Blues Bytes


December 2009

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Marc Benno and The Nightcrawlers
Blue Skunk Music

Marc Benno

In the early ’70s, Texas-born Marc Benno was on the cutting edge of the rock music scene in Los Angeles. After having gained regional success with his pop/R&B group in the Lone Star State, he had made the move to L.A. to advance his career. It was a wise move, as his background in the blues, and his bluesy style on guitar and piano made him a highly sought session player for artists like The Doors and Leon Russell. He recorded with Russell as the Asylum Choir and released three solo albums for A&M from 1970 to 1972. He even had Eric Clapton play guitar on two tracks of his 1979 album.

In 1973, Benno formed a new band, called the Nightcrawlers. The band played a unique brand of Texas rock and blues and was building a following. The band Benno put together consisted of some names now familiar to most rock and blues fans: Doyle Bramhall on drums, Tommy McClure (The Dixie Flyers, Aretha Franklin) on bass, Billy Etheridge (Jimmie Vaughan) on keyboards, and a 19-year-old guitarist named Stevie Vaughan.

The Nightcrawlers also worked on an album in their spare time, and were preparing for a tour with fellow blues-rockers The J. Geils Band and Humble Pie, which featured Peter Frampton. Unfortunately, the tour ended abruptly when the manager fired all of the acts to become Frampton’s personal manager. To make matters worse, the album in progress was canned because the label decided to move away from blues-based rock. Benno decided to record a solo album with Vaughan as guitarist, which was never completed.

The music sat in the can for over 30 years, but fortunately, Blue Skunk Music has compiled the Nightcrawlers session and the Benno/Vaughan recordings into Crawlin, an 11-song set of original tunes, all written or co-written by Benno with his bandmates.

The first seven songs are from the Nightcrawlers session. The songs include the buoyant opening track, “Last Train,” “Coffee Cup,” which sounds sort of like an early Lyle Lovett track with its jazzy rhythm, and the moody “8 Ball.” “Take Me Down Easy” is a pop-oriented track, and “Love Is Turnin Green” is a horn-driven blues rocker with some nice guitar work from Benno and Vaughan. “Hot Shoe Blues” (with lead guitar by Benno) and “Crawlin’” (which was recorded outside on Sunset Boulevard) are both uptempo numbers that allow the band members to stretch out a bit. Though there’s no individual track info on the disc, Bramhall and Benno share lead vocals and Benno and Vaughan share the guitar work, but each has their own distinctive style, so it’s fairly easy to tell who is who in both departments.

There are four bonus tracks, taken from the Benno/Vaughan session, that feature the pair along with some of L.A.’s finest session musicians (Russ Kunkel – drums, Lee Sklar – bass, Mike Utley – keyboards, and Gordon Dewitty – keyboards), plus drummer Johnny Perez, of St. Douglas Quintet fame. These songs include “Friends” and “World Keeps Spinnin,” both of which feature some terrific slide guitar from Vaughan, “Whole Thang,” a pop nugget, and “Long Ride Home,” a instrumental where Vaughan shows signs of what is yet to come. Benno plays second guitar on that track, piano or Fender Rhodes on the others. All in all, it’s not a bad set of ’70s era blues/rock that still holds up pretty well today.

As for Vaughan and his guitar work…..on these recordings, he’s not where he will eventually be as a guitarist, but it’s obvious from the first note you hear that he is somebody special. When you listen to these songs, you realize that it was not a big jump from where he was in 1973 to where he was ten years later when he burst upon the national scene.

Benno and Vaughan went their separate ways soon afterward. Benno ended up with Lightnin’ Hopkins as his second guitarist for several years, and even won a Grammy in the mid ’80s for his song, “Rock & Roll Me Again,” recorded by The System, for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. Benno took a break from the music scene in the early ’90s, but began performing and recording again around 2000. He’s released several albums since then, and is still active on the Texas music scene.

If you’ve read this far, you are probably at least vaguely aware of what happened to young Stevie Ray Vaughan. He moved back to Austin, where he joined up with Paul Ray and the Cobras, further honing his guitar skills, before forming the Triple Threat Revue with W. C. Clark and Lou Ann Barton, which later evolved into Double Trouble. The rest, as they say, is history.

--- Graham Clarke


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