One day, I’ll look back over my life, and recounting a list of the coolest things I ever got to do, I’ll recall being on the phone with one of the most influential songwriting figures of the last half-century, Benny Hester. It almost doesn’t seem possible, that a relatively “local” guy like me, could not only interview, but have a conversation with someone like Benny Hester. That can’t possibly be how it works, right?!
But apparently it does. I can’t begin to tell you how nervous I was when my phone rang. “Unknown” appeared on the screen, although I knew who it would be. But as soon as Benny started conversing in that soft-spoken, approachable voice, I was at home. I only got nervous again, after hanging up, realizing what I’d just done. Yeah…this was a banner day. A good day. :)
As a teenage musician and young believer, I was intensely influenced by the CCM artists of the 80’s. Benny was one of them. I still remember hearing (the now, modern-day Classic) Nobody Knows Me Like You for the first time. I was hooked in about 20 seconds. That was one of the defining songs for me as a songwriter, and I realized that Christian music didn’t have to be… “non-current” music. (Not that it was all bad.) It was obvious to me that Benny Hester was a craftsman, and I was a fan and student from then, on. And still am, today.
I could easily write an introduction an hour long about this man. I mean, there’s almost nothing he has not accomplished, no one he hasn’t worked with, no accolade he hasn’t received. Like, more than 25 Number One and Top Ten songs. He and his wife, Rita, created and produced the award-winning, groundbreaking Nickelodeon series, Roundhouse. His song When God Ran is the longest running number one song in the history of Christian Music charting. And how many other artists can say they recorded their debut album with Elvis Presley’s band? (You’ve got to be kidding me!)
If you want to follow Benny online, I passionately encourage it. www.bennyhester.com is home to all things, BH. Go, put it in your favorites, share it with your friends, and make it a regular place to stop by. Also follow him on Twitter: @BennyHesterNow, or like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bennyhester1. And if you’re lucky enough to see Benny Live, you should. Yeah, it’s that important.
FYI, if you want to read a little more about the details of Benny’s career, Wikipedia has a great article on him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Hester. Well-worth the time to read it through.
You know, lately I’ve had some incredible opportunities to meet and talk with some of the world’s most positively impressing individuals. Many, my own personal heroes. But today’s call was one of those meetings that will forever be rare air. They just don’t happen like this, very often. This is something I’ll be talking about when I’m old(er) and gray. (Get ready, grandkids!)
Join me for five minutes (or maybe a little more)…read, share and be totally inspired! You won’t believe some of the things you’re about to read. Share this mind-blowing moment with me, chatting today and being carried along, like a kid again, by the truly legendary, remarkable Benny Hester!
1. Who has been your greatest influence (personally or artistically), and how?
Well, you know that’s a tough one. You have influences in your life as you go along. But I’d have to say, personally, the biggest influence on my life would have to be my wife, Rita. She’s creative and smart…a lot smarter than me…and probably the most creative person I know. We’re partners…I mean, I have my world that I have experience in and she has hers, but we do things together. And a spark happens when we work together. So I’d say over a long period of time, over the course of my life, it would be Rita.
And I would say, artistically, it would be Brent Maher. Brent really gave me my first opportunity, gave me my first record contract when I was in Vegas, and really was the person who listened to my music for the first time and said “Hey, do you have another one of those songs? Play me another one.” And that meant a lot to me. Brent was a house engineer, and at the time, I was just a kid. But he took me into sessions and into the studio…I mean, I was there in the studio when Ike and Tina Turner cut Proud Mary. And he was recording The Fifth Dimension and The Jackson Five and Chuck Berry, Sammy Davis Jr and Gladys Knight, Sly and the Family Stone…you know, those kinds of artists. So I was able to get them coffee and talk to them and just be in the control room, and I learned so much from all of them.
You know I’ve had family and educational and artistic influences, I’ve had all those. But when you look at the overall time span, when you look at the arc of your life and say “Who has influenced me the most?”, for me, I’d have to say it was Rita and Brent.
2. Which previous job/project had the most impact on you, and why?
Well again, it’s sort of hard to pick one. But I’ll just name two that I’d say have impacted me greatly. And they actually have to do with the same two people that we just mentioned.
