Interview Richard Bennett new album 2010: Valley Of The Sun

Richard Bennett
Valley Of The Sun
Release February 2010

Tracklist :

Saguaro / Gunnin' West / Turf Paradise / Cine Capri / When Boy Meets Guitar / Nadine's Scene / Barton's Theme / Down an Old Rose Lane / Pink Oleander / A Sunset Ride / And So It Seemed



To give a quick resume about the career from Richard Bennett is very difficult. Bennett (born 1951) has played with or produced many records for other artists. For example he produced / worked / played with Al Casey, his mentor (when he died Richard wrote : I'll be flying solo now, but my wings are strong because I learned from the very best, Al Casey. See ya pal, I love you.), Phil Lee , Emmylou Harris , Steve Earl , Waylon Jennings , Neil Diamond , Barbara Streisand , Eddy Duane , Billy Joel , Vince Gill ,Miranda Lambert and many others. We also know Richard as the guitarist in Mark Knopfler’s band . Richard releases his third solo album called “Valley Of The Sun” in February 2010 and that’s the reason for this interview ,which he gladly provide to us.



Q. Richard , can you tell us where you from ?
A : I was born in Chicago, Illinois on the 22nd of July, 1951.

Q. How did you become interested in music ?
A : I loved music for as long as I can remember. I had a little record player and a stack of 45 rpm discs when I was 2 or 3 years old. One of the first records I had was Patti Page’s Doggie In The Window which was a hit in 1951.

Q. Was it immediately the guitar that you were interested for and do you play other instruments beside the guitar , lapsteel , banjo etc…?
A : The first instrument I played was drums. My father got me a set when I was 7 and I took lessons and played for about 4 years. Seeing singers like Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb and Elvis Presley on TV really made me want to play guitar…they all had one strapped round their shoulder and it looked so cool. After I began playing guitar in 1962 I started fooling around with other instruments…ukulele, steel guitar, tenor banjo, tiple, etc.

Q. Did you ever take lessons for the guitar or are you a selfmade man?
A : I took guitar lessons from Forrest Skaggs in Phoenix, Arizona where I was living at the time I got my first guitar. Skaggs had taught Al Casey 15 years earlier and it was through him that I met Al. Casey took me under his wing and I learned a great deal from Al though not through formal lessons…more like an apprenticeship. He’d take me around to recording sessions in Los Angeles, introduce me to the other musicians, showed me how things worked, what you needed to know to be able to do studio work.

Q. Was it OK for your parents that you would be a musician or was that difficult for them? Do you have other musicians in the family?
A : My parents for the most part were very supportive. They did want me to keep my school grades up to a certain level, and I’m sure they had moments when they questioned my decision, but never stood in my way. My brother has been a professional musician playing drums for Weird Al Yankovic since the early 80s as well as various bands and recording sessions.

Q. Did you ever played together with your brother or son?
A : My brother Jon and I did a little recording work together in Los Angeles before I moved to Nashville. My son Nick occasionally plays with me on my recordings and has done some live gigs with me. Sometimes we’ll have a couple of guitars out together at home. He taught me a great arrangement of the song “Christmas Time Is Here” just a few days ago. He is a great guitar player.

Q. How did you come to Nashville ?
A : Through the suggestion of Steve Earle as well as several other friends who had already made the move here. I felt it was time for a change from the L.A. scene which had begun to fade. We moved to Nashville in 1985.

Q. How did you make a good name around Nashville so you could play on all these people’s records and produced them , how did you climb up ?
A : I had a track record of playing on records in Los Angeles for 18 years as well as recording and touring with Neil Diamond, so a certain amount of credibility was already established when I arrived. Also, I’d been commuting to Nashville and playing on projects for a couple of years prior to moving here. One of the very first things I was involved in after relocating to Nashville was co-producing and playing guitar on Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town” record and that was a big critical success, it sort of threw the doors open for lots of record dates as well as more production work.

