Benny Mardones and Syracuse continue their wild ride at Sharkey’s

Benny Mardones, back in the day. (From bennymardones.com)

Benny Mardones, back in the day. (From bennymardones.com)

The first time I came face-to-face with Benny Mardones was in the lobby of the big daily.

Roll the calendar back to 1991, the year I’d made the switch from the sports department to covering music and entertainment.

I’d talked to the rocker on the phone for a big piece to preview his show at the Landmark
Theatre. The story was a gimme. Ninety inches of newspaper copy had rolled from my fingers after phone interviews with Mardones from out in LA, record honchos around the country, friends and fans in Syracuse.

Apparently Mardones saw it.

When I picked up the phone at my desk, the guard in the lobby informed me that Mr. Mardones wanted to speak with me.

Down the stairs I crept, wondering what he thought of the frank tales of quick stardom, abject misery, painful recovery and slippery redemption that had made their way to the front doorsteps of Central New York.

Apparently, Mardones approved. He beamed, standing in that lobby wearing a fur coat.

He pointed toward the curb, and declared that a car awaited.

“Bialczak, we’re going shopping!” the rocker declared.

Didn’t happen. Thanks, but … not in this newspaperman’s world.

“You’re going to the show, right?” he countered.

Indeed. The first of many.

Dozens of times thereafter, our lives intersected.

I watched his concerts and wrote about them in the big daily and then on its website. I talked to him to report news about his career and life. Before I knew it, I had a seat on the Benny Mardones Rollercoaster.

Mardones and his Syracuse band, The Hurricanes, played huge shows at the Landmark. After executive director Frank Malfitano was not retained by the board of the restored downtown Syracuse movie palace, Mardones took his annual Christmas show up the road to the Showroom at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona. He’s that loyal.

They played big shows at outdoor places, like Hooligan’s in Liverpool. In fact, that’s where Benny Mardones and the Hurricanes are hosting the benefit show this Saturday, Aug. 3, where the bar and grounds are now called Sharkey’s Eclectic Sports Lounge.

They played gritty club shows just off the sand, at Pfohl’s Beach House in Sylvan Beach, where Mardones loved to reach up a couple of feet to punch out a tile from the dropped ceiling over the stage.

The oddest place I saw them play was in a bowling alley in Utica. I was off duty that night, standing out front with a beer in hand, singing along with the hundreds of Mardones fans who’d found their way to the joint that didn’t much feel like a performing space. They are that loyal.

The coolest place I saw them play was in a basement in the north suburbs of Syracuse. It was a rehearsal hosted by then-Hurricanes-guitarist Danny Cleland. I brought along my dear daughter, Elisabeth, not yet a teen and quite reluctant to be there with her dad. I wanted her to meet the man who by then was singing messages left on our home answering machine.

Mardones always returned calls. He invited me to interview him at lunches at Angotti’s Family Restaurant on Burnet Avenue, where his party always spilled over the one long table set up for him. He invited me to better get acquainted with his huge Syracuse family at Delmonico’s on Erie Boulevard East, devoted people not related to him by blood but by deeds.

More than a decade ago, Syracuse native Greg Ross was filming a documentary about Mardones’ forever love affair with Central New York. He got me on camera. I called it “the cult of Benny,” as I recall. Mardones liked what I said when he saw it. “Bialczak, you’re going to write my autobiography,” he Yogi Berra-ed to me sometime afterward.

Mardones credits Syracuse with saving his life.

He told them again two winters ago, at a special show at the Palace Theatre on James Street, a night set up for him to not only play his rock anthems and ballads, “Into the Night” and “Heart in My Hand” and the steady parade of songs that woulda, coulda, shoulda made him a national star with the staying power of, let’s say, an Eddie Money. I’d put Mardones’ songs up against “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Baby Hold On to Me” any day.

Mardones told stories between songs that night, too. Revealing. Funny. Somewhat scary. Complex. Wildly entertaining.

