Richard and Nick Bennett interview as NDRRT members 2017

Richard and Nick Bennett interview as NDRRT members 2017

Richard and Nick Bennett interview as NDRRT members 2017

For his 50th Anniversary world tour 2017 Neil Diamond called his friend Richard Bennett and Richard’s son Nick Bennett to ask if they could play the guitar for him. They both agreed so now they are together on tour. For Richard it probably feels like coming home, he played earlier 17 years for Neil and brings now the next generation with him, more or less at the same age he started with Neil.
For Nick it’s his first big world tour where he can show his guitar skills to the big audience.
We did an interview with them both about the tour, how they feel about playing together and asked Nick
to introduce himself a bit for the people that not know him for the moment.

Richard, you are working again for your old boss and friend Neil Diamond and there still are a few bandmembers from the past . How does it feel for you?
A : It has been a real homecoming. Very comfortable in every way, personally and professionally. I’ve also enjoyed playing with new musicians who were not in the band at the time I left in 1987.

Richard, can you tell us the story how you met Neil Diamond , how you became a bandmember and how it ended. You are also co-writer from “Forever In Blue Jeans” , how happened that? Did you write many songs with Neil?
A : A drummer who I’d been doing a lot of recording with in the early 70s, Dennis St. John, had taken the job playing drums with Neil. Neil had been wanting to revamp his band and Dennis suggested me and a few other musicians. I toured and recorded with Neil from the beginning of 1971 through 1987. By ’87 I’d already moved to Nashville and my production work had begun to take off. I had certain contractual deadlines to meet when producing an album, i.e. when the record had to be completed and I found the touring was conflicting with these deadlines. Neil was very gracious about it and hired a substitute guitar player, Hadley Hockensmith, for several tours. I never officially quit or was officially fired, but it just sort of evolved into Hadley’s gig.

Neil and I wrote 5 or 6 songs, Blue Jeans the most popular. The melody of Forever In Blue Jeans was something I’d written a couple of years before Neil heard it. A little finger-style instrumental thing that owed a debt to both Paul McCartney and Chet Atkins. I was sitting round playing it one afternoon while we were on tour and it caught Neil’s ear and he said it was something we should work on. The next time we were in the recording studio we played around with an arrangement and cut a track, at the time Neil didn’t have any lyrics, but as we were playing it back in the control room he said he had an idea that might work, something about forever in blue jeans. He went home that night and wrote the lyric. It was a big hit is still included in all of Neil’s concerts.

Hi Nick , many thanks for doing this interview. Can you tell us a bit about yourself to introduce you?
A : Sure, I’m a guitar player and producer in Nashville where I grew up. I’ve recorded and played guitar for Nashville bands including Pangs , Rayland Baxter & Odessa.
Most of my work lately has been producing music for tv &commercials and those songs appear on the official rolling stones covers album, bmw's first electric car advertisement, the soundtrack for hbo's girls and original programs for mtv,esquire, e!, espn, etc. 2017 is my first time out with Neil Diamond on his 50th Anniversary tour.

Nick, did you always play the guitar or did you play other instruments also?
A : Guitar is my first and main instrument. I can’t really claim to play anything else very well, but I attempt to against all sense of good taste.
After a few years of guitar lessons, when I was about 15 my uncle Jon sent the family a drum kit to keep at the house in Nashville.
I’d always loved drums and at the time was really into hip-hop breaks, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and their use of funky, really pocketed drums. Could never play like that myself but I’ve always admired it .
In fact, Will Reiss a drummer I’ve known since he was 13 and who’s been in every band I’ve put together since, has the best pocket and groove of anyone I can think of. Anyway when it comes to other instruments I know just enough to be dangerous. Putting together my records at home often necessitates playing instruments I have no business attempting, like drums and bass and even keys, all of which I’m decidedly amateur at. It’s counterintuitive but I should say that sometimes amateurism is what can push boundaries in music. And sometimes virtuosity is a hindrance. How’s that for a positive spin on ignorance!?

