Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Asylum Choir II: Leon Russell & Marc Benno

Asylum Choir II is the second and final album of the studio aggregation consisting entirely of Leon Russell and Marc Benno.  It was recorded, and meant to be released in 1969, but legal hassles held up its release for two years.  It is on the Shelter label - but I can't find out what the "legal hassles" were.  Shelter was a U.S. record label started by Leon RussellDenny Cordell and a group of Texas studio musician friends that operated from 1969 to 1981.  Russell and Cordell ran the label and were primary owners until 1976, when the two had a falling-out and Cordell took full ownership of the label.  But must admit - I had never heard of Marc Benno.  Before we examine Marc - this record was made at Skyhill Studios - which I am guessing is Leon's home at the time, on Skyhill Drive.

Here is what I found out about Marc Benno: Marc Benno has been giving blues, rock n roll, and pop music an unmistakable Texas flavor for years. A singer/songwriter who plays the guitar and piano, Benno is a strong force behind some of rock and blues greatest talents making them sound even better. The list of legends he's worked with includes The Doors, Eric Clapton, Lightnin Hopkins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bill Wyman, Georgie Fame, Rita Coolidge, Eddie Murphy, Leon Russell and many more!  In the 60's, after performing in Dallas with Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, the Eagles, first known as Felicity and The Moving Sidewalks, Aka ZZ Top,  Benno headed to Los Angeles to further his career. That put him in the right place at the right time!  Marc Benno recorded a pair of albums with Leon Russell as a duo under the name The Asylum Choir. These recordings are considered rock classics by Billboard Magazine.  Benno was then picked to play guitar on an album by the psychedelic rock greats The Doors. The sessions were for the classic L.A. Woman (1971), the group's last LP before Jim Morrison's death.  

Benno recorded four albums for A&M Records in Hollywood in the 70's. Eric Clapton played guitar on two tracks from Benno's 1979 album Lost in Austin, recorded in London, produced by Glyn Johns who was famous for producing The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  He toured with Rita Coolidge as lead guitarist and band leader opening for The Byrds at Royal Albert Hall in London!  After two years serving as Lightnin Hopkins bandleader and lead guitarist, Benno formed Marc Benno & TheNightcrawlers, opening shows across America for Humble Pie and The J. Geils Band.  One of the Crawlers was a young guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan. Benno's career got an unexpected boost in 1985, when his song "Rock & Roll Me Again", recorded by The System for the movie Beverly Hills Cop, won a Grammy for Best Composition for a Motion Picture Soundtrack!  Guitar World Magazine credits Benno for giving The Doors a Texas flavor, with his style of guitar playing on their album titled LA Woman release in 1971. He is featured on The Doors Greatest Hits album. Leon Russell's Greatest Hits, a long overdue release, features the Asylum Choir II classic, Tryin to Stay Live, co-authored by Marc and Leon.

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