Bennie and the Jets - Lipstick And Leather
1. Lipstick And Leather
2. Say It Again (Tonight)
3. New York – L.A.
4. Do You Know
5. Me And My Car
6. Boys With Bangs
7. Moi Emmoretta
8. Midnight Rendezvous
9. Baby’s On The Run
10. Jet Aged Baby
11. The Way It Goes (Demo)
12. Reveries (Live)
13. You’re So Easy (Live)
14. Give It A Try (Live)
15. Let Me Drive (Live)
16. Two To Tango (Live)
17. Get Up And Dance (Live)
18. Goodbye Goodbye (Live)
Benjamin LaBarge (NO THANKS, HOMEBOYS, JOHNNY) grew up in Hayward, California, in the 1960s to early 1970s where he developed a love for music at a very young age. When Ben was in junior high school, he taught himself to play the piano, the upright bass, and the guitar. Ben loved playing live music and grew a passion for being the frontman. He loved how he could captivate the audience as he watched them sing along with songs that he wrote.
The year was 1972. The summer ended and it was now back to school in Hayward, California. Two young musicians entered their freshmen year in high school—the talented guitarist Larry Litz (NEXT, JAMES MCCULLEN GROUP, HARI KARI) and the creative songwriter Benjamin LaBarge. Ben started a band called NO THANKS with classmates Richard Lord on drums and Rock Ferguson (HEAVEN’S ROSE) on bass. Larry started another band called NEXT with Dave Med (THE TUBES) on keyboards. Both bands entered the battle of the band’s competition in January 1973, though neither band won. Instead, the heavy favorite YESTERDAY AND TODAY took home that honor. It was Richard who took notice of Larry’s guitar playing. Richard wanted to add Larry to the band and invited him to come out and jam. Larry would occasionally join the guys to jam but he still had his foot in the band NEXT and did not fully commit to being in NO THANKS until the summer of 1975. Rock ended up leaving the band and was replaced by Larry’s brother Wayne. This lineup lasted about 8 months until the end of the schoolyear when everyone went their separate ways.
Larry started college at the local community college, but soon determined that school was not the path for him. In the late fall of 1976, Larry went to see the new band VAN HALEN in concert and it changed his direction in life. Larry was able to meet Eddie Van Halen after the show and was blown away how kind and humble Eddie was despite the absolute guitar clinic; he showcased on stage that night. It was then that Larry decided that he wanted to play guitar professionally in a band. Ben started jamming again with drummer Troy Luccketta (WHISPER, 415, ERICK MARTIN BAND, TESLA) and guitarist Byron Lange, who had been playing in the band AFTERSHOCK. Ben’s brother brought the trio out to Nashville, Tennessee, where the guys were looking to get a fresh start. The band struggled coming up with a band name and, more importantly, finding a good bass player. Ben called Larry Litz back in California to see if he’d be willing to play bass and move to Nashville, but Larry respectfully declined as he didn’t feel the band had enough together to warrant a move across the country. Larry stayed in California and continued playing in NEXT where he was gaining more exposure as a premier guitarist in the Bay Area. Ben, Byron, and Troy weren’t able to gain any traction in Tennessee and moved back to California. Troy quickly joined the band WHISPER and won the 1977 battle of the band’s competition. The band WHISPER didn’t last much longer and they broke up. Ben refused to give up on his dream of playing in a melodic hard rock and decided to put the band NO THANKS back together. Ben called up Troy and
Larry as well as bringing in Tom Sprayberry on bass. This lineup lasted a few months and Tom ended up departing the band. Ben wanted to get a fresh start when bringing in bassist Keith Bellino (AFTERSHOCK, HOMEBOYS, JOHNNY) as he changed the name of the band from NO THANKS to THE JETS. The band played out live as much as they could, mostly playing cover songs, but began working on a few originals. During this time Larry received a call from his old NEXT bandmate Alan Wilson who asked him to come join the JAMES MCCULLEN PROJECT, a band with a record deal. Larry couldn’t turn down this opportunity so he left THE JETS. Ben reached out to Kevin Carlson (THE TOYS, ALDO NOVA, ERIC MARTIN BAND, BLUE OYSTER CULT, UFO, P-TOWN ROCKERS) to replace Larry. Kevin and Ben quickly put a few songs together including “Jet Aged Baby” and “Midnight Rendezvous.” THE JETS entered Air Studios and recorded a three-track demo in late summer 1978. Around this time, the JAMES MCCULLEN PROJECT fizzled out and the band reached out to Larry to see if he wanted to join back up with THE JETS and become a five-piece. Larry accepted and the band was ready to make a splash