Brent Maher produced my very first recording in Las Vegas. And a guy by the name of Bill Porter, who’s a legend, owned the recording studio. He was sort of like my second father there in town. Bill was also Elvis Presley’s sound man. He had recorded Pretty Woman with Roy Orbison, and all the Everly Brothers hits, and just hundreds of the most classic songs you’ve ever heard. So Bill used to take me to the Elvis Presley concerts and I would sit at the console with him when he mixed the nightly live shows, there at what’s now the Hilton. What I really liked was that Elvis picked the very best players from LA (Los Angeles) to be his band. And consequently, Bill and Brent brought Elvis’ band to come record my first album. So as a young guy, it changed my life drastically, you know just to be sitting in the studio with these guys. It was just a blast.
But getting back to the question, recording my first album on VMI with Brent and Bill and all those guys from the band, I’d have to say…well, it was a two-edged sword. The album ultimately was destroyed. The studio and adjoining building, which contained all the recordings, burned to the ground and the album never got released. Some of the vinyl (the records) shows up today in the underground, probably originally gathered by looters at the scene. But the thing is, it was the most exciting time of my life and a dream come true, and then it was also the greatest disappointment that I’d ever had in my life. Just unbelievable that it could happen. So I would say that particular incident has a great impact on me because it taught me perseverance and how to get up every day and continue forward and still have inspiration in my heart to do what I loved to do.
The other project that had a great impact on me was one that my wife and I worked on together. I had never been in television before, and she had produced a couple of shows. We developed a show called Roundhouse ultimately for Nickelodeon. It was really the first Tween show in the primetime block, for Nick or Disney or anything. Ever. At the time, nothing like it had ever been done before. And the spark for me and Rita was that we created something completely new. A new genre. You know we went on to win multiple awards for the show and for the music, and it really expanded my horizons beyond what I had done before. But I was able to see, through all of it, that we were getting to do things that most people never get the opportunity to do. And it had a great effect on me and my life.
3. Is there a “secret of success”? If so, what? And if not, why?
I would say, if there is a secret, I would say it’s probably perseverance. Because it’s really easy to become discouraged. And that’s a thing everyone has to deal with. Because as an artist or in the business world or personally, we’re trying to figure out “What can I contribute to the world? How can I be set apart from all the people who do what I do?” And it’s inevitable that unexpected, maybe bad things, can happen to you. Things you didn’t count on. But you just can’t let that be the last word. You can’t let those disappointments and those things that happen to you, be the last word. You have to get up and persevere. You know, your spiritual life is a big part of that. We know people who have no relationship or spiritual connection with God, and we don’t know how they get up every day and face the world as it really is. Rita and I learned, during our television work, that the world outside of Christian Music can be very harsh. It’s not the bubble that we worked in with Christian Music where we were very insulated. We learned how cruel things and people can be because you’re not protected the way you would be in a Christian environment. So if there’s a secret, it would be, no matter what the environment is…persevere.
4. Is there a particular moment or event that had a great effect on your life or career?
Wow. That’s a tough one. I think one, was when my first project that I spoke about earlier, when it burned, that was devastating. I had to make a decision about what to do with my life at the time. I didn’t know what I was going to do next. But it so happens that during that recording, I started a search to find a greater relationship with God. One of the songs on that album was called We All Know He’s Coming, and we cut a great version of it. But I think it affected the players. And that affected me. I had just started having people talk to me about God, although I had grown up around church and "religion", back in TX.
Anyway, I was invited to this gigantic tent revival on this vacant lot out in Vegas, and that’s just not something I would normally go to. Someone might say “There’s a great band playing”, and I’d go. But normally, if I went, I’d stay for a while then slip out. But I went, and a guy who was a lot like me…kind of a hippie guy…spoke. And I related to what he said. So I heard the message, and that night when they gave the invitation, I was one of the ones who went forward. I know a lot of people have different stories of the moment they came to God...this or that and what happened and what was said. And I can't speak to their experiences. But my conversion was really...(long pause)...earthshaking. It changed everything. Everything about what I wanted to do, who I was. Everything. It didn’t just change something, it changed everything. The way I handled things, the way I looked at the future. So I would say, that period of time would be right there with one of the biggest moments that most-affected me.
5. If you could share one, single pearl of wisdom, what would it be?
I think, for me, it would be the advice I give to myself. And it’s the same advice my wife, Rita, takes. I’d say it would be: Get up every day, pray, and remind yourself that today, anything can happen. Anything. Believe that something can happen today that could change your life. It may be spiritual. It may be something in your career. It could be a new personal connection. Maybe the job opportunity of a lifetime. But never give up that anticipation that, today, with God’s help and intervention, something great can happen to you. I believe in starting every, single day that way and reminding myself of that one, simple fact.
# # #
This FOTF can also be found on the Five On The Five Edublogs site at: http://fiveonthefive.edublogs.org/?p=225