My old friend Pete Bennett is dead. Chances are you never heard of him. But that does not matter, he was my friend.
And that’s what counts.
To the music world, Pete Bennett was the Beatles promotional manager and he died last week of a heart attack. They said he was 67, but the fact is he was almost 80.
Pete and I first met through songwriter Gerry Ralston and over the years we spent a lot of time together. I wrote much of Bennett’s website for him and assisted him in gathering material for his autobiography.
Bennett was a drummer who made friends with a lot of radio DJ’s in the day when DJ’s selected their own playlists. He made friends with the folks at Billboard Magazine and knew how to get record stores to say what he wanted to them to say to Billboard.
He represented Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke up until their deaths. (He played “That Sunday, That Summer” for Jackie Kennedy and they decided that was to be the A side of Cole’s record). He promoted Barry Gordy in the old days, handling the early hits of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and other Motown artists. In the mid-60’s he helped promote the “British Invasion” working for the Rolling Stones as well as Herman’s Hermits, Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy.
What Bennett would do is collect a handsome fee from the record company or artist then work to get a song played on radio stations and sold in stores and make sure Billboard properly charted the songs he represented.
Was their payola involved?
Who knows? All I know is that the songs Bennett handled became hits.
One time, I had a party for him in Niagara Falls. We played the songs he promoted. There were more than 200 charted hits we played that night. From Dionne Warwick to Bobby Vinton. We never played the same song twice.
After the death of Brian Epstein in 1967, the Beatles hired Bennett as the promotional manager of Apple Records. After the Beatles broke up, he represented all four of the individual members, until 1975.
Bennett told innumerable stories. One I remember was that he, Yoko Ono and John Lennon were at a New York radio station for an appearance when Lennon got the summons from Paul McCartney for the lawsuit that sought to break up the Beatles.
According to Bennett, Lennon threw up on the spot, all over the radio station’s furniture.
Bennett also used to tell how he told Lennon and other stars which song was going to be number one that week on Billboard. He said he selected “Imagine” out of several songs Lennon submitted as his next hit.
He was with Bob Hope for 25 years, a “notoriously cheap man who loved to hang out with Mafia figures.” He promoted Jackie Mason who once “got drunk and berated an embarrassed Donald Trump” and George Burns who he “loved dearly” and represented until his death.
He represented Elvis Presley on his song “Suspicious Minds,” Sinatra on “Strangers in the Night,” and Perry Como on “It’s Impossible.” Comeback songs, he said, for all three.
He represented the boy, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 when they signed their contract with Epic, a deed done, he said, on Michael’s birthday.
One of his favorite stories involved him convincing disc jockeys to play ‘Honky Tonk Women’ by the Rolling Stones where, he said, he convinced them that the lyric, “I laid a divorcee in New York City” was actually “I played a divorcee,” and offered up a doctored piece of sheet music as proof.
Bennett discovered Steven Tyler when the singer was a teenager and helped Aerosmith get some early important gigs. He worked with John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor.
One time when we dined at Sinatra’s Restaurant on Kenmore Avenue, we ran into Joe Todaro and his wife and the two started reminiscing about all the dagos they had known over the years. It was amusing to hear the two men refer to the varied relationships they had had with notorious gangsters.
Over time, I catalogued much of Bennett’s deeds for his website, as we traveled through Florida and helped the computer-illiterate Bennett upload them on www.petebennett.com.
To the world, he was known as “the Legendary Pete Bennett.” I knew him as Pietro Benedetto of the Bronx.
“He made unknowns into stars and stars into superstars,” according to Billboard Magazine, which called him the “World’s #1 Promotion Man.”
But I knew him as a friend and moral supporter who endorsed me when I purchased One Niagara in 2005. And I remember one memorable night when we jammed together at a music studio. Bennett and Anthony Nanula took turns on drums. I played bass and piano. Ralston on guitar and Steve Pigeon and Tony Farina lent their talents on tambourine and vocals.
What I remember most about Pete was that he was always a tough guy. We bonded as men who do know each other to be men.
That is a big word Man.
During the last 30 years of his life, he glided, as he deserved to do, mostly on his old successes, partly a ghost of music past. But for those of us who knew him personally, he was joy to be with, always cheerful and full of ‘vir.’
He was a bull among the herd.