An Interview With Scott Bennett:
The Man Brian Wilson Calls
The Most Talented Musician He’s Ever Met.
Scott Bennett is a multi-instrumentalist musician and a key member of Brian Wilson’s touring band – a group who Paul McCartney calls the best band on the road. Recently he embarked on a North American tour with Wilson and fellow rock icon Jeff Beck, as well as ex-original Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks on the Brian Wilson & Jeff Beck Concert Tour, which wrapped up in Milwaukee on Oct. 30.
Puluche contributor Sarah Geledi recently met up with Scott Bennett in Toronto to talk about the tour, his career and the time he had the king and queen of 60s pop duetting in his house.
Puluche: What’s it like to tour with two of rock’s biggest legends?
Scott Bennett: It’s been absolutely off the charts amazing. I always admired Jeff Beck.
There was a tribute to Brian and Jeff was supposed to do “Surfin’ USA,” but he goes, “You know I was noodling around with “Surf’s Up” last night.” And we were like, “Really? On guitar?” It’s one of the most difficult, classically inclined songs. Brian’s melody doesn’t translate to guitar so well… and it was just astonishing. As much as he can play very fast, and the compliment I gave him the other night, I said: When you play it sounds like a human voice; it sounds like Jeff Buckley. And he goes, “Oh, I love Jeff Buckley.” In fact, I think tonight he’s doing “Corpus Christi Carol” from Grace.
So you get our set of melodies and harmonies and then [Jeff] comes out with his instrumental prowess and we come on and join him at the end. And it’s just so fun to watch his reaction to when the harmonies start surrounding him. He just loves it. Like the first time we met him, he got on a chair and said, “Will you all get in a circle around me and do “Our Prayer”?”. For somebody’s who’s so known for his instrumental stuff, he just likes proper music and melodic information.
The reason this tour makes sense is that they’re both guys that could care less about show business. It’s all about the music. This tour is also interesting because there are definite Jeff Beck fans – guys with leather jackets that just want to hear some rock guitar. And if you don’t get Brian, it can be a tricky sell. […] And it’s very clear you know. I’ve gotten to perform with Elton John and Paul McCartney and everybody and they all just bow to Brian. That’s why this tour makes sense: because Jeff Beck is the guitarist’s guitarist and Brian Wilson is the songwriter’s songwriter. It’s a really special tour.
Puluche: Will there be any more dates?
Scott: I wish we were doing more shows; I don’t know that we will. I was assuming we’d get to Europe, but it’s been so gruelling. I think having two legends on one stage with all of their entourage and management. It’s a tricky thing to keep going.
Puluche: You’ve had a long history with Brian Wilson. What has that been like?
Scott: Yeah, about 15 years now. I played guitar on two songs on Imagination in 1998. And people often ask me what’s the coolest part about working with Brian.
From the very beginning of working with him to about the time when we started doing Pet Sounds Live, then he wanted to finish Smile and then he wanted to write a whole new record that I got to collaborate with him in on, Lucky Old Sun and he just went from strength to strength.
So the most satisfying thing for me is to watch an artist rebuild himself and a human being have a better quality of life. And just being surrounded with people who really respected what he did, and were there for him on every level and wanted to get every nuance correct for what he was hearing. So it’s been really amazing. But he’s 71 now! I’m not even 50 yet; I’m the baby in the band. I’m still in my forties and I’m exhausted! I don’t know how these guys do it. I think Jeff is 69…
Puluche: …Chuck Berry and Little Richard are still rocking and they’re well into their 80s.
Scott: I had a friend who played bass with [Chuck Berry] and he is a special, special guy. And Little Richard, I often cite him. I have children and I meet young people all the time that ask me about music and this and that and I say: ‘Go back!’
