Pete Bennett -- the promotion man who famously worked with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole, Steven Tyler, Sam Cooke and many others -- died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day. He was 77.
Born May 11, 1935 in the Bronx, Bennett was best known for his work with the Beatles, both as a group and as solo artists.
"Whatever he did, no one else was doing at the time," says Dick Kline, who worked in promotion at Atlantic and was a personal friend of Bennett's. "We both had to get the same results - get records played on the radio, make sure stock was in stores and report sales to Billboard," says Kline. "I had an entire company and a team working with me. Pete was an individual hired as an independent. Everything he had was in his briefcase or the trunk of his car."
Bennett gave up his independent status to become director of promotion for the Beatles' Apple label when it was formed in 1968. He continued to work with the individual Beatles after the group broke up and they all pursued solo careers. Later, he was involved with the career of Michael Jackson, helping to put together a deal for the Jackson 5 to sign with Epic (as the Jacksons) after their exit from Motown.
Among other honors, Billboard named him National Promotion Man of the Year in 1972.
Bennett was working on a new project at the time of his death with longtime friend Sal Vasi, a musician and a manager who worked with Dion DiMucci and Lesley Gore in the early days of their careers.
"I met Pete in the summer of 1956," Vasi told Billboard.biz. "He played the drums and I had a sax. We did gigs together. I went to law school and he became the hottest promo guy in the world. Two weeks ago I played him a new artist from Nashville. Pete thought he was great and met with him and plotted out an entire campaign we were going to do together."
He also enjoyed a long working relationship with the Rolling Stones. "Meeting Pete Bennett in '65 was like meeting the real deal -- the very bright noir America of your celluloid dreams," Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones' producer/manager at the time, told Billboard.biz today. "He was a promotion man extraordinaire -- he loved his job and his friends and it showed in his 24/7 enthusiasm for life."
Asked for an anecdote, Oldham recalled, "On a '65 Rolling Stones tour I was rooming with [Stones drummer] Charlie Watts in a hotel in Times Square. Pete rings up from the lobby. He says he has some guys who want to come up and look at us. Not talk to us, just look at us. They [wore] crocodile loafers, suits from the boutique in the Miami Doral, quiffs Bobby Rydell would die for. They came up, chewed gum, looked at us and started to leave. Charlie said, 'Did we pass the audition?' "
Bennett's circle of friends extended beyond the music business. "He was best friends with Bob Hope," Kline said. "He'd call me from Hope's home in Toluca Lake and if I had to call him back, he'd tell me, 'If Hope answers, hang up.'"
Oldham recalled attending the Taormina Film Festival in Italy with Bennett and ABKCO's Allen Klein in the early 1970s. "Pete was obsessed with seeing Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who were rumored to be reuniting at the festival," Oldham recalls. "Suddenly, Pete disappeared for 24 hours. Allen and I went to the opening of the festival, minus Pete. Suddenly we heard this gruff [Bronx] voice: 'Outta de way! Liz and Dick are coming through!' It was Pete, he was in there, minding the Liz and Dick store. The wink he gave to Allen and me as he passed with the famous couple resonates with me today. Pete forever enjoyed the privilege of being in the business."
Bennett leaves behind his wife Annette and their two sons, Joseph and Peter, in Connecticut. Services were scheduled to be private. The family has requested donations in Bennett's memory be made to the American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/
Following is a remembrance sent to Billboard.biz by Bennett's longtime friend, Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein:
"I first met Pete Bennett when I was a teenager working at Billboard.
"He was working as a promotion man for Cambridge distributors on Tenth Avenue. Even then, he was a powerhouse. Close and personal with Murray 'The K' Kaufman and Jack Lacy at WINS. He was tight with just about everyone who mattered at radio in New York, pop, rock and R&B.
"Eventually, his influence at radio grew throughout the United States. I loved travelling with him. I remember one trip when Berry Gordy and Barney Ales flew us out to Detroit to witness the recording of 'Please Mr. Postman' by the Marvelettes. This was Motown's first number one and Pete helped break it.
"Then there was the time Pete and I went up to Boston to see Nat King Cole perform live at the Bradford Hotel roof. Nat was having a resurgence with hits like 'Ramblin' Rose' and 'Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.' Pete got these records played not just on the pop stations, but R&B as well.
"I had great record men as mentors, but it was Pete Bennett that taught me whatever I know about promotion. Back in the days when radio promotion was still respectable, you had people like Howard Bedno that ruled Chicago and Sammy Kaplan in Detroit, but Pete Bennett was tight with everyone everywhere.
"Pete was a great pal. He got me six 10th-row tickets at Madison Square garden for the 'Concert for Bangladesh.' He was loyal beyond belief and when Richard Gottehrer and I started Sire Records he brought us down a band, Chain Reaction fronted by a young lad, Steven Tallarico -- who several years later changed his name to Steven Tyler and formed Aerosmith.
"Pete was an invaluable asset over at ABKCO, particularly at the radio level, working not only with the Beatles and Rolling Stones but other important bands during the British invasion.
"Pete was a great friend. I attended his wedding to Annette Di Caprio and he was there when Linda and I tied the knot.
"I spoke with him only two weeks ago. He sounded great full of energy and drive. I'll really miss him. He was more than one in a million, he was a force of nature that comes along only once."