Musician heads to Nashville for fame |

Musician heads to Nashville for fame

John HartBilly Bensing, in his studio Friday afternoon in the Alta Sierra area, is getting ready to move away from the area.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Singer-songwriter Billy Bensing has left before to make it big.

The Nevada County resident is packing his bags for Nashville, a trip that he hopes will make him a household name.

Writing songs since he was 17, (he’s now in his 40s), Bensing believes anything is possible.

In November 2000, he skimmed a trade publication that listed record producers around the world. Nashville producer Andy May’s listing stuck with him.

“Andy had a little thing at the end – he does folk, country, mellow rock, blah, blah, blah, and that he only wants to do music saying something positive,” Bensing said. “That statement showed me he has integrity.”

Bensing sent May two self-produced recordings that November. They talked by phone for seven months before Bensing flew to Nashville in June 2001 to record four songs with the producer.

Two months before he visited Nashville, Bensing said, he had an epiphany.

“I had a dream and woke up in the middle of the night; my ‘Crazy Moon’ (song) was a hit record. It was a metaphysical experience because I was reading a book about how angels come and interact with our lives. I was asking them to do it, and they told me ‘Do it, you will succeed.'”

Bensing just wants to be a songwriter-performer.

“This is all I’ve ever done and all I want to do,” Bensing said. “If I have to live in a garage and starve, I will. A day job would distract me. I have to stay focused.”

Bensing believes his “Crazy Moon” dream was a catalyst.

“Before, I was just surviving, getting enough gigs to pay my bills,” he said. “I had gone through a divorce in 1989, heartbreak when someone I was engaged to left me in 1995. My life was in turmoil.”

From 1997 to about 2000, his writing took a back seat.

“‘I lost the plot’ as they say in Australia, flopped around,” Bensing said.

But now, “I’m getting a publishing deal,” he said. “Andy has lots of experience. He’s getting the best players for me; Lyle Lovett’s bass player, Victor Krauss, played on my session last June.”

Harry Warner, assistant vice-president for Nashville’s writer-publisher relations division of BMI encouraged May to work with Bensing.

“Among our fold of younger artists, Billy has a shot at making it,” said May Thursday from Nashville. “Billy’s four songs recorded last year could be played anywhere on the planet.”

The 12-song CD should be complete by late summer.

“It will stand up to anything out there today,” said May, who calls Bensing unique.

“A number of things set Billy apart. Billy knows how to sing, how to play his instrument. By himself, Billy is very powerful. When you add other excellent people in, it gets even better,” May said. “Billy’s a fine songwriter. This is a well-traveled guy who’s honed his craft for 20 years all over the world.”

Bensing moved with his family from Los Angeles to Paris when he was 16, and moved three years later to Australia. He returned to Los Angeles in 1977, when he was in his early 20s, to be “discovered.”

Seven years later, he moved to Grass Valley when a musician friend repeatedly told him Nevada County had a great music scene. He played regularly in area clubs, including Kirby’s, Main Street Cafe, Owl Tavern, McGee’s and Cooper’s.

In the 1990s, he performed in Paris and Australia a few months of the year. This year, he has appeared solo mostly at Sacramento and Lake Tahoe restaurants.

May considers Bensing already successful.

“Look at the caliber of Billy’s work,” he said. “It starts locally. He’s got his fan base where he lives, which is a lot more unique than you think, people who care passionately about him,” May said.

In almost 30 years as a musician, Bensing never gave up, even when he was almost homeless for short periods of time.

“Returning here from being abroad, it was crazy as I tried to find gigs. It always worked out, though. I had friends to stay with,” he said.

His “sink or swim” philosophy appears to be serving Bensing well.

“Being successful means finally recording my music to the point where it can be heard. I want to do concerts with other musicians,” he said.

“I’m dreaming my future,” Bensing said with a laugh. “If thought creates reality, it should manifest. Either I’m crazy, or I’m on the right track, putting all my money in this recording and not spending anything. It’s just magic. Everything’s happening.”

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