Nick, you worked on several projects in Nashville, Zut Alors , Nudity, PANGS. Are all these projects still on progress and with who are you working on them ?
A : I never really quit a project, but I start working on new things every so often. I like to leave those doors open.
Pangs is the latest iteration and involves two members of both Zut Alors and Nudity: my wife, Lindsay singing writing and playing keys, and Will Reiss playing drums. We’ve been making music together for so long I’d be lost without them. With PANGS, we’ve been releasing singles and an EP and doing shows locally.
It’s been really interesting taking a new approach to live performances: it’s the first time we’ve been able to take a lot of the elements in the recordings to the stage. When NUDITY started doing shows, we decided to perform the recordings however we could with traditional live intruments (guitar, drums, electric piano) and just three people playing them.
That was a great challenge and fun. Over time, that organic purist approach ran its course and technology crept in in the form of vocal effects, synth, drum triggers and now, we’re really off to the races. A very different approach and it’s a great challenge and rewarding process.

Nick, I suppose you were very pleased with Neil’s invitation. Also the fact that you can share the guitar duties with your father Richard on stage must be great or gives it some stress to you?
A : Yeah, it’s an absolute dream. It’s really one of those scenarios that I literally fantasized about as a child. I was brought up around Neil’s music and watching and hearing my Dad play guitar with him really made an impression on me. As a kid I’d actually wonder what that was like and imagine myself growing up and playing for someone like Neil, or even Neil himself.
That it’s actually happened now is just astonishing. It’s not a dream that you even invest much in because it’s purely fantasy. That I’m doing this alongside my Dad and his encouragement and advice is just wonderful. We’re part way done with the tour now and I’m not sure I believe it’s real yet!

Richard, how’s the feeling about playing with Nick in this band now? Looks that a circle is completed , you are back and you bring a younger generation with you, must give a fantasic feeling I suppose ?
A : When I think of it in that way, it is. But really I think of working along side Nick as I do working with any great musician I’ve been so lucky to work with.. very honoured.

Richard, what’s the best thing about being part of this tour for you ?
A : All the above mentioned… old friends, playing with great musicians including Nick, travelling and having time to write, playing large arenas. Great food, friends and revelry.

Nick, do you have the freedom to play some things like you want or is there a restriction from Neil or other bandmembers ?
A : The band and Neil have really made me feel at home. It’s very much a family: loving and supportive. Musically it’s a thriving democracy and there’s seldom hesitance for anyone to give feedback, suggestions, affirmation, etc to help make whatever we’re working on better all the time.
I’ve always tried to make my focus in the studio or live, particularly when working with someone else’s music, simply doing what serves the song. That means whatever helps it be itself. Sometimes that’s nothing! Sometimes it’s playing something that isn’t necessarily your style or first choice. It’s never playing something that serves yourself over the song.
I think that’s a core value shared in the band. That mindset, apart from making the song and your supporting role in it as important as possible, also fosters some humility and openness to bandmates’ critical opinions. It’s also forces you to be a good listener; to what other people are playing and saying. If you’re not always listening to what’s happening around you musically, you’re sunk.

Is there a big difference between Richard’s style and yours ? How would you describe the difference Nick?
A : I’m not sure. I think there are definitely differences between where we come from musically and what we came up hearing and playing, and at the same time there’s maybe a surprising amount of overlap in things we listen to and music that gets our attention now. But when it comes to the playing I think at least our approach comes from a common place.
That is to say, the searching for the best part to compliment what else is going on in a song or a part that can move things along in the right way. Any part that’s effective. I think it was Dizzy who said it took his entire life to learn what notes not to play. In other words understated elegance and mastery arise from wisdom and experience.
My dad’s had more experience than most and his playing, which started out refined beyond his years, has only become finer. That’s something I will always aspire to.

Nick , how is decided which parts you play and which parts Richard plays ?
A : In rehearsing for the tour we sat down on a song-by-song basis to decide that. In many cases we went back to the album recordings to check in with those parts.
Not everything translates live as it does on a record, but if there’s a guitar part that does work in both places I like to honor it. Sometimes those guitar parts on the records are exactly the reason the song works in the first place so I like to use the recordings as a touchstone and honor those parts where possible.
My memory of hashing out who plays which guitar was just a brief “Which part do you want on this one? Electric, acoustic?” We’d make the decision and then onto the next!