Q. You also like to play the Hawaiian steel guitar , who turned you into that style?
A :The guy who taught me guitar, Forrest Skaggs, was a tremendous Hawaiian steel guitar player, so I grew up hearing that and learning those songs from him and from records by people like Dick McIntire and Sol Hoopii. Al Casey played great steel as well.

Q. 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.

Q. Do you still have contact with Neil?
A : We see each other every now and again. I think the world of him and learned so much about many things from Neil. Those years were a big part of my life and Neil is like my family though I don’t see him as often as I’d like.

Q. How did you come in contact with Mark Knopfler ?
A : Mark and I had many mutual friends in Nashville before we’d met. When he was getting ready to do some recording here in 1994, my name came up from several of those friends… engineer Chuck Ainlay, Paul Franklin and song writer Paul Kennerley. The bulk of those recordings became the Golden Heart album, which was followed by a tour in 1996.

Q. Did you have to think a long time about it when he was asking to record and tour with him?
A : I didn’t have to think at all. I said yes.

Q. How does it feel to record at his British Grove Studio (Mark Knopfler's studio) , it seems like a high quality studio to me? What makes this studio better than other studio’s ?
A : Without going into technical details, British Grove is designed, built and operated like the excellent recording studios in the golden era of record making. The main room is large with a high ceiling, very comfortable but still a professional working environment. Large control rooms that don’t fatigue you after you’ve been in there for many hours. It is one of the finest recording facilities anywhere in the world and there aren’t any more of this kind of studio being built.

Q. Every now and then you are touring with Mark Knopfler , how do you handle the fact that you are a long time from home then and is it difficult to pick things up again when you are back home? How tough is it being on tour?
A : The tours are set up to be as comfortable as possible for us. I really don’t find it difficult touring with the exception of being away from my family. After all the years of touring with Neil Diamond and now Mark, my wife and I are accustomed to the separation of several months at a time. It does take a couple of weeks on return getting back to the day to day life at home.

Q . Are you going to make another one of your beloved “Notes from the road” diaries at 2010 and do you have much response to it from the fans ?
A . I’m not sure about the ‘notes’ this time. I always enjoy doing them but found last tour that after a couple of months I seem to be writing about the same thing every day. We’ll see.

Q. How is Mark to record and play with : is there place to improvise or totally not? It looks like he is changed a bit through the years for his musicians?
A : I’ve always been very comfortable recording with Mark from the very first. He’s absolutely open to every musician’s contribution and expects it. It’s really a process of learning the song all together and trying different approaches to the overall arrangement as well as individual parts. Very quickly we all figure out what works and what doesn’t. You keep the stuff the works and build upon that, pretty soon things start sounding like a record.

Q. What was your set up for the last Mark Knopfler tour?
A : The usual; a Vox AC-30 as the main amp, a Tone King as a smaller amp for steel. Temolo pedal, delay pedal, volume pedal and an over drive pedal. I use these very sparingly, for the most part it’s straight guitar into the amp. It’s the way I record as well.

Q. Which guitars do you have from your own at this point and which one is your favorite?
A : I have so many guitars, too many to list. Some of my favourites are; 1956 Gretsch 6120, 1954 Fender Telecaster, 1963 Barker arch top, early 1980s Fernandes Strat.

Q. Are you nervous before a show or totally relaxed after all these years?
A : I always get nervous before playing in front of people whether it’s 10 or 20,000. I think it’s healthy to feel a little anxious about trying to make something happen in front of others…it shows you care.

Q. Do you have a funny story about touring ? I remember that you once locked yourself out (without a backstage pass)? You had lost the way ?
A : I probably have loads of stories like that but can never recall them on the spot. The incident mentioned happened in 2005 at the gig in Chicago. I got lost in a series of hallways backstage that finally led down a narrow stairwell with a single door at the end. When the door I’d just passed through locked behind me, I had no other option but to go through the one in front of me. It opened on to the street outside and there I was with loads of fans waiting to get in the venue. I realized then that I’d left my backstage pass in the dressing room. Fortunately, I found my way round the alley to the load in dock and there was our monitor mixer smoking a cigarette, so I was able to get back in. I had visions of waiting in line then having to explain myself at the box office!