in the Bay Area and on the national stage. Ben went on the New Oasis radio show to do an interview before the show played both “Jet Aged Baby” and “Midnight Rendezvous.” Before Ben went on the air, he was notified that there was another music group called THE JETS. Ben had to think fast on how to announce his band on the radio. The show went live and Ben introduced the band as “BENNIE.” The rest of the band was at home listening and was shocked. The next day the band got together for rehearsal and Larry said to Ben “so we are now called BENNIE, huh?” The rest of the band was not too keen on the new name. They tossed a few ideas around and Larry thought about including the band’s old name together with the new name blurted out by Ben on the radio. Larry said, “why don’t we call ourselves BENNIE AND THE JETS?” At first the band wasn’t too sure, but Larry told them that Elton John had a hit single with that name just six years prior and it already had a ring to it. The band all agreed and from that day forward, they were known as BENNIE AND THE JETS.
The lineup of the newly named band was short-lived as Kevin told Larry that he received an offer he couldn’t refuse. Kevin left the band and BENNIE AND THE JETS found out a little later that Kevin had joined ALDO NOVA. BENNIE AND THE JETS liked the sound they were getting as a five-piece. The band reached out and brought in Byron Lange who had played in various bands with Ben and Keith. Byron not only added his talented guitar-playing to the band but was also instrumental in getting the band into the recording studio. He fronted the money to take the band to that next level. At this time, the band was joined by managers Even Treibitcs and Robby Worth who searched for a record deal for the guys. The band traveled to Los Angeles with their roadcrew, which included Larry’s guitar tech Adam Day, who later went on to tech for Malcom Young (AC/DC), Slash (GUNS N’ ROSES), and Neal Schon (JOURNEY, BAD ENGLISH, HARDLINE). The crew also consisted of Les Brown and Julio. When the crew was setting up a show at Madame Wong’s, Les ran one of Troy’s ATA cases through the glass of the front door and the band got barred from playing there. BENNIE AND THE JETS also brought their studio engineer, Russell Bond, to L.A. with them to be their live engineer. Russell knew the band’s music inside and out and was one of the reasons the band was able to capture such a great live sound. The band played the Whisky a Go Go and actress Mackenzie Phillips showed up specifically for them. She met the band after the show and expressed how much she loved their music. The band returned to Hayward, California, and entered Axis Studio at the beginning of 1980 to record another three-track demo. The band continued working with recording engineer Russell Bond who pushed the band to fully capture their catchy melodic sound. The band recorded the songs “Boys with Bangs” and “Moi Emmoretta,” and Russell told the band that they had about three minutes of tape left if they wanted to try and record a quick song in just one take. BENNIE AND THE JETS decided to play their fast punk-style song “Me and My Car,” and they nailed it in just one take. The band was playing out live as often as they could, appearing at such clubs as Frenchy’s, Centennial Hall, Caster Valley Community Center, and the Old Waldorf, where they opened up for YESTERDAY AND TODAY. The band’s following was growing and their fans were die-hard. Ben noticed that there were two female fans that were front-and-center at every show, even when the band played outside the Bay Area. In July 1980, Ben invited the ladies who never missed a show to come into Anix studio to sing backup vocals on the song “New York – L.A.” Ben loved his fans and wanted to show his appreciation to them in any way he could. The ladies were delighted and grateful for the opportunity. During this same recording session, the band laid down their crowd- favorite tracks “Lipstick and Leather” and “Do You Know,” which both became hits by the band Y&T on their In Rock We Trust album four years later. BENNIE AND THE JETS also recorded the song “Say It Again” which was another crowd favorite. A few months after the band recorded their four-track demo, Troy left the band to join the band 415, who had the same management as JOURNEY and was showing promise towards a record deal. The band 415 later morphed into the ERIC MARTIN BAND where Troy got his name out there with their release “Sucker for a Pretty Face.” A few years later, Troy would become the drummer for the multi-million seller TESLA. BENNIE AND THE JETS would get Kevin’s brother Rich Carlson (THE TOYS, HARI KARI, RISK, CAPTURE, G FORCE, AUTOBAHN, JOHNNY, BADD BOYZ) to replace Troy on drums.