Richard, If you can choose 2 favourite Neil Diamond song from this tour, which would that be and why ?
A : Dry Your Eyes from an album called Beautiful Noise. It was always one of my favourite songs of Neil’s and he never did it live except for The Last Waltz film. We’ve worked up a tremendous arrangement of the song and it’s always received thunderously. I alway enjoy Play Me as it was the first record of Neil’s that I played on and it takes me right back to the day we recorded it.

How do you fill up the time between the gigs, play the guitar, do you have any books with you to read Richard ?
A : I’m currently reading One Summer—America 1927 by Bill Bryson. It’s about that remarkable few months of achievement and history here in the States.

Nick, I was wondering if you have any nerves before a gig or are you very relaxed?
A : There’s always at least a nervous energy for any show I’ve ever done. I think it’s a good thing. The build up to the first Neil show was no different but the good energy also had a mountain of anxiety on top! It was overwhelming to finally do these songs I’d rehearsed and studied for 15000 people.
Once the shock subsided about half way through the first tune I remembered that I could relax and lean back a bit on all that preparation and the support of the rest of the band. I remember being so impressed to see Neil working with a crowd and realized he’s really the guy pulling the train. Having a couple under my belt, I’ve really settled into the show and I’m back to just the good nervous energy each time.

Neil’s tour schedule is relaxed in the way that there’s not every day a gig , how do you fill the gaps Nick?
A : So far I’ve been doing a lot of practice in the hotel rooms. I’ve also got a mobile recording setup so I’m able to demo songs and send them home to Lindsay and others to work on.
This next leg of the tour I hope to get out and explore the cities a bit more. Museums, walks, coffeeshops, food and booze are all on the agenda.

Richard, do you still have the old numbers in your memory and fingers ?
A : As I was preparing prior to rehearsals I was surprised how quickly so much came back to me. I’d had no occasion to play that music for 30 years and yet most of it fell right into place. After so many year of playing with Neil, I think it must have imprinted in my DNA.

Nick, do you ever intend to make a solo record with your guitar, if so what style would you like to record?
A :I’ve only given this a little thought after encouragement to do so from my Dad. Over the last few years I’ve written and recorded some guitar-centric instrumentals that I don’t quite know what to do with.
It’s hard to imagine ever having an entire album’s worth but maybe I’ll put them out as singles or an ep. These songs are really just melodic exercises; lilting melody-driven songs with simple acoustic accompaniment. One is : Leaves of Grass actually

Nick, what’s your own favourite group or style of music?
A : Difficult to pick just one but I’ve been rediscovering the Kinks lately. They’re one of those bands that you keep coming back to and finding new things to love and remembering fondly all the old things that brought you to them in the first place.
Apart from the excellent song and melody writing there, there’s a great energy and urgency to some of those early recordings. The guitars are fantastic. Almost punk.

Do you have a favourite guitar player around Nick?
A : Mark Knopfler. For his musicianship, tone and taste. I’m drawn to anyone who plays so lyrically.

Richard, before this tour you were working on a new solo album , this album is delayed probably now and when can we expect it?
A : Sometime next year. The good thing about having this extra time is that I’m writing new tunes and I’m sure that some of them will end up on the album or possibly replace ones that I’ve already recorded, hopefully making it a stronger record when it finally is completed.

Richard, your solo albums are very melodic , do you have a favourite album from yourself ?
A : No, I like them all for different reasons. I suppose the record I am proudest of in terms of composition is Code Red Cloud Nine.

Nick, any idea what the future will bring you after this world tour ?
A . I’d like to return to Nashville to work with my wife and friends who are creating some wonderful pop music. Some of it may end up being Pangs material and other may be part of the rebirth of a group we started ten years ago called The Beta Macks.

Richard, do you still notice the same Neil Diamond fans on this tour as in the past ?
A : I think there are a number of loyal fans who still turn out from the’70s and ‘80s.

Richard, how does it feel when people are going nuts on a song you have co-written like Forever In Blue Jeans ?
A : I have a hard time playing that song sometimes because I get watching the audience. Hard to describe how a simple thing you made up becomes larger than life. Quite a feeling.

