Merv Benton then…
When did I get old? Friday nights used to be exciting and we would eagerly await Friday nights, because it usually meant that the next day was Saturday and back in the day, we used to spend Saturday night at Rock n roll dances and dance until midnight or later and then pack-up and clean up and get home around 2 am.. often times with a car full of children!
The Bloke and I used to run a Rock ‘n’ Roll Club called “The Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll Appreciation Society” or “ARRAS” for short.. he was the President and I was the Secretary and Treasurer it was all voluntary but we loved it and it came with responsibility which we also loved, at the same time we did a weekly radio show and once a month or every two months we would also host a radio show at a different location, that was Australia wide and streamed on the internet overseas.. our weekly show was just local but we had a following who would tune in weekly to hear what we’d play and listen to us announce upcoming gigs, and occasionally we had guests in live.
One time we had an Australian 60’s icon, his name was Merv Benton and he was well-known, well remember I was only born 1967 so I’d never heard of him, he’d been and gone before I even knew Melbourne had a Rock’n’ Roll scene. But because we worked for “ARRAS” we had back copies of the monthly magazine and I read an older article about him and he was coming back to Melbourne to do a show in Moorabbin, (it’s all the way over the other side of Melbourne 1 & 1/2 hours drive) so we decided that maybe we should do a “Now and Then” type feature on Merv Benton, so I put my hand up to write the article. I had time to do the back ground research Star Son was maybe 2 or 3 at the time so I had spare time. Part of the article included us going to his live show and we were promised back stage passes to meet and greet Merv. Now just in case Merv ever reads my blog, I have to say “I LOVE YOU MERV” but before I knew you I was not expecting much.. I went to the show feeling like “Ohh he’ll be an old man and I won’t know any of the songs or the music and I’ll hate it” Oh how wrong I was…
(Merv (real name Mervyn Bonson. b. 12 August 1942) grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Reservoir and went to school at Preston High, where he was an enthusiastic tennis player. After he left school he joined a major Victorian bank as a trainee but as a teenager he listened avidly to rock’n’roll on Melbourne radio and was captivated by the music of Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Merv saw his first Lee Gordon ‘Big Show’ in 1957, which featured Bill Haley & The Comets, The Platters and Freddie Bell and it was Bell especially who fired Merv’s desire to become a singer. http://www.milesago.com/artists/benton.htm )
By the time it was Merv’s time to come onto the stage, I elbowed my way through the crowd with my camera at the ready, the crowd of screaming little old ladies, and I was dreading what was coming.. what was I going to see? These “Grandma’s” (I need to be careful as I am NOW a Grandma) were like little teeny boppers all dressed up and made up and giggling and I was silently scoffing.. “Oh come on ladies!” but then.. he came onto the stage.. and then he started talking and then the music started and I was like “Oh I know this song” This song was of course his most famous song “Cincinnati Fireball” I’d never heard Merv’s version but I had heard other versions.
Now I was snapping away photos to use for my article, so a little old lady was standing beside me watching me very closely. and as I checked the photos on the digital camera she looked over my shoulder and said “Oh that’s a good one!” and thanked her and she asked “Why are you taking so many photos?” so I explained who I was and what I was doing there and going to write an article about him, so she grabbed my arm and dragged me up to the front of the stage and said “Now you can get some good photos!” and indeed I did.. Merv had been watching me and the lady and so he made sure to smile at me. I ended up with about 100 good photos and somewhere along the way I became mesmerized by Merv Benton, for an older man he was good-looking (he still is!)
Well when Merv finished his set, we tried to get back stage but there was some mix up so it didn’t happen that night.. but it was too late I was smitten… So I went home with Merv’s songs ringing in my ears and I knew how I was going to write the article and I wanted some more info so I rang the organizer.. well, no I lie, I got my Bloke to call him and tell him about my article and he invited us to the show the next week when he got back from interstate. It was just as good as the first night except this time we wore little lanyard with “Backstage” on them! Talk about feeling paparazzi! He knew we were there this time and so he smiled at me more, made sure I got good pics. When The Bloke spoke to the Organizer he told him about my article and asked if he would pass our phone number onto Merv so I could chat to him on the phone. So I waited and waited and then gave up. Finally about a week later the phone rang it was 10;30 pm and we were used to getting later night phone calls so Rob answered it, I was sitting up in bed with a green clay face mask on my face and my hair wrapped in a towel doing my nails.. and the conversations went like this…
M– G’day Rob it’s Merv Benton can I speak to Kim please?
R– Oh G’day Merv, how are you? yeah no worries I’ll put her on..
Now in the preceding weeks every time the phone had rung the children and Rob would tease “it’s Merv hun” knowing that I was smitten with him! and it had never been so, when he turns to me and says “Hun it’s Merv on the phone for you” and I was thinking “Smart ass, yeah sure” and I answered the phone and sure enough it was Merv Benton!! calling me.. talk about star struck! I was like dumb.. my mouth wouldn’t work, luckily he was happy to talk.. he apologized for not calling sooner or earlier he’d just gotten back to Melbourne he’d been in Queensland visiting his Mum! ( awww, such a good son!) and gotten the message from the organizer. So he rang to ask me “Can I call you tomorrow and answer any questions you might have for me? I hear you’re writing an article?” So I quickly told him the outline of the article and he promised to call me back the next day. I still didn’t believe he’d call me.. and I hung up the phone and turned to my Bloke and said “Oh my Gosh, I’ve got a clay face mask on and my hair in a towel and I just spoke to Merv Benton!!” my bloke laughed and laughed and said “It’s lucky he can’t see through the phone line!”
The next day at the agreed time he called me and we spoke for almost two and half hours, he was thankful that someone still cared enough to read about him, and I said “Well judging from the excitement at your concert I’m sure lots would want to read it!” he was so easy to talk to just like a regular Aussie bloke, he lived in Arizona and came to Australia each year or every second year to do some shows and visit his Mother who was elderly. I told him about my visit to his show and how awed I was at his fans, all those little Grandma’s. He invited us to a BBQ that Sunday which was held in Sunbury ironically, his Fan Club President lived not too far from us and was holding a BBQ meet and greet. We went but couldn’t stay long because we had things to do. He was so nice and friendly and chatty. we got talking about the radio show and he said next time he was in Melbourne he’d try to make time to come into the studio. he did too!! It was amazing, so many of the other presenters heard that Merv was going to come into the studio and go live to air so they all turned up to meet him. We had a great show, Merv picked out some of his favourite songs and we played those and he did a voice over promo for our show and we played this next song and I laughed and said with my life this song was my “theme song” it’s called “Nervous Breakdown” So he announced that on Air. The next time we went to his concert he asked “Where is Miz Kimmy Kitten?” he was looking for me.. and he said “There she is, this is her theme song just for you!”
Ahhh those were the days.. the fun days when I danced all night sometimes in killer heels and had four, at least four of the children hanging around, and then we were up at the break of day the next day being “parents” and why am I telling you all this? because now, it’s Friday night it’s 9.06 pm and I am ready for bed. Being a Grandma is wearing me out!! I could sleep a week I reckon and the worst it is I haven’t even done any art today!!
So I’ll leave you with one last song from Merv… “Come join me baby in my endless sleep”
Merv’s 67th birthday, 2000