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Benny Mardones, July 13

Throughout his illustrious music career, Benny Mardones has touched the heart of Syracuse in deep way. You probably know him as the guy who wrote and performed Into the Night, which prevailed it’s way to the Billboard chart and MTV. But there is much, much more to this prolific artist. As I interviewed Benny, my eyebrows raised continually as I learned about his accomplishments and string of successes.

And as you know, Benny’s health challenges have kept him from performing, these days. With great optimism he hopes to continue bettering his health and making more music.

The Syracuse music community has pulled together to advance this idea with a benefit concert taking place at Sharkey’s in Liverpool on July 13 with the support of the Gem Diner.

Benny Mardones

Geico Local Office presents

Heart In Our Hands: The Benny Mardones Benefit Concert

Saturday, July 13th, 5pm-10pm

Sharkey’s: 7240 Oswego Rd, Liverpool, NY

Performing at the show will be: Benny’s Hurricanes (with special guest singers), Todd Hobin Band, Hard Promises, Epic Tantrum and more to be announced soon.

You can follow the event on Facebook for up to the minute information and, also on Benny’s website www.bennymardones.com.

He is a gentleman and is still as passionate about music as he ever was. His stories are robust and compelling. Ladies and gentlemen: Benny Mardones.

Chuck Schiele: Thank you for doing this Sounds of Syracuse article for our table
Hopping readers. I understand you have a big show on the way. Exciting news!

Benny Mardones: Chuck, I first want to thank you for the interview. It makes me happy to communicate with my friends and fans in Syracuse. I miss seeing them. Yes, there is a big show on the way as the Hurricanes, my band for many, many years, and Hard Promises have come together for a concert to help me with my medical expenses and recovery. I am humbled and honored that so many of my friends and people who have supported me through the years would take the time to put this show together.

CS: My pleasure, Benny. For how long have you been playing?

BM: Chuck I have always had a band. Since Jr. High School I have been singing and playing in a band.

CS: What is you love most about music? What sort of factors helped it to become a career path?

BM: My mother was a big fan of opera, so I initially was exposed to some incredible singers with great vocal range. Then of course there was Elvis, a big inspiration to me. I’d say the advent of rock and roll, Elvis, Pavarotti, Sinatra, the Beatles, Dylan – they all inspired me in my early life. After joining the Navy and serving on the USS Springfield, I returned stateside and jumped on a bus for NYC. I started as a songwriter for April Blackwood Publishing, met Alan Miles and we began writing songs. Over the years I have written for, or with many Artists including Wayne Newton, Paul Rodgers, and Eddie Money. While at April Blackwood, I met a very influential man by the name of TD Valentine. You wouldn’t recognize that particular name because he is now known as Tommy Mottola, or the Hitmaker as his autobiography is entitled. So when I would write a song, often I would go into the studio and sing the demo. When Tommy heard me sing the demos, he said, “Benny, you have the greatest voice since Daryl Hall. -It’s magic. You should be the Artist.” So it was none other than Tommy Mottola who help to change my trajectory in the music business. And then of course there was Woodstock, meeting Richie Havens, and cutting my teeth performing live.

CS: How are things going for you?

BM: I won’t lie, things have been tough. My Parkinkson’s tremors worsened to the point that before my last Christmas Show at the Turning Stone in 2017, I had pretty much made up my mind to take a leap of faith and have a procedure called DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation). This surgery minimizes the tremors, but it does not fix motor skill imbalance and unfortunately I had a fall and broke my hip. In fact, after my surgery I fell again and this has slowed down my recovery. I fight every day with the goal of returning home so for now, I am working at physical therapy to regain strength as the ordeal of being in a hospital or rehab facility for 11 months has been difficult. I am fighter though, and I am still fighting and looking at life as a glass half full, not empty. I thank God for my beautiful wife Jane, my dear friends who have never left my side and continue to support me, and of course all of my friends and fans in Syracuse for embracing me for so many years, and in fact, helping to save my life. I lost my dear friend Joe DiMaio on September 28, 2019 and due to my surgery and fall I was unable to make Joe’s service and that was excruciating as Joe and his wife Zofia were family to me. Joe refused to lead on he was dealing with Cancer because he knew of my battle and so the last 2 years have been tough. Buck Kelly and Mike Losurdo stood by Joe and were my surrogates as he dealt with his illness and I am forever grateful.

CS: You keep fighting brother. You have the entire city of Syracuse right fiercely behind you. I was living in San Diego when I saw you pop-up on MTV … obviously indicative of your momentum in the music business at that time. Please share with us all some of your career highlights.

