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SHARING THE INCREDIBLE, STAR-STUDDED ROCK AND ROLL JOURNEY - ABOUT THE BENJAMIN VIA HIS AUDIO BIOPIC ‘THE BOOK OF BENJAMIN' by Jonathan Widran Looking back on his extraordinary, surreal, and multi-faceted half-century career as one of the rock era’s most prolific and storied – though lesser known than many of his iconic peers and admirers – musicians, Ben Schultz enjoys referring to a fascinating idea about success put forth by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling 2008 book “Outliers.” Based on research suggesting that practice is the essence of genius, the influential journalist, author, and public speaker popularized the notion that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was the “magic number of greatness. Gladwell contended that it’s “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields…you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Schultz, now rebranding at 72 simply as "Benjamin" (the musician) and "About The Benjamin" (the artist), expounds upon this concept as he reflects on the decades he’s devoted to his craft as a composer and multi-instrumentalist. “Everyone talks about those hours, but it takes a lifetime to become you,” he says. “For me, the arbitrary figure of 10,000 just scratches the surface of becoming a pro. It’s a lifelong education from where you started on your journey to get to where you are in any stage of the game.” Developing a freewheeling rep on par with (much better known) legendary session cats and longtime colleagues Steve Lukather, Leland Sklar, Chester Thompson, Gregg Bissonette, and Ray Brinker, Benjamin has been unstoppable since the moment he jammed with Hendrix at 17, took the stage with B.B. King and Johnny Winter, grooved shortly after that with Stephen Stills and became joined at the creative hip with Buddy Miles – including serving as producer, composer, and engineer… playing acoustic, electric, lead and rhythm guitar, sitar, piano, organ, keyboards, synth, percussion and bass on the famed rock drummer’s mid-70s opuses More Miles Per Gallon and Bicentennial Gathering of the Tribes and contributing to countless live performances. Before we dive deeper into Benjamin’s crazy-colorful, star-studded history, it’s important to note that he’s finding a revolutionary way to showcase his formidable legacy – and introduce multiple generations to both the expansive array of music and styles that shaped him and which he shaped while amassing those literal and proverbial hours. In creating “THE BOOK OF BENJAMIN,” a work he describes as his “lifetime project,” he’s sharing his musical soul with both those who were around in the 70s and 80s when he flew high in the studios yet often under the radar - and to the millennials and kids now who seriously need to understand the importance and influence of those eras. To paraphrase from a hipster colloquial phrase from the later hip-hop era, the project is All About the Benjamin – a fascinating, stylistically eclectic and icon-filled audio biopic/never-ending playlist chronicling his prolific career. The first BOOK (EP) will include five tracks. Two originals and re-imaginings of three songs that represent different eras of influence on (About The) Benjamin’s life and career. “I guess I have wanted to do this for a long time,” says Benjamin. “As for the reason, what comes to mind is the ‘secret is in the sauce’ sort of thing. The reason so many albums sounded so good back in the day was because of us studio rats – the Wrecking Crew, the Swampers, Luke, Sklar, Mike Landau, Kenny Aronoff, Don Richmond, Dan Huff, Tim Pierce, The Immediate Family, John Pearse…and maybe (chuckle) THE BOOK OF BENJAMIN offers listeners an opportunity to relive that history in the present day. Why now? The resurgence of classic rock popularity among the youth is so much so that new music makers are whining that they’re being squeezed out by the classic guys. It’s been 50+ years, and this music is still valid and growing. No other genre can claim that.” Tracing Benjamin’s wild, self-made adventure from zero to 10K and beyond opens various possible entry points. Some may start at age three in New York state, where he took to the piano in the house “like a fish to water,” then took a pair of chopsticks, flipped over a metal trashcan cover in his surgeon father’s home office in St. Pete, Florida, and started banging. Playing trumpet at five, any ambitions he had to be a professional jazz cat were discouraged by his parents. They were from the era when heroin was a heavy influence on the genre's practitioners. All they could see was me in a NYC alley. It may be hard to count Benjamin’s beginning hours- playing trumpet and French horn in his primary and secondary school concert, stage, and marching bands, then studying Music, Literature, and Voice at the University of South Florida – because he got thrown out of those departments for having long hair… everywhere. Yet he’s proud that, with a union card by the age of 13, he started in the local Florida club scene and quickly began learning all he needed to know later to become one of music’s best “utility infielders.” By his mid to late teens, Benjamin’s big-name associations and superstar anecdotes began happening at a dizzying clip. One night in Cleveland, when he was 16, blues legend B.B. King called him up onstage to jam with his band, which included Johnny Winter that particular show, handing over his legendary guitar (and trademark companion) and telling the audience, “I’m gonna hand this young man Lucille and go get a scotch and soda.” Though he was mentored by and learned from many greats he had the honor to play with, he recalls this gem from King: “If you can say something with one note for 