Richard , who is your guitar tech on this tour and how is it working with him ?
A : My wing man for his tour is Kit Charleton who has been on all of Diamond’s tours for the last 20 years. He’s an amazing guitar technician, can solve any problem and fix anything… he’s fearless but not careless. Beyond that he’s a great guy which is always the first order of business.

Richard, do you both bring your own guitars with you for the tour or are these delivered by Neil ?
A : I use my own although after I’d arrived for rehearsals I quickly realised I’d need an extra acoustic so I’m using one of Neil’s Gibson guitars, a model called Dove.

Nick, Gene Ford from The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble is your previous guitar teacher, what can you tell about him and his lessons ?
A : I started lessons with Gene when I was twelve. He taught guitar at a little neighborhood music shop called Bellevue Music.
Gene is a wonderful guitarist and such a good teacher because, apart from his patience and kindness working with kids, he could cover a lot of styles so well.
So outside of lessons Gene was playing guitar in the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, a manolin-centric music group interpreting pop and classical songs as well as original pieces. And then he’d turn around and transcribe Yngwie Malmsteen solos for the neighborhood shredder kid who might come by the shop for lessons. Gene introduced me to so much good music and playing. I think the first thing he taught me after I had a few chords down was “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker. It still serves me today.

Question for Nick : Did you have to quit a job to do this tour ?
A : I’ve been very lucky to be doing music full time for a few years. Of course going on the road you leave behind some work at home. It’s remarkable how much can be done from the road though. Whether it’s piecing together songs on a guitar in the hotel room or actually producing a track from a laptop, there’s a lot of progress that can be made from the road.

Question for Nick : Do you have favourite songs to play on this tour, Play Me has a little solo from you ?
A : Play Me is lovely. But I think Holly Holy is a favorite. When everything lines up Holly Holy has this wonderful contagious and snowballing energy to it.
It’s a good case of a song that I love just to be a part of. It’s the band and Neil really building something in front of an audience and when it works it’s irresistible. It’s a real force, greater than the sum of its parts.

Question for Richard : Without going to technical , what’s your pedalboard on this tour, is it your Richard Bennett Benado signature ?
A : Yes, the signature Benado pedal (tremolo, delay and overdrive) is onboard along with a second pedal Sage Benado has made for me which is a clean boost… more volume but not overdriven.

Question for Richard : You where always very gratefull to Neil, what did you learn from him about songs, arrangements, melodies ?
A : The song is always the most important thing and like Mark Knopfler the playing must always serve the song appropriately. Neil was always tinkering around with arrangements and the form of the song until he got it just right. That’s something that has always stuck with me. As far a melodies go, his songs are so rich in that department.. beautiful melodies and sometimes unexpected notes. Coming back to this music after three decades gave me a whole new appreciation for these songs and melodies.

Question for Richard : How much direction gives Neil to you on stage to play the songs ?
A : He’s very involved in what’s being played by everybody and yet not overbearing.

Question for Richard : What skills do you need to make a career like yours, talent, practice a lot, the good attitude , a bit luck , be on the right place at the good moment and much more?
A : Yes, all the above as well as fitting into each different musical situation not only playing what is appropriate but also in a personal way of getting along with people. It only takes one person who doesn’t get along and it will ruin the entire experience for everyone.

Richard, Nick , I would like to thank you very much for this interview , it’s an honour to do and I’m very glad you answered our questions. It is a pleasure and I wish you all the best with your big adventure, Neil’s 50th Anniversary world tour 2017,


Published May 2017

Approved by Richard and Nick Bennett

You can order “Ballads In Otherness” (2018) at Amazon here
You can order “Contrary Cocktail” (2015) at Amazon here
You can order “For The Newly Blue” (2013) at Amazon here
You can order “Valley Of The Sun” (2010) at Amazon here
You can order “Code Red Cloud Nine” (2008) at Amazon here
You can order “Theme From A Rainy Decade” (2004) at Amazon here

You can find some older interviews with Richard when you click on the album covers :

Find Nick's website here

Find Nick's band PANGS here :

Find Nick's other band Nudity also here :

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