BM: Whewwwwwww, let’s see. Into The Night is obviously my greatest achievement from a commercial success perspective. When the song took off, Bobby Tepper and I hit the talk show circuit from Merv Griffin to the Midnight Special and I was on “everybody’s A list” at the time. The song has, and continues to pay dividends to me and remains one of the top 25 songs played on American Radio over the past 35 years. In fact, Into the Night is one of a few songs by the same Artist that hit the top 20 twice in the same decade. In 1989 an Arizona station KZZP ran a segment entitled, Where are they now?.  The most popular question was “whatever happened to the guy who sang Into the Night?” Scott Shannon the Program Director for Pirate Radio in LA added Into the Night and the song took off again as radio stations across the country followed suit. This led to my signing with Curb Records and releasing the self- titled Benny Mardones LP, known as the Blue Album. I am blessed for Into the Night.

Most of my fans know that meeting and becoming dear friends with Roy Orbison (one of the greatest singers to ever live) was like a dream come true. Roy would often tell me “Benny, just sing and you will have it all.” Well, I should have just sang, but as you know the commercial success of Into the Night, and the environment of the music business during the 1980’s led to many temptations I couldn’t resist and I developed a severe cocaine addiction that temporarily destroyed my career, and almost killed me. Fortunately, I was able to quit that habit cold turkey and regain my footing, mostly for the sake of my son Michael, and also for my own salvation. Since that time I feel I’ve written many incredible songs and have taken the stage with some of the most prominent names in the music business. My relationship with Roy Orbison was special, and after Roy passed his wife Barbara called upon me to sing Running Scared on the Showtime Tribute to Roy Orbison. Barbara said to me, “Benny you are the only one that can hit the note and do this song justice,” and she flew in Elvis Presley’s Band to back me up and when I sang that night, it was if I was channeling Roy. It was such an honor and the audience responded in such a way that it was one of my greatest moments. I was alongside such luminaries as Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Johnny Cash and Kd Lang. It was such an honor to be a part of Roy’s tribute and to take the stage with so many heavyweights I admire.

In addition to my friendship with Roy, I’d have to say meeting Richie Havens and becoming dear friends was also a highlight. I am sure you remember Frampton Comes Alive, as it was and remains one of the biggest selling albums and tours in history. Peter was kicking off the tour at Madison Square Garden and Blue Oyster Cult was to open for him. BOC had a conflict or something and, due to the strength of my local performances, I got the call to open for the Frampton Comes Alive show at the Garden! I was so scared that Richie Havens literally pulled me out of the bathroom and pushed me on stage. He said “it’s time Mardones” and that is the closest feeling to being in a prize fight I had ever experienced. So I sprinted out on the stage and just began playing Oh Me Oh My and when I started singing the Garden got very quiet and everyone took out their lighters and began waving them. There is footage somewhere as Greg Ross included a piece of it in the Documentary on my life. It was a moment that led to Andrew Loog Oldham knocking on my apartment door the next day in Spanish Harlem. I was still scared and said, “hey wait a minute I can only play a few chords on the piano” and Andrew said, “just sing for me lad, sing for me.” Andrew Loog Oldham was the Manager and Producer of the Rolling Stones so this was a pretty big deal, and it opened up many doors for me.

There were other highlights like American Bandstand with Dick Clark (a real sweetheart of a guy to me). Dick contacted me after I was diagnosed with Parkinsons and we had lunch in LA and he was always very supportive and kind. I also must say that coming to Syracuse, and becoming friends with Joe DeMaio also helped to save my life. My dear friend Ed Pozzoulli got me out of NYC to remove the temptation and Joe picked me up in Syracuse and the rest is history and the love affair with Syracuse was born. Some of my shows here I consider to be my best and that was the basis for the bond we still share today!

CS: Share with us a funny story or two.

There are more than a few, that’s for sure. Anyone that has been to my shows knows that I used to throw “towels” to the audience. This kind of started by accident, people loved it and my dear friend and Road Manager Tom Piraino would toss me the towels and I would throw them to the audience. On one occasion we ran out during the show, the fans were screaming and I gave Uncle Tommy this killer look like WTF and so he took his shirt off and some of the road crews and they cut them into towels. It was pretty funny. Another time we were in Youngstown, Ohio – 3 nights of concerts with Alice Cooper on Thursday, Eddie Money on Friday and me on Saturday. It rained like hell on Friday so Eddie and I were scheduled for a double header on Saturday. I was on first and upon hitting the stage with Way of the World, my dear friends Ed Pozzoulli, Joe DeMaio, Tommy Delle Donne, and Buck Kelly were signaling to me that the entire left side PA system wasn’t working and my mic was literally inoperable. This took a bit to fix so I was not happy. When I confronted the “road crew manager” on Eddie Money’s touring bus, it almost ended in a riot as my boys didn’t take too kindly to the disrespect. Oddly, this encounter resulting in my becoming much closer with Eddie Money. Kind of funny we were going to kick his road crew manager’s ass and we become closer friends. There are a few others. Back in the day some of the British Bands took an anti-American kind of stance. I loved and listened to their music, but the disrespect to America kind of put me off and that led to some interesting moments, most notably a feud I had with Elvis Costello that got a little press. Being a Navy Veteran, that just wasn’t cool to me so having the American flag as a backdrop at all my concerts became a not so silent protest to those that didn’t appreciate America. Those are the PG rated stories so we’ll leave it at that.