16 bars, you’re onto something.” Before we forget, here are a few more key quotes off the top of Benjamin’s memory bank: Buddy Miles telling him, “I don’t want to hear it, I want to feel it,” and Bekka Bramlett’s use of “My daddy used to say….” Benjamin's early years in Tampa were filled with inspiring encounters, including a memorable jam session with Hendrix. At the time, Benjamin was living and working for his best friend, Michael Braun, who was responsible for creating Hendrix's iconic clothing. Interestingly, one of the girls who worked for Braun was dating Hendrix. Benjamin was introduced to Hendrix at a no-tell motel bar and soon found himself jamming with him at the Men's Garden Club Sunday jam. In addition to playing with Hendrix, Benjamin also had the opportunity to perform with The Chamber Brothers before leaving Tampa. For Benjamin, those classic one-offs were followed by his first major band affiliation, The Original Wizard, a free-form rock band he formed with singer and bassist Paul Forney and drummer Chris Luhn when all attended the University of South Florida. Wizard became a sensation (1970-71), touring the South and Midwest and opening for the likes of Iron Butterfly, Chicago, Mountain, Rod Stewart, Deep Purple, Blues Image, and Benjamin’s favorite and most influential artist, Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers. Allman saw the spark and took a liking to Benjamin. One night he threw him a Coricidin bottle and said, “Try this on for size!” This was a turning point in Benjamin’s career and led him to create a style that Guitar World would describe as “Ben’s slippery style of playing, both with and without the bottle…” The Original Wizard’s biggest gig was performing at the Goose Lake Pop Festival in Ann Arbor, MI, in front of 675,000 people. The local paper wrote that the top three acts that day were Wizard, Mountain, and Chicago. The band released its only still-selling album, The Original Wizard, in 1971. In 1973, He went on tour with Angel Fire and had the opportunity to open for notable performers such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Freddie King. He even had the privilege of jamming with them after the shows. Benjamin has often attributed the dichotomy between his being one of the industry’s respected musicians of the time and his lack of general recognition by the public to his passion for being a behind-the-scenes studio cat. After taking a brief hiatus to attend Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, he firmly transplanted himself to Los Angeles, where he launched a key phase of his career as an engineer by helming the major label double album Spirit of ’76 for Randy California, best known as an original member of Spirit. Benjamin’s other key 70s associations were taking future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mike Bloomfield’s place in the infamous supergroup KGB and being part of yet another supergroup, “Pipedream”, with his pal bassist Tim Bogert. Perhaps it was the transitory nature of these bands that made him appreciate steady studio work more. And though he toured quite a bit with Buddy Miles after serving as a jack of all instruments on Miles’ aforementioned mid-70s classics, Benjamin realized he was too enamored with “playing the studio” and all the gear to stay away from sessions for too long. Happily and creatively entrenched at “The Infamous 3rd Street Record Plant LA”, Ben served there as an understudy for many top-name engineers Gary Kellgren, Jack Douglas, Lee Keifer, and Lee Decarlo, a versatile gun for hire and became a friend for many artists and bands – including Steve Marriott, Stephen Stills, Tommy Bolin, Rick Dufay, Bonnie and all The Pointers, Bad Company, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, David Bowie, Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty, Dave Mason, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Robert Plant. He credits Record Plant co-founder Gary Kellgren and Sound City's Keith Olsen as his greatest mentors behind the console. Back doing sessions with Stephen Stills. “I played bass.” “Steven wouldn’t let me play guitar with him”. I was recording in Studio B with Buddy, and Stills was in Studio A. We struck up a decent friendship. When his bass player, Chocolate Perry, wasn’t available, he had me sub for him on recordings and some live gigs. Steven, Mike Finnegan, and I were on the first-ever digital 32-track recording done in RPLA Studio C.” Benjamin adds, "During my time with Stephen, I got to meet Bonnie Bramlett. Who knew what my association with a 'Bramlett' would come to mean." Benjamin knew where the getting was good and, with session fees ranging from $1500 to $3000 a day, he continued being an essential studio cat throughout the 80s. He lucked out working steadily for future Songwriter Hall of Famer and non-stop hitmaker Rick Nowels, contributing to projects (engineering the demos/being half the band) for everyone from Ric Ocasek, The Graces, to Belinda Carlisle. At that point, Ben realized he didn’t have to work so much– and ultimately had the creative itch to temporarily leave the studio fold and create his own thing. Going solo and forming The Ben Schultz Band in 1992, he attracted the attention of Epic Records. They ultimately signed Benjamin. Teaming up with his new friend and collaborator, singer/songwriter Jon Butcher, Leland Sklar, and drummer Ray Brinker, collectively known as Barefoot Servants, they recorded a bestselling self-titled album in 1994. Scoring a Top 5 single, “Box of Miracles,” and doing a 69-city in 90 days US tour, “We had magic together in everything except longevity,” Benjamin says laughingly. Over the next years, Benjamin did numerous projects with the band’s lead singer as Butcher - Schultz, as well as producing and engineering/mixing several of Butcher’s solo projects. The Barefoot four regrouped in 2005 for the sequel album Barefoot Servants 2, but the reunion was, as historically expected, short. Considering that Benjamin has lived in Nashville for over 12 years, the best, simplest, least tragic-painful way to describe what happened in his life in the 2000s is simply to say, “It’s like a bad country song."