You can’t say Benny is back… because he never left! Benny has been a fixture on the New Orleans blues and roots music scene for almost a quarter of a century. A standout singer, songwriter, and harmonica player, Benny was born in 1960 to a military family with deep Gulf Coast roots, and spent most of his formative years in the Tidewater, Virginia area. Benny moved to his mother’s birthplace of New Orleans in 1985, and since Benny has forged a strong and ever-growing repertoire of his own compositions and obscure gems, all infused with his refreshingly energetic style.
Benny’s musical influences and favorite artists are far-ranging. His earliest musical influences were local Tidewater rock legends like Gene Vincent and Gary “U.S.” Bonds, but as a young teenager he became interested in the country blues of Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, and Son House. In his high school years he began a study of the electric blues of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, and other electric blues greats. As years have passed, Benny has become versed in a very wide range of American roots music styles. His style and material draws on country and electric blues, swing (jump combo, big band, and western varieties), swamp pop, vintage rhythm and blues, and rockabilly. Favorite artists are too numerous to name, but include the above-mentioned Walter, Muddy, Wolf, Sonny Boy, and country blues artists; as well as Slim Harpo, Smiley Lewis, Jimmy Reed, Roy Brown, Joe Turner, Junior Parker, Junior Wells, Bobby Bland, Elmore James, Guitar Slim, Fats Domino, Clifton Chenier, Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson I, B.B. King, Freddie King, King Karl, Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Bob Wills, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald—and many, many others. Never one to slavishly imitate any of his heroes, Benny’s direct, precise, and elegant harp-playing is in the spirit of Junior Parker and distinct in the current sea of harmonica blowers; and his strong but nuanced vocals recall the powerhouse singers of the vintage R & B era such as Joe Turner and Roy Brown.
Benny’s eclectic influences and material have allowed him to share bills with such diverse acts as Willie Dixon, Bobby Bland, Gatemouth Brown, Snooks Eaglin, Allen Toussaint, Walter Washington, Tommy Ridgley, Terence Semien, Zachary Richard, Roland Stone, Junior Walker, Dale Hawkins, Lonnie Mack, Delbert McClinton, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Asleep at the Wheel, John Mayall, Joe Ely, The Radiators, Alex Chilton, N.R.B.Q., Marcia Ball, as well as many other nationally and internationally known artists; in his first decade in New Orleans, Benny fronted the Backsliders, taking them to prominent venues throughout the southern circuit, including regular appearances at Tipitina’s (New Orleans), Antone’s and the Continental Club (Austin), Blind Willie’s (Atlanta), Huey’s (Memphis), Hal and Mal’s (Jackson) and virtually every blues club in between; in New Orleans, the Backsliders played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1990, 1991, and 1992, and appeared on numerous television and radio programs; the Backsliders released two well-received albums of their own, The Blues are Back and Serve Another Round, and appeared on several compilations, contributing a standout track to the Tipitina’s – In Person album, and recording the soundtrack to the motion picture Fingered; in the early 1990s, Benny joined T-Model Ford in Mississippi Delta juke joints, and in New Orleans started Benny and the Eightballs, featuring Jack Cole and then Johnny J. on guitar, in 1995 releasing the CD Local Colour; Benny was a featured harp player at the 1995 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and toured Italy and headlined the Avere I Blues Festival in Bologna in 1996; In 1999, Benny and Johnny J. began working regularly as an electric duo, releasing the CD Smile When You Say That in 2001; from 2001 to 2006, Benny filled the harmonica chair with the Washboard Chaz Blues Trio, recording three CDs and playing clubs throughout the region, as well as the 2005 and 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivals, the 2005 Greeley (CO) Blues Festival in 2005 and 2006 Basel Blues Festival; in 2008 he appeared at the Trinity Artist Series and at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with Johnny Sansone’s New Orleans Harmonica Revue; 2009 saw the release of the Benny’s critically acclaimed CD Come On, If You’re Coming; Benny and Johnny Sansone are the original participants in the New Orleans Blues Harmonica Showdown and Big Blues Harmonica Show, an annual event that has showcased Lazy Lester, Billy Boy Arnold, Kim Wilson, Raful Neal, Fingers Taylor, Jerry Portnoy, and other top harp players; Benny continues to play clubs, functions, and virtually every live music venue imaginable in the New Orleans region with his own duo to sextet, as well as backing some of New Orleans’ top blues talents…
Benny’s first new CD as a full electric band leader in over a decade, Come On, if You’re Coming, was released in February 2009 on New Orleans’ ShortStack label. Benny once again ran a gamut of artistry from swamp pop to uptown drives; the CD was named by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as one of the great south Louisiana recordings of the year…
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