Richard Bennett recaps his long career as a studio guitarist and producer—from his teenage years in Los Angeles playing on an array of sessions, to his work in Nashville with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and others—during this July 30, 2016, program, part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Nashville Cats series.
Bennett describes his childhood in Chicago, where his parents were involved in music, and later, Phoenix, where he nurtured an interest in guitars after seeing country artists play them on television. He found a mentor in Forrest Skaggs, who owned a guitar store, and later Al Casey, a professional guitarist who frequented that store. Playing his first session in the summer before his senior year, Bennett moved to Los Angeles the day after finishing high school.
He speaks about his experiences recording with drummer and session great Hal Blaine, then provides insight on working for singer-songwriter Neil Diamond. He spent seventeen years in Diamond’s band, recording singles such as “Play Me” and even co-writing the classic hit, “Forever in Blue Jeans.” Bennett’s other credits from this era include Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” and the Bellamy Brothers’ “Let Your Love Flow.”
Although he grew up admiring country music, Bennett says he never anticipated moving to Nashville. However, while living on the West Coast, he developed relationships with musicians including Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, and Emory Gordy, and moved to Nashville in 1985. Finding a community of artists with integrity, he co-produced albums for Emmylou Harris, including 1992’s “Live at the Ryman,” as well as projects by Rosanne Cash and Marty Stuart.
Bennett accepted a job playing guitar with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits in 1994. Speaking about the experience of recording with an artist of superstar stature, he says, “The trick is, obviously in that situation, you’re not trying to step into that. You’re not trying to elbow your way into that spotlight. That’s the wrong thing to do. Nor do you want to play dead, either. So you just find a creative thing that really adds to the proceedings, and that’s all it’s about, really. It’s always about the song.”
The program concludes with Bennett’s performance of “No Matter the Odds” with guitarists Nick Bennett (his son) and Sean Weaver, followed by a solo rendition of “This Love Remembered,” which he wrote to commemorate his fortieth wedding anniversary.
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