CS: What is your take on music today?

BM: The music business is different today in every way. Back in my day and the early days of rock and roll EVERYONE listened to Popular / Adult Contemporary radio and the diversity of music and sound on radio was substantial. On the same station you would hear Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Boston, Frampton, and Foreigner, to Michael Jackson, James Brown, Motown, Air Supply and Barry Manilow, and of course all of the British Bands. I’d like to think back in the day it was about the melody, quality, sound and performance a bit more than it may be today. Today music is a bit more “walled off” into genres (hip hop, rap, etc.), whereas in the 1980’ / 90’s it wasn’t like that so much. Sure there was Disco that everyone listened and dance to, and at times hated, but mostly there was a lot of cross pollination between styles and genres, all of which fit in the Rock, Pop Rock, Adult Contemporary world.

CS: What would be your best advice for aspiring musicians?

BM: In my day I feel it was more about your ability as a songwriter, musician and/or performer – the Artistry so to speak. I mean that’s what we had to worry about – creating and executing our craft. There was a marketing component to it for sure as we all had to do the road show with Radio to get our songs added, and that meant knocking on doors. The difference is, back then the model was in place if you copped a hit like Into the Night. The Industry model rewarded it as people bought records and they paid more for albums and merchandise. The digital revolution changed that with the ability to copy a CD. Hell, back then Steely Dan didn’t even tour —they were a studio band that had many hit records— but today, they tour as, if not, you can’t make money on 99 cent downloads. So today’s Musicians have to be “media savvy” and a bit better at using those mediums to promote their artistry. Again, we promoted ourselves too, like Bobby Tepper and I writing a song about American Bandstand with the hope we would be invited on. I guess that was entrepreneurial, but today it takes even more on the business side. The days of singing and beating the hell out of hotel rooms for the record company to pick up the bill are over so to speak.

CS: You’ve written for others. Please tell.

BM: Yes Chuck, as I mentioned earlier I started my career as a songwriter until Tommy Mottola inspired me to pursue singing. During and after Into the Night became a huge
success I became very close friends with Roy Orbison. As you know Roy was one of the greatest Artists and Singers to ever live. Rolling Stone lists Roy at #13 on their Greatest Singers of All Time list and Elvis Presley said “Roy had the greatest and most distinctive voice he had ever heard.” Roy and I wrote some songs together and one in particular —Fool For Falling in Love— I recorded on my Journey Through Time album. I was given a gift by Roy’s wife Barbara. She wrote a song called, I Want It All and so I recorded it on the Journey Through Time album as a tribute to my love and admiration for Roy.

I also wrote and performed with others. When Into the Night was rocking the charts, Eddie Money was spiraling to stardom with Baby Hold On To Me so it was kind of ironic that we became friends later in our careers and collaborated on songwriting. Eddie and I shared the stage many times in our career and he was king enough to help me launch my last album Timeless right here in Syracuse at the Palace Theatre.

CS: What is it like to work with Tommy Mattola?

BM: It was great. Tommy inspired me to do my own thing, to be an Artist, Singer and Performer. Early on he saw something in me and I am grateful for it, and also to be mentioned in his book Hitmaker. I circled the wagons a few times with Tommy, as after Into the Night became a big hit for 2nd time, Tommy signed me on a label called Crave which was under Sony Music and in the name of his wife Mariah Carey. We put out the Bless A Brand New Angel LP in 1998 and unfortunately their relationship ended shortly thereafter, things changed at Sony and the label was folded after only existing for 18 months (February 1997, July 1998). They had a HUGE marketing push teed up with Independent Promoters in all markets and that album was positioned to be a great success until the personal strife sunk the label. Timing is everything I guess. I was set up with one of the greatest promoters in the Industry with Tommy Mottola, Mariah loved my work and was behind it, and then poof. I mean Tommy worked with Hall and Oates, Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp, Celine Dion, Carly Simon, Diana Ross and many many other Industry Heavyweights. I then worked with several of my friends and
associates in finding another label, but it was a tough time as the “ground was literally moving underneath the music Industry,” most notably through piracy and ever declining record sales. The business model that I was weaned on was under attack and as such “investment money” to promote Artists was very hard to find. Len Fico of Fuel Records gave it a run, but they were undercapitalized and without the Independent Promotors and marketing budget, we couldn’t get it out there. I still fell the Bless a Brand New Angel LP was something special and that my voice was incredibly strong at that time.

CS: Such an amazing path you’ve taken. Thank you, for sharing some of it with us, Benny. It’s been a delight speaking with you. I hope for all good things in your direction.

BM: Thank you, Chuck. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.