Sad news to report today: session bass legend Max Bennett, who worked with artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to The Beach Boys to Frank Zappa, has passed away. He was 90 years old.
Bennett grew up between Kansas City and Oskaloosa, Iowa. He had his first professional gig with Herbie Fields in 1949, after which he served in the Korean War. After his time in the Army, he worked with Stan Kenton and eventually moved to Los Angeles. Bennett is regarded as a member of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, who played on the majority of hits in the ’60s and ’70s. He recorded with Elvis, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Lalo Schifrin, and many more. Fans of more radical music may recognize him as the primary bassist on Frank Zappa’s classic Hot Rats album.
“I was not familiar with Zappa’s music. Our paths never crossed,” Bennett told The Observer. “I was never a big fan of avant garde music in that sense. It was while I was working in the studio, what was it, 1967, I think? And I got a call from John Guerin. He said, ‘Get your stuff over to TTG’—that was in Hollywood—‘I got a double session for you with Frank Zappa.’ So we get there and we worked two double sessions for two nights. And that was the album, that was ‘Hot Rats.’”
In 1973, Bennett helped form the L.A. Express with Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, John Geurin, and Tom Scott. Besides their own releases, the band recorded on the Joni Mitchell albums Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns. After L.A. Express folded, the bassist started his own band, Freeway. He had been performing up through the past year with his latest band, Private Reserve, which his website describes as “the best of contemporary concepts” blending “the richness of jazz, blues, rock and latin music.”
Fellow legendary session bassist Leland Sklar shared his thoughts on Facebook, writing, “The bass community lost a pillar this week. The great Max Bennett. I have known Max for so many years and his work was exemplary of what a great studio musician is all about. You will be missed my brother but your legacy is deep and will endure for years to come. Loved you Max…Rest in Peace and Rest in Groove!”
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Max Bennett.