Texas guitarist goes way back with Stevie Ray
Jim Beal Jr.
San Antonio Express-News
Marc Benno isn't a name-dropper, he just gets around.
That's how he wound up in a Hollywood recording studio with a young Stevie Vaughan a decade before the seminal album "Texas Flood" introduced Texas guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan to the world.
So how did Benno and Vaughan join forces? It's complicated. Let Benno tell it.
"I had returned from a tour of Europe in about '73, and I was playing guitar with Rita Coolidge — I was hired to be one of the Dixie Flyers," Benno said. "The record label (A&M) wanted me to do another record, wanted me to do my pretty side, and that was OK. I like to write love songs. But I had that burning thing... where I wanted to be an authentic blues player."
By the time Benno came back from Europe, the Dallas native had recorded and released three of his own albums, "Marc Benno," "Minnows" and "Ambush." He'd worked with Leon Russell on several projects including the Asylum Choir, recorded with the Doors for the "L.A. Woman" album and done several sessions with Coolidge. Still on the horizon was being a sideman with Lightnin Hopkins and the release of Benno's "Lost in Austin" album with Eric Clapton working as a guest guitarist.
So Benno came home to the Lone Star State looking for a rhythm section.
"I wanted to put together a blues band, and I knew the drummer had to come from Texas," Benno said, laughing. "So I put the band, Marc Benno and The Nightcrawlers, together with drummer Doyle ('Big Doyle') Bramhall, Billy Etheridge (keyboards) and Tommy McClure (bass). I asked Jimmie Vaughan to be in the band, but he said no, he just wanted to play blues, no rock. But he said, 'What about my brother?'"
Benno met Stevie Vaughan in 1969, before the "Ray" was added and while the future guitar ace was but a teenager sitting in where and when players would let him.
"The first time I saw him was at a club in Dallas called the End of Cole," Benno said. "He said, 'I want to sit in.' I said, 'I don't know...' He said, 'I'm Jimmie's brother.' I said, 'You can use my guitar.' But he told me he had his guitar. I think it was a 1950 Fender Broadcaster. He brought it in over his shoulder, no case. He wore a white T-shirt, Jeans, and was a11 of 100 lbs. soaking wet.
"I remember he was real smooth, but everybody screamed. I'll never forget that night. I happened to have a Sony mono cassette recorder with me and still have the tape of that night. When I ran into him in Austin in '73, I asked him to go to Hollywood to record with us. He was pretty hesitant. He went to Jimmie and asked his advice... Jimmie told him to do it!"
Even then, Vaughan and a guitar were one. "Stevie never liked to put the guitar down," Benno said. "Being around him was like being around a basketball star with a guitar instead of a basketball. Stevie would walk around the house with the guitar. Whatever he was doing, whatever little chore, he had the guitar. I went through a phase where I slept with my guitar, but never like him. The things he could do with a guitar, he was like an acrobat."
Marc Benno and the Nightcrawlers went into a recording studio in Hollywood, laid down seven tracks and then went on tour with Humble Pie.
"I needed to purchase some of the equiptment for the tour, but I had made money with Leon and I thought the money would never run out. I was naïve," Benno said. "But we had limos and we played Cobo Hall. Peter Frampton was picked out of Humble Pie, and they made him a big star. "The tour fell apart, so we went back to Hollywood and I presented the Nightcrawlers' songs to the president of A&M. He told me they had Joe Cocker and they didn't want any more blues. When I went back and told the band the record wasn't going to come out, everybody got really mad. The whole thing fizzled out and it had a pretty sad ending." Now the album has finally come out! Benno acquired the songs from former A&M associates, along with four bonus tracks that feature Benno, Vaughan, former Sir Douglas Quintet drummer Johnny Perez and L.A. stalwarts who include drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Lee Sklar. Benno released the CD, "Crawlin' ," with cover art by storied Texas visual artist Jim Franklin, on his own TexaSize label. The disc is available on the Internet at www.MARCBENNO.com. "Crawlin'" is part Texas blues/rock, part blues/pop and part funky. It features Benno singing and playing guitar and piano. Vaughan displays a few hot licks, but he's part of the band and not the powerhouse soloist he was to become. Still, the disc doesn't sound dated. It has plenty of hot licks and good tunes. "The album just sat there for years," Benno said. "I would never give up on it. I carried this thing around for decades." Benno's recorded several blues albums, including the release "I Got It Bad," with top-flight San Antonio players. His "Rock & Roll Me Again" was recorded by the System and wound up on the Grammy-winning "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack. Benno also recently did a recent tour of Japan. "I had no idea Japan would welcome me like that and be so familiar with my songs! It was a fantastic tour!! An experience I'll never forget... We recorded a live album coming out soon...
These original recordings of the infamous Marc Benno and the Nightcrawlers include a teenage Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar before he was heavily Hendrix influenced or even known as Stevie Ray. Benno hired him before he had even attempted to sing on stage. Hear his roots and where he came from! Concentrating on Benno’s songwriting talents, the band took on a sound of their own and were underground legends in the Austin scene of the 70’s. Willie Nelson pulled the plug on the Nightcrawlers at his first annual picnic because they would not stop jamming. "We got carried away!", Benno explains. This recording was done at Sunset Sound in Hollywood and is a classic. It contains Stevie Vaughan's first original instrumental! The Nightcrawlers toured with J.Geils and Humble Pie, but as they returned from their tour... their recording was rejected for release. It was just too bluesy for the label. The recording has never been U.S. released...until Now!!!