Plus interview with Ralph Benatar
Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Firstly I would like to ask you about your childhood. Where did you grow up and when were you first involved with music?
I was born in the (Belgian) Congo Aug 28th 1941. In Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) to be precise, where I lived till 1960. I studied the piano, but I was very much interested in other instruments (guitar, and saxophone).
What were some of the influences back in your teen years?
In those days, I became mainly interested in rock ‘n’ roll (Little Richard), and a little after that, jazz music (the west coast jazz, among other styles). Unfortunately where I was living, there were very little opportunities for a young would-be musician. In 1960, I came to Belgium to complete my studies.
Were you in any bands before forming The J.J. Band and Plus? Any release with that?
Yes, I joined a few rock groups. In 1962, I met Garcia Morales, He was an outstanding young drummer. Together we had a couple of rock bands : « Les croque-morts », and later « Les Babs et Babettes ». In 1966, we founded our first soul band with Garcia singing. This band was put together after a few months with singers brothers Jess & James by Producer Roland Kluger (1967). That’s how we became famous with the hit record « Move » (a composition of mine, by the way, which I shared with the 2 brothers) : « Jess & James and the JJ Band »lasted a little over a year, when the two brothers decided to move on as a duo career. They offered us to be their backing musicians, which we refused, so we went our separate ways.
The J.J. Band was an amazing band and you released two records. I would like if you could share a story about the band.
The JJ Band recorded 2 albums. Before that we had a single out with Polydor : « Oh Mama » and then a single with RKM ( Roland Kluger Music) : « Love in them there hills »(a cover). The 1st Album was produced by Roland Kluger. After that we added Bruno Castellucci as a second drummer. It was awesome ! In 1970 We signed a big contract with CBS England with Brian Bennett (Shadows Drummer) as our Producer. Unfortunately, although we had a great album, and toured extensively in England with a heavy promotion, the 2d album did not leave up to its expectaions. On this album we basically had the ingredients of the « Plus » band. Garcia moved to Germany, where he became a top drummer. Our Baritone sax player also left the group. Leslie Kent then joined the band as a singer-guitarist.
The Plus Band:
Leslie Kent, singer/lead-guitarist (deceased). He was originated from Luxemburg. Great voice! Francis Weyer, also lead-guitarist, who went on to become Francis Goya (semi-classical successful guitarist). He currently lives in Marrakesh (Morocco), and we still see each other regularly. Yvan “Ket” De Souter, bass player. I have not heard from him the past few years. He lives in Sint-Amandsberg, near Ghent. Bruno Castellucci, drummer. Has become an internationally reknown jazz musician and plays with a lot of big names (i.e. Toots Thielemans). You can google him for more on his bio. Douglas Lucas, trumpet player (deceased). African-American from Chicago. Very talented, he was greatly influenced by Miles Davis. Mike Lovell, trombone player. Lives in Blackpool, England. He has gone back to his first musical love : New Orleans & Dixieland. Ralph Benatar, tenor sax & flute. I also arranged for the band. I have lived in the U.S. from 1978 to1990, where I worked amongst others with Billy Preston.
In 1972 you released an amazing piece of music called Plus. Why the name Plus?
With the JJ Band, we were more of a soul/R&B band. With Plus, we tried to go a step further by adding Jazz and rock elements to our music.
What are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording Plus LP?
The recording of the album at Morgan studios. It was a great experience. Something I, personally have seldom experienced in my life. You know it was like… this is it! A rare feeling indeed. Unfortunately, it was not followed by great success.
How many copies were made on Pink Elephant Records?
700 I was told.
What can you say about the cover artwork?
It’s an exact replica of the original version, which I’ve always thought to be special. The idea came from Leslie who was a very inventive guy.
How popular were you back then? Where did you toured and with who?
Let’s just say that we had a “succès d’estime”, I don’t really remember much about the details. We played in Bordeaux, toured in Sweden, our last gig was in Kinshasa. Soon after, the band was dismantled.
Golden Pavilion Records did a fantastic job releasing your Plus album again. Are you happy with it?
Yes very much!
I’m not sure, but were you also involved in a project called El Chicles?
Yes, among other studio projects, “The Sumos”, “Chicken Curry”, “SSO”(soul sensation orchestra).
What happened for you after that?
From ’72 to ’78, I became a record producer as well as an arranger. I arranged songs for numerous artists (i.e. Ann Christy, Marva, etc). My biggest hit was “AIE a Mwana” as a producer for Jean Kluger, in 1975.
What are you doing these days?
In 1990, I came back to Belgium after 12 years in the U.S., Where I was mostly involved with production. I have since been arranging music for numerous artists (i.e. Philippe Lafontaine’s musical ”Celia Fee”). I also worked on a cartoon TV series “Les aventures de Spirou & Fantasio”. I also arranged film sountracks for composer Henri Seroka. Other than that, I’m still busy with studio work. I also – last but not least – started a jazz group with Bruno Castellucci called “The Bundle”. 7 musicians & 2 Female singers. We perform 50’s & 60’s songs from the American repertoire.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2011
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