Q. What are the most pleasant things and the most boring things about touring for you?
A : I enjoy everything about touring and seldom if ever have a bored moment. There’s always something I can occupy myself with, reading, practicing, gym, etc.

Q. It looks like Tim O’Brien (also from Nashville) will play during the North American tour to replace John McCusker (his wife is having a baby). Do you know him and did you play with him already ?
A : Tim is a brilliant musician and singer and I’ve been a fan of his for many years, and though we know each other, we’ve never actually played together. I’m looking forward to spending those couple of months on tour with him.

Q. In 2004 you released your first solo record “Theme From A Rainy Decade” . What was the reason to make a solo record?
A : I had a stack of guitar instrumentals that I’d written over several years and simply wanted to put them down on tape in a clear and appealing way and maybe pitch them for movie things. I’d never intended it to be an album. It was only after I’d record a half dozen of them that it began to feel like I might be making a record.

Q. Then is 2008 you released “Code Red Cloud Nine” , it was a bit different style than the first solo record?
A : Code Red was my take on the kind of guitar playing and players that I love so much, guys like Barney Kessel, Tony Mottola, Johnny Smith and so many of the great ones from the 40s and 50s. That album is a snapshot of what I was writing immediately after the Rainy Decade record.

Q. Now you will release “Valley Of The Sun” , can you tell us something about the writing / recording process? Is it the same style as the first two albums ? Are you a fast worker or do you need a lot of time to finish your own records ?
A : My own records seem to take a long time, not because I’m in there tinkering around all the time but just the opposite…I seldom get around to doing anything, due to working on other peoples projects but mainly because of my own laziness. So, it seems I go in about once month and record something, very quickly by the way. But working that way takes about a year to get an album’s worth of stuff together. Also, I’m writing through the year of making a record. This record is a comfortable synthesis of the various styles that influenced me and it feels nicely grown-up.

Q. How many songs will be on the new album and are they instrumental or are there some songs with vocals also this time?
A : I felt I was able to tell the complete story with 11 songs this time and they are all instrumentals.

Q. Is there a certain theme in the album or are all the songs separate?
A : I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1960s and learned how to play guitar there . Phoenix was and still is known as the valley of the sun and the locals simply called it the valley. It’s an album of those times, musical styles, people, places and things. On my website is a link, Behind The Songs , and I wrote a paragraph or two about each song and what it’s about.

Q. Where do you find ideas for the songs ?Do you have an idea for a song at the beginning or is a song growing whilst jamming?
A : I always write the melody first and then start jockeying chords and harmonic structure around the melody. Often I don’t even have a guitar in hand when the initial idea for the melody comes to mind. Once I have a few notes strung together in my head then I’ll go get a guitar and begin crafting it into a song. Sometimes they come very quickly and other times they don’t and may take days or weeks to complete. If I get stuck on something, sometimes I’ll just leave it and come back to months or even a few years later. A couple of songs on the Valley Of The Sun album were begun a few years ago and finished this past year.

Q. Where do you record your albums?
A : A good friend and wonderful musician, George Bradfute, has a studio in Madison, Tennessee, a suburb just north of Nashville. It’s country singing legend Jim Reeves old house. George has a remarkable ear, is a great engineer and knows how to get stuff sounding fantastic on tape. We are both avid record collectors and I can reference a sound or overall vibe of something very obscure and he will know what I’m talking about or be able to go to his collection and find it. Being a exceptional musician, he’s very helpful if I get myself painted into a corner and always has a good suggestion or idea. He’s played various instruments on all three of my records and I hold him in the highest regard as a musician. Aside from all that talent, he’s a grand fellow to spend an afternoon with…very important when making a record!

Q. I suppose we can order again from the CD Baby site or is it this time another way to distribute it?
A : CD Baby has always done a remarkable job for me as well as thousands of other independent artists. No reason to change now.

