Born 11 September 1935, New York State Died 8 December 1996, Maryland
Ben Hewitt made four fine records for Mercury Records in the late fifties, then disappeared from view until he was tracked down, in 1983, by Colin Escott and Hank Davis, who were in the process of compiling a Bear Family LP of Ben's recordings. He is sometimes described as a Canadian artist, but though he did live close to the Canadian border for much of his life, he was in fact a US citizen.
Hewitt was born in 1935 in a one-room, dirt-floor log cabin on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in New York State. He wanted a guitar from the time he was nine or ten and kept bugging his father who finally broke down when Ben was about 12 and bought him a ukelele. About a year later, he got his first guitar, a $12.50 Stella. Influenced by Elvis and Sun Records, Ben started performing in bars. For over 13 years he played at DeFazio's in Niagara Falls, NY. It was there that Hewitt was approached by one Julian Langford. Hewitt told Escott and Davis: "He looked exactly like Colonel Tom Parker. He was up from Florida working in construction. He asked us what we'd charge to do some demos for him. He thought of himself as a songwriter, but he had the same tune to everything. The lyrics were nothing to write home about either. He'd come to us week after week and sing us the latest song he'd written. For the hell of it, we said, ' We'll do it on one condition. You supply the booze. Plus you gotta pay 20 bucks apiece and rent the hall'. "
It was this Julian Langford who secured Hewitt a recording contract with Mercury in 1958. The sessions were held in New York City and produced by Clyde Otis. Four singles were released, 1959-60, see http://rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/artists/h/hewi1000.htm Clyde Otis didn't want Langford's material (except for "Whirlwind Blues"), most of the Mercury sides are Ben's own compositions. Otis himself also contributed a song, co-written with Brook Benton, "I Ain't Givin' Up Nothin' (If I Can't Have Something From You)". Hewitt's version of this song is the original one ; there were later versions by Clyde McPhatter and Jimmy "Frenchy" Dee, with Mickey Gilley on piano.
Ben's records did not sell particularly well, but enough to secure him plenty of bookings through the Shaw Agency, where he was the only white artist. Ben soon got tired of touring and after a nasty incident with Julian Langford, which hurt his (Ben's) reputation at Mercury, he lost interest in making records. He did not record again until 1975, when he cut a country single ("Border City Call Girl") for Broadland Records in Toronto, which was leased to Shelby Singleton's Plantation label.
After his rediscovery in 1983, Hewitt was invited to perform at Bear Family's Tenth Anniversary Show in Germany in 1985. He went over really well, easily eclipsing Jack Scott, who was the ostensible star of the event. He recorded an album of new songs for Bear Family, in Cardiff, Wales, produced by Paul Barrett and Robert Llewellyn. After that, Escott and Davis lost touch and then, sadly, Bear Family got a note from Ben's daughter that he had died on December 8, 1996, aged 61.
There are two CD's by Ben, both on Bear Family: BCD 16199 You Got Me Shook 21 tracks. These are Ben's Mercury recordings, issued and unissued, plus a Mercury single (71518) by Ben's guitarist, Ray Ethier, the excellent guitar instrumentals "Slave Girl" and "President's Walk".
BCD 16200 The Spirit Of Rock 'n' Roll 16 tracks, 12 from the Welsh session from 1985, plus the 1975 single and two tracks recorded in 1990 in Germany. A mix of rock 'n' roll and country. Not bad, but this CD lacks the authentic feel of the Mercury material.
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott and Hank Davis, "I Heard You Died In ' 64 : Ben Hewitt". In: "All Roots Lead To Rock : Legends Of Early Rock 'n' Roll", edited by Colin Escott (page 148-156). New York : Schirmer Books, 1999. This chapter contains the liner notes for Bear Family BCD 16199.
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