...only life, though, right? Just when you think you’ve got it mastered, and you’re feeling gratitude over those 10,000+ hours of studio and touring experience and the countless masters you’ve gotten to work with, the crap hits the fan –the downslide into financial hardship, then illness intrudes to impart lessons the other stuff could not. Perhaps envisioning it would become part of a book someday, Benjamin has written a powerful and cathartic essay about his fall from financial grace and his diagnosis of Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins lymphoma (fortunately now long in remission). Suffice it to say that many of his investments were tied up in more significant family funds – and an unscrupulous nephew-in-law got control of the books, made horrible accusations against Benjamin, and then tied him up for years amidst protracted lawsuits. At the same time, he and his property in Los Angeles were victims (like so many Americans) of the subprime mortgage crisis...and dealing with the ongoing volatility of his now-passed wife, a longtime alcoholic... Yup, "a bad country song," lol. Suddenly homeless, he was taken in not by any of his colleagues but remarkably by a lady friend who was an adult entertainer whom he had helped out in business. With his life’s belongings in a 5x5 locker, he slept on her couch, became part (sort of) of her social scene, and experienced periods of kindness that came to him from places he never expected. Later on, his friend Leland Sklar offered support along with one of his old pals and drummer from Wizard. Benjamin arrived in Nashville on Valentine's Day, 2012, with only a suitcase and the clothes on his back. Bouncing around, he ultimately crashed at a Kung Fu studio and helped to raise wolves on a large property while doing odd cash jobs. About a year into his stay there, Benjamin was feeling very strange while on a several-mile after-midnight walk home from Walmart. He was with his grocery bag and a small breeding wolf. The two of them were running from hungry coyotes. After three visits to the ER with pain and fever, he found out he had Stage IV Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It took nine months of treatment to get into remission. Initially told he had only eight months to live, he is still clear today thanks to a healthier diet, natural remedies, and a strong positive attitude replacing the anger. “My beliefs are very spiritual,” he says. “I firmly believe in the principle of karma. Despite not subscribing to fatalism, I take comfort in the knowledge that this experience is a necessary part of my life's journey. I faced the situation head-on and dealt with it." "I feel like if you don’t move forward from the shit that happens to you, you’re not growing." "I guess one of the good things about being sick was learning about the aid programs, which slowly helped me become minimally self-sufficient again.” Benjamin got busy and was soon able to begin collecting the material things again that he would need to start “THE BOOK OF BENJAMIN". "Nothing shifts one’s thinking about time like a life-threatening illness", and clearly, if he wanted to create something to showcase his legacy, he had no time to waste. Perhaps he would have never realized the value this would have to him (and us) had he never experienced so much misfortune. “With odd jobs and pinching pennies,” he writes, “it took till 2016 and a trip to Winter NAMM to accomplish what I needed to get started. I began recording The Rain Song in 2017 from absolute scratch. There were no sessions with others. No click track...I built it from the ground up, one instrument at a time. I added Patrick Caccia on drums first in LA, put the bass on, and approached Bekka Bramlett to sing. It was now late 2018. I was already working on 15 other songs...writing, arranging, and finally recording them.” Then, just as things were looking up and he got on a creative roll, Benjamin’s “bad country song” hit the current playlist – and a whole new set of physical, emotional/and spiritual challenges. He was forced into an unexpected hiatus by Crohn’s disease and Covid. It took his doctors three years to finally diagnose him. Benjamin was now down to 114 lbs. and nearly died...again. While millions of gigging musicians suffered setbacks due to the original pandemic shutdown, he was recuperating from life-saving surgery and got a reprieve from worrying about finishing the project in the timely manner he had planned. He’s now clear of the "3 C's" (cancer/chron's/covid), and the creative thoughts are backflowing non-stop. He keeps adding to those 10,000 hours. Spent from 2021 through all of 2023 getting the sound he wanted. “Yes, that’s a luxury,’” he says, “but I’ve never had that opportunity before. THE BOOK OF BENJAMIN, the project... I am doing exactly what I want…a collaboration of my choice for the first time ever. Although that may sound selfish, it really isn’t. I think I’ve got a tiny grip on reading the trail signs from the Universe, which has become my partner, and that’s exciting. “What I’ve learned from all this life is that 'one doesn’t control much of anything'. But if you learn how to read those trail signs the Universe gives you and work real hard, you find and achieve the positive in everything.”

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