Before that appearance, Mardones agreed to sing and play keyboard in the white room at the big daily, his entry into the Music Notes Performance series that chronicled original Syracuse music.

Mardones wasn’t born here. He grew up in Savage, Md. He doesn’t live here, what with the California dreamin’ he shares with wife Jane. But as his hands shook slightly from his long battle with Parkinson’s disease and his early morning voice cracked a bit on the lyrics, I thought once again: Benny Mardones and Syracuse, locked in a crazy, passionate dance.

See you at Sharkeys. Benny’s got a new song to sing, “I’ve Got You.”

Gates open at 1 p.m. Music starts at 1:30 p.m. with The Todd Hobin Band, Mike McKay Band, Ben Fiore, Snowflake Bentley and The Rigbys leading up to Mardones and the Hurricanes. Tickets are $5, but everybody is welcome to give more. Benny’s Backyard BBQ Bash benefits the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. There will also be a Chinese auction to raise money.

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17 thoughts on “Benny Mardones and Syracuse continue their wild ride at Sharkey’s

  1. I still for the life of me can’t see why people around CNY are fascinated with Benny. Perhaps its because I was born too late (1975) to be into that music genre but its not like he has had a string of hits, or his music or stage persona draws attention to CNY in any way

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    • That’s the cult of Benny, John. You’re in or you’re out. Here’s the cup of Kool-Aid … Seriously, though, to his fans in CNY his albums are simply a string of one hit after another, and his stage persona certainly does draw attention to Syracuse in every way, dialogue after dialogue. He also had a song on one of Big Mike Fiss’ annual holiday CDs he titled “Christmastime in Syracuse.” I would say that there will be some fans there tomorrow born after 1975, too. Thanks for reading my blog.

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      • Mark, are you the one who was video taping Benny in the basement when he was rehearsing Two Worlds, Two Hearts for the Landmark show and he said it he “wasn’t crazy about being video taped”? there are a couple of videos of the rehearsal on YouTube.

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  2. I have to work so I will miss the show but I want to wish Benny the best success for the show and I hope they raise tonz of money for Carol Baldwin Cancer Fund!! Luv ya Benny!!! I have been a huge fan since Longbranch!!

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  3. Hi Mark! Love your blogs (and thanks for remembering that Christmas song a few comments up)! Benny, Todd and other great artists tomorrow at Sharkey’s all for a good cause … a perfect day! See you there.

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  4. Great job Mark. It warms my heart to know that Benny’s musical, personal and most of the time mesmerizing stories are going to be reported properly. I wish I was there for the show and could re-live the best memories in the world. After all my years in the business I will still swear to the fact that Benny’s legendary Club 37 show back in 80 was top 5 of all time for me. Best to you always.

    Tommy

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  5. Absolutely great article!!!! Benny is loved by so many! He is a wonderful person! Love him!! 🙂 I also have to add age or when you were born has nothing to do with loving Benny’s music. I see young kids such as 4,5,6,7 and so on rocking out to Benny Mardones. 😉

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  6. I have always supported Mark through my years in CNY with all the acts that I have managed as well as being with Benny for over 8 years! Mark is a true dowm to earth no BullS*** reporter and always has his ear to the ground and respects the LIVE music indusrty!!GREAT job my friend!! You can find me at our new company in Raleigh NC at: unclejohnsbands.com All my Love to CNY and Beeny & Mark “Uncle John” Moyer or as CNY knows me from my companies Luvlite Productions/John Moyer Management as “Bundy”!! ROCK ON CNY!!!

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  7. i saw benny play in liverpool on a flatbed trailer parked outside a bar i believe the sugarmill. a judge living in a nearby neighborhood heard benny cursing and sent in the sheriffs to shut him down early.also saw him at the stiltsville firemans field days.have seen him several times here in south florida once he did kendall toyotas late nite talk show and proclaimed miami his 2nd favorite town

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