 'n' roll songs when I was about 10 years old. I thought I could sing, but hell, I couldn't sing until I was 20 years old, as I look back. I had a squeaky, little voice like any teenager. But, I had a lot of desire and I was hungry to do it. I wanted it so bad, I spent my teenage years singing along with great records and trying to mimic their voices, until my own style and my own vocal sound came out from it. I moved on from there. I always thought I could sing (laughs), but I don't think I could until I was older.

Q - You had a chance to go to M.I.T. in Boston as a math major, but you didn't do it. What did you do between high school graduation and your start as a professional singer?

A - A lot of starving.

Q - Did you ever have a day job?

A - Well, man, I've slung hamburgs in all-night diners. I worked as a construction worker for a couple of weeks here and there. I have a real high math I.Q. so I worked for Chemical Bank for awhile in their Accounting Dept. But basically, I was in a lot of rock 'n' roll bands that, if we were working, we ate that week and if we weren't, we hustled women. We would just pick up girls that had enough money to buy hamburgers for the band. Sometimes that was the job of the day. Everybody in the band would go out and try to meet some girl and then at the end of the day say, 'Hey, I got a great idea. Let's go to a little tavern and get a bunch of burgers for the guys.' And the girl would go, 'Oh, O.K.' We lived off of our wits. Some weeks we worked. Some weeks we didn't and I just stuck to it . Then when I was about 20-21 years old, I got a job as a staff writer where I got paid for writing songs for other people. I got a little salary and that started me having at least the time to write, rather than worry about how I was gonna eat or pay my rent, which was at that time $25 a week. And I had difficulty making that.

Q - Let's talk about Curb Records for a minute. They've got Marie Osmond, the Bellamy Brothers, Wayne Newton. And then they've got you.

A - It's bizarre, isn't it?

Q - Yes, it is. Do you ever find yourself wondering if they know how to market you?

A - Well, I think they ran Into problems. I think they've made a lot of mistakes on this last album, but I think that they're learning and they're re-structuring their company, their distribution and promotion situation, because they haven't been in the rock 'n' roll place and that's what they're attempting to do. They want me to be the cornerstone of the label. Meanwhile, I'm not going to allow too many more mistakes to be made at my expense.

Q - I'm not aware of any mistakes Curb Records has made.

A - Not a mistake. They haven't made mistakes, but I think the promotion fell short. I have no complaints about Curb Records. They treat me like gold. Mike Curb is a wonderful human being. The people at Curb Records are in my corner a hundred and fifty per cent. All we're doing is getting through the rough spots. We're looking forward to a wonderful 1990. We're looking forward to a wonderful relationship with one another. I think that certain errors were made as far as the promotion of the record, but I think they were innocent mistakes. No malice intended.

Q - I like the new record.

A - Thank you very much. I love it.

Q - But, a review of your album in the Syracuse New Times basically said your record company had you play it safe with the material you recorded. After reading that review, you just gotta know that if you tried something just a little out of the ordinary, the reviewer would say, this isn't the Benny Mardones we know. So, how can you win?

A - It's difficult to win with the New Times first of all. We've had an on-going sporting match of fencing. I derive a certain amount of enjoyment out of the friction that has been created over the years. I think it stems from one time they gave me a real personal attack review and I was offended by it. I went onstage at the Christmas show, and lit a copy of the New Times, saying it was only good for two things, one was if you ran out of toilet paper and the other was to use for kindling to start fires. That of course infuriated them. (Laughs) And so, we've had an on-going thing. I have to say that Mike Greenstein, who's the editor there, I personally love Mike, (laughs) I consider him a friend. But we don't see eye to eye. So, when the New Times did a review of the album, I totally anticipated anything negative they might say and it didn't bother me. Meanwhile I've got reviews all over Europe and some in America that say it's the best comeback album of the decade and that I'm going to be the next big thing. So, you know what? If you start going by what people put in print, you're going to drive yourself nuts. You gotta get past that. What the New Times says doesn't mean anything. What anybody says doesn't mean anything It's what you do and what the majority of the people say. At this point, the majority of people seem to be in my corner

Q - Back in December '87, the Syracuse Newspapers wrote of you, "Mardones is something of a local legend or local myth or local joke, depending on whom you listen to." After you've sold out the Landmark Theatre, without benefit of a record deal, what goes through your mind when you read this?

A - Well, you know, sometimes I derive strength out of that. In other words, it was time for me to go national and it was time for me to move on. I don't resent what he said. Like I said, you go with the majority of the people. If I'm a local joke, how come I draw thousands of people to my shows? In the past few months, I've played several cities where people don't even know who I am. By the third song they're screaming. By the sixth or seventh song, the girls are at the front of the stage man, just wanting to shake hands and scream. So you know what? There's something about it that they love. That makes handling these other kind of things no problem.

Q - This radio station in Phoenix that started playing "Into The Night". That just happened?

A - Out of the sky man. It fell out of heaven.

Q - That's really strange.

A - It's called blessings from above.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Benny Mardones