The first time the big voice that was Benny Mardones took on its full dimensions in vivid reality, I’d walked down from my second-floor reporter’s cubby for the big daily, summoned to the lobby by the desk staffer with these simple words, “Benny’s here.”
Down the stairs I went.
Wide my eyes opened.
There stood the rocker in full fur coat.
The phone interviews had been carefully culled, big feature story written and published, eyes of the community taken the story in.
Mardones apparently thought I’d gotten his complicated tale right, a rags-to-riches-to-rock-bottom-to, well, what-comes-now and in the futures as Syracuse loves him and the Landmark Theatre fills up and he and the Hurricanes play their hearts out?
”Bialczak, we’re going shopping!” the voice boomed, the lobby echoed, the staffer and others coming and going looking on.
He motioned to the big car parked out on Salina Street.
Mardones knowed not or cared not about the line between journalists and the people they wrote about.
No. No, shopping would be done by Benny and I back then in 1991.
But as I get ready for the tribute and memorial show for Benny Mardones that will feature his wonderful band The Hurricanes in the Palace Theatre in Syracuse tonight, I think about the shopping list of memorable moments I got to experience covering the life and times of this singular rock musician and man while stationed in the music beat for The Post-Standard from 1991 to 2013.
I saw him perform like a king in the splendor that was the Landmark back when Frank Malfitano as director had the place buzzing. At a holiday show at the Turning Stone showroom, tears came to my eyes in my seat when from the stage when he mentioned during the show how sorry he was that my father had just passed. I was invited to watch the rehearsals in guitarist Danny Cleland’s basement to get a feel of how hard he really worked. Variety of shows? I watched him sing in bowling alleys in the suburbs of Syracuse and the city of Utica. I spied him knocking down the same ceiling tile many years in a row in Sylvan Beach. I witnessed golfers stop and stare at his crowds and vice versa as they flanked each other at Pfohl’s/Sharkey’s.
Benny made sure to come into the white studio to play a song solo to be part of the Central New York musician video series I started and worked hard to compile for syracuse.com.
He called my home and sang on the phone to my daughter, to her considerable pre-teen embarrassment.
I interviewed him as he broke bread with his trusted inner circle of friends at Angotti’s and Denny’s and Delmonico’s and Joel’s Steak House, staff, acquaintances and fans alike jumping in to say hello and offer their love as he smiled and slapped backs.
In the beginning of our relationship we talked freely and gladly about his music past, present and future. As the years continued, we talked more sadly about the onset and advancement of his Parkinson’s disease.
He stayed hopeful.
He told me so much, of meetings at Sly Stallone’s mansion and his doctor’s complex at UCLA med center, and of his optimism for good things to come afterward.
The biggest shows remained centered here. This is where Benny Mardones had that following. In the documentary produced by Greg Ross, on camera I called it ”the cult of Benny.”
Together we’ll miss the man tonight at the Palace.
I’ll miss the voice, singing on stage those wonderful songs that always spurred my heart to sing along.
”Bialczak,” he used to say to me when we’d meet up before or after another show, “you’re going to write my autobiography.”
Too much in life and then its ultimate end intervened
I miss that voice on the phone from L.A., describing to me the beauty surrounding him while I typed in the Syracuse winter, Benny inviting me to visit, me again saying, thanks, I can’t.
He really was something, a battler carrying a big complex, heart, a guy who Central New York people miss because they got him and felt every beat of it.
Here is the syracuse.com story written by Charlie Miller when Mardones died in June 2020.
It will be a thrill to see those great songs, a list that Central New Yorkers know runs much deeper than two-time Top 10 hit “Into the Night,” performed by The Hurricanes.
Benny’s band will be back together to play his great sounds. Kim Fetters on vocals, Kevin Farrell and Pete Levante on guitar, Andy Rudy on keys, Todd Troubetaris on bass, John Mangicaro on drums, Jeff Gordon on vocals and guitar, Mark Yonnick and Dan Redmond. Get pumped for ”Two Worlds, Two Hearts.” ”Sheila C.” ”How Could You Love Me.” ”Heart in My Hand.” ”Mighta Been Love” …
Benny’s wife, Jane Mardones, will address the crowd. It’s sure to be an emotional evening.