When I got obsessed with the Beatles, that’s when I checked out Little Richard and Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers, and all this stuff. I don’t think kids today do it as much. I mean they do it in the sense that whatever hip-hop artist has sampled whatever song, but they probably aren’t necessarily sure where it came from. They just know they dig it. To imagine being 14 years old and Little Richard screaming “Good Golly Miss Molly” out of your stereo would’ve made me pull the car over and go: What has just happened? I think we need more people that are making people go, “what has just happened?” beside the fact that they’ve got no clothes on!
Puluche: You mentioned the Everly Brothers earlier. Were you listening to a lot of vocal harmonies; is that what attracted you to Brian Wilson’s music?
Scott: The funny thing is that The Beach Boys did not loom large on my house.
However my parents loved the Four Freshmen and used to go see the Four Freshmen in college and stuff. So that richness of harmony was in my DNA. So [that helps] when you’re trying to learn these Brian Wilson songs. And one of the reasons why people don’t cover Brian Wilson’s music so much is that it’s really difficult to do.
Puluche: You’ve had an interesting career composing jingles when you were younger. How is that different from a typical rock career?
Scott: The problem with jingles is that it kind of ruined me from being a rock star. I think because I was making deep six figures in my early 20s. So I got spoiled and just thought why would I want to pile on a van and drive and try to sell my CDs and carry my own amp up a flight of stairs. It’s a tricky thing because I do regret that I get to play all these fabulous places and meet all these fabulous heroes of mine, but you know I’m always kind of like, hey Jeff, can I give you one of my songs – one of my 400 songs that no one’s ever heard. So it’s a bit frustrating. But you know, I’ve gotten to write with Brian Wilson so that’s pretty cool.
Puluche: Another cool thing is your songwriting credit with one of the greatest composers of all time: George Gershwin!
[Brian asked Scott to write lyrics for two unfinished Gershwin songs for his 2010 Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin album.]
Scott: That’s pretty insane. One of my friends on my Facebook page zeroed in on the credit: Gershwin/Wilson/Bennett. That’s pretty great! So far I’ve not made any money from that, but it’s something to tell the grandkids! And again, I’ll teach the grandkids who Wilson and Gershwin were and are.
Puluche: I read that you recorded with yet another legendary songwriter, Miss Carol King. What’s the story behind that?
Scott: We were doing Lucky Old Sun, and [Brian] had written this thing called “Good Kind of Love” and he goes, “This reminds me of like Carol King, Brill Building thing. Would you mind if I called her and she came over and sang it with us?” [So] in my bedroom studio, I had the king and queen of 60s pop duetting in my house.
There’s a great story… actually I don’t know if I should tell it… It’s a funny story though. So Brian was shuffling nervously like he does when she first shows up. And he goes: “I’m not sexual or good looking or anything; music’s my bag. But you look really good Carol. You look really good; I feel guilty for my thoughts. I’m married you know.” And then he ran into the kitchen. It was pretty classic… He’s one of the cuter men alive.
Puluche: You’re not only a multi-instrumental sideman; you also have a few recordings to your name. Can you tell us about your most recent project?
Scott: The most recent thing is actually 10 years old! I started something in my hometown of Chicago with really ace musicians, but then I got the Brian Wilson job, the drummer got The Smashing Pumpkins, the bass player got Fiona Apple, so we all said, “well, I’m going to get paid.” We only recorded 4 or 5 things and it was kind of deliberately art rocky: King Crimson, David Bowie, Radiohead, Muse kind of stuff, and a little Jeff Buckley maybe. Then the bass player, Brett Simons, called me up and said, “You know this stuff is still really cool. We should just finish 5 or 6 more things and make a record.”
[The album’s] done; we’re just going to finalize some artwork. My problem is I don’t want to just trickle it out and have it just die. I kind of want to figure out some way to have it make a bit of a splash. But the music’s great. The band’s called Shiny; you can hear some of it on our Facebook page. It’s pretty darn cool stuff and I’m really proud of it.
You can read more of Sarah Geledi by visiting her webblog at sarahgeledirocks.com
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