Mr. Bass Man
"We have a high energy level and enjoy doing what we do onstage. Long as you're having fun, everything works great. Good, clean fun."
Don Bennett sums up 22 years as Marcia Ball's bassist and onstage foil with a combination of aw-shucks acknowledgement and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment.
Born and raised on the border near Eagle Pass, a resident of Wichita Falls near the Oklahoma border, Bennett considers himself among the luckiest of musicians. His parents were young enough to listen to rock & roll and even took their 5-year-old son to an Elvis Presley concert.
"I remember his legs and his pink suit, but what I really remember was the magician who opened for him," laughs the bassist.
Like so many musicians of his age group, Bennett honed his craft in high school bands. "I went out on the road the day after graduation in 1969, playing 63 days out of 90." Moving to Austin a few years later, he landed in the nascent blues scene percolating in tiny places like Alexander's and the One Knite.
Playing with established players like Lewis Cowdrey in Lewis & the Legends, Bennett earned his reputation when he replaced Keith Ferguson in Storm beside Jimmie Vaughan. It was one of the last incarnations of the band before the Fabulous Thunderbirds formed, and Bennett readily credits his predecessor.
"I learned more from Keith Ferguson than just about anyone else," he states. "He was a musical guru. He had such an amazing record collection that the head of Arhoolie Records flew from Boston to Austin to record one cut from an out-of-print 45 Keith had. My true education in the blues was watching Ferguson play. I can't give him enough credit. The most underrated bass player to ever live in Austin."
In 1981, Bennett joined the Marcia Ball Band, an experience as nonstop as an amusement-park ride and twice as gratifying. Her transition from country act to R&B act was almost complete.
"I didn't wanna play in a country band," chuckles Bennett looking back. "Where I came from, that was all around me, and too many of those musicians were bigoted and square. I love old country classics, and there were good players there, but I had no interest in it."
Hiring a hardcore bluesman like Bennett was one of Ball's ways of fortifying her new image. What worked 22 years ago, still works today.
"He's the mainstay, the backbone of the band," opines Ball. "When I record, I use an array of musicians. Sometimes the right bass player will be Roscoe Beck or Larry Fulcher. And Don's real mellow about that."
Indeed, Bennett is cavalier about it.
"Why not?" he shrugs. "I'll play it live, anyway. It's all fun. My theory is, if you can't have fun playing in a band, you're never gonna have fun."
Ball is more pragmatic about the benefits of touring with such a seasoned player.
"He can back a trailer through the eye of a needle."