Benny and the Jets to open Lunch at Levis seriesWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
A Google search for the classic rock band “Benny and the Jets” will redirect you to Elton John’s 1974 hit “Bennie and the Jets.” But Benny Speer aka Benny Jet and his band predate the popular song.
“When we got the name, we got it from the play ‘West Side Story’ and the Jets. The song kind of came out coincidentally,” said Speer, who formed the group in 1973.
The coincidence has paid off for the guitarist/singer who has been performing for nearly 40 years nonstop. “What it ends up doing, [fans] associate [the band name] with just the highest, highest pinnacle of music and success,” he said.
Speer will play in Toledo at noon May 31 at Levis Square to kick off the annual Lunch at Levis Square series. The free outdoor concert series runs from May 31 to Aug. 30 and is put on by Downtown Toledo Improvement District Inc.
Over the years, Benny and the Jets has encountered or played with many celebrity musicians from Bob Seger to Bo Diddley to Chubby Checker.
“When you’re a traveling musician, you kind of develop a kinship with other traveling musicians,” Speer said.
The band mixes classic rock covers with its own original songs. Fans tell Speer that those songs still evoke a 1970s classic rock feel.
“We take that as a compliment,” said Speer, who sports a ZZ Top-style beard.
Speer also counts Kid Rock, another Detroit-based artist, as a friend. “We’ve known Kid Rock since he was really a kid. When Kid Rock was just turning 20 years old like 20 years ago, we were kind of an established band in the Detroit area and he would be trying to see the band,” Speer recalled.
The group also met many TV stars like Michael J. Fox and John Stamos when it played the Autorama circuit in the ’80s. During a Toledo Autorama stop, Benny and the Jets recorded its second album.
“Toledo was such a magic town for us in part because of Autorama,” Speer said. Although, his band hasn’t been back to Toledo in about 20 years, he plans to make his stops to the area more frequent.
“I really want to follow up on keeping the band connected in Toledo … the future for Benny and the Jets in Toledo looks good,” Speer said.
Speer, also a regular caller on the FOX Sports Radio show, J.T. the Brick, will be joined by bassist Rick Kron and drummer Tony Fox in Toledo. The three-piece band is occasionally accompanied by other players.
“[The lineup has] morphed over the years several times. Guys have got married, guys have got divorced; guys have come and gone,” Speer said.
Speer, however, is a constant. He will be featured in an upcoming documentary, “Nothing But the Music,” about making a living as a musician. The rocker prides himself on being able to sustain a living solely based off playing his instrument, what he called a “rarity.”
“Since [graduating high school], the only job I’ve ever had is that of a guitar player in this band Benny and the Jets,” he said.
To learn more, visit www.myspace.com/bennyandthejets. The next Lunch at Levis Square concert features Rachel Richardson at noon June 7.