The band made another trip to Los Angeles where they played the Starwood on New Year’s Day 1981. Larry walked into the band’s management office and saw a picture of a glammed-out band and asked Even who the band was. Even replied, “That’s Motley Crue and they’re your competition.” He continued to say that MOTLEY CRUE has the looks, but BENNIE AND THE JETS has the songs. Rumors started to circulate about the band’s management, Even and Robby, who were allegedly looking to include themselves on the majority of the band’s singing bonus and therefore pricing the band out of a contract. This caused a lot of contention between management and the band and it began to take its toll. Larry departed the band to form his new band HARI KARI with young, up-and-coming guitarist Danny De La Rosa (RISK, CAPTURE, TERRAPLANE, BABYLON A.D.), who later joined Ben and Keith in the band JOHNNY. BENNIE AND THE JETS only stayed together for a few more months after Larry’s departure. After BENNIE AND THE JETS broke up, Ben was contacted by the band Y&T who Ben had been acquaintances with as his bands had opened for them several times. Y&T offered to buy the songs “Lipstick and Leather” and “Do You Know” from him. Ben didn’t want to sell the songs outright, but agreed to sell them 50% rights to both songs. Ben was grateful and proud that two songs that he had written were now published on a major label.
In 2022, David Meniketti had a few words to say about Ben and the songs he selected to record that were originally written and recorded by BENNIE AND THE JETS; “In those early days of making a name for Y&T and playing around the East Bay, we met and became acquaintances with numerous local musicians who were playing a similar style. I remember a few musicians stood out. Bennie LaBarge was one of those. He had a great energy and presence about him and a sense of melody that made him a standout from many of the other guitarists & musicians in our local area. When writing for our In Rock We Trust album in 1984, I believe it was Joey Alves, our rhythm guitarist, who brought to the studio a cassette of several songs that Bennie had written for his own band. Two of those songs were Lipstick & Leather & Do You Know. The band, along with our co-writer for that record, felt strongly that with some changes Y&T could make them something that would fit in nicely with our style. We spent several weeks tweaking the lyrics, arranging, and composing new parts to put our Y&T stamp on those two songs. Hence Lipstick and Leather and I’ll Keep on Believing (Do You Know) were then included on our release, and have become a solid part of the tunes that Y&T fans have enjoyed over the decades.”
Ben and Keith would form the band HOMEBOYS with drummer Leonard Haze (Y&T, GILLAN) in 1984, but Leonard’s main focus was still Y&T. The band HOMEBOYS were only around for about a year before it disbanded. Ben and Keith then formed the band JOHNNY with Danny De La Rosa and Sammy Morar. Sadly, in December of 2010, Kevin Carlson passed away. And sadly, in March of 2020, Benjamin LaBarge passed away. This album is in the memory of both of these great musicians for not only the amazing music they brought to their fans, but for the love and kindness they showed everyone they came in contact with.