Q. Did you ever asked Mark Knopfler to play on one of your albums?
A : I never have, though it would be an honour to have him grace a tune or two. He certainly did grace the inside jacket of Themes From A Rainy Decade with his well written liner notes.

Q. Illegal downloading from the internet is a big problem for the music industry. Do you think it affects your sales numbers and with is your opinion about it?
A : Illegal downloading has been the main reason for the decline of the record industry and has effected us all. Of course, I’m not happy about it. That cat’s out of the bag now and I don’t see it ever being the same record business again.

Q. What do you like the most : producing , writing , recording or touring and why?
A : All those activities are related but of course very different and I really enjoy every one for different reasons. Producing for being able to work closely with an artist to help them bring a song or dream from concept to reality…writing for the sheer struggle and joy of personal creation…touring is like a paid vacation with your musical family, loads of fun and getting to play music for an appreciative audience every night. But it would have to be recording that I enjoy best. It was what I first aspired to and what I became successful with initially. To this day I still think of myself as a studio musician first.

Q. Did you ever consider to write film scores?
A : I have but nobody’s called!

Q. How goes the music career from your son Nick? On which project is he working?
A : Nick currently has a fab band called The Zut Alors that plays his own original songs. They’re on My Space and Facebook , have an e.p. out and just finishing an album. It’s smart and melodic pop music. Nick’s a great musician and plays wonderful rock, pop, jazz and folk-pop-jangle guitar as well as bass and drums.

Richard and Nick

Q. What other projects are coming your way at this point?
A : A new album with Scot/Canadian artist Johnny Reid and completing two albums begun the end of 2009 by David Francey and Sean Locke. More sessions with Vince Gill for an ongoing album plus whatever other calls come in over the next couple of months before the 2010 tour with Mark Knopfler.

Q. You have a large collection of vinyl records , what do you find so special at vinyl records and which is for you the most interesting period for music development?
A : We’re all victims of our birthdays. I came up listening to records, both vinyl and shellac (78 rpm). I am not alone in thinking they sound better than compact discs and they really sound better than MP3s and all the down load stuff. I have a large collection of both vinyl and shellac going back to the very early 1900’s and I’ve drawn inspiration and stolen outright from all of it. However, I’d have to say the 1940’s through the 1960’s were very influential musical decades for me.

Q. Which dream do you still have to make true after all these years?
A : I’m always working on some area of my playing which I feel is lacking, most of it really. I strive to become a better jazz player.

Q. Is it a strange feeling that people admire you for your guitarplaying or to have fans when you are on stage , when they are asking an autograph?
A : Yes I’ve always been astonished and humbled that people like my guitar playing and that I’ve had such a long and active recording career. I’ve never felt that my playing was particularly special in any way, but I think most people feel that way about what they do.

Q. Are you still working with country/bluegrass singer David Peterson?
A : Dave’s become a good friend and he’s very kind to call me to come play gigs even when I’m unable to do so much of the time because of conflicting schedules. I hope to get another gig or two in with him before the 2010 tour begins.




Richard and Dave : "T For Texas"

Q. Which career would you have, if you not have been a professional musician?
A : I’ve always been drawn to graphic design and appreciate a good layout. I would have loved to study art and all that goes with that occupation. In many ways it is like music for the eye…having things arranged in a certain creative, orderly and appealing way visually.

Q. What do you like to do the most in your free time?
A : I don’t have designated hobbies per se, but I find myself in the gym every other day come hell or high water. I also devote my free time to practicing guitar and listening to music. I enjoy reading and cooking.

Richard , I would like to thank you very much for this interview and I wish you all the best with your new album “Valley Of The Sun” and the upcoming tour with Mark Knopfler. It is a pleasure and an honour to talk to you , Henk


Published February 2010

Approved by Richard Bennett

You can order “Valley Of The Sun” (2010) at CD Baby here
You can order “Code Red Cloud Nine” (2008) at CD Baby here
You can order “Theme From A Rainy Decade” (2004) at CD Baby here