Born on September 12, 1954 at German Hospital in Hackney, North London, Nigel Benjamin grew up in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. In the early Seventies, Nigel wrote, played, and sang in bands with several similar-minded school friends, including drummer Kevin Morris and bassist Phil Mitchell. One of the first 'groups' that Nigel played with was called Grot, which formed around 1970.
[Nigel Benjamin] It wasn't really a band. A bunch of us got together, and did a gig. That's why so little is known about it - because it was only there for about five minutes! I was probably fourteen, maybe fifteen years old. It was just a bunch of kids trying to be a band.
The first proper group that Nigel and his friends formed was called Fancy. The group gained a solid local reputation in their hometown of Southend-on-Sea, and the band eventually came to the attention of local record producer Tony Collins, who decided to record the band and issue a single on a local label. In addition to Nigel, the group featured Bob Banasiak on guitar, Phil Mitchell on bass, and Chris Holibon on drums.
Fancy gig poster
[Nigel Benjamin] That was a band we threw together because someone found Bob Banasiak. Everyone else could sound like Hendrix, but nobody had Clapton down. We thought, "Great, we've got a guy who sounds like Clapton. Let's put a band together!" So we did.
We did the first gig at a pub in town, and the audience wouldn't leave afterward. The guy who owned the club had to close the place, so got he up and said, 'If you all promise to leave now, I'll let them come back next week!'
Fancy recorded a single, Star Lord, for local label Sticky Records. More than a thousand copies were sold, but the band suffered a setback when Bob Banasiak agreed to join another local group called Angel, managed by Mick Tucker and Andy Scott from Sweet. Fancy recruited guitarist Clive Skeggs to replace of guitarist Bob Banasiak, and Kevin Morris in place of departing drummer Chris Holibon. But when another group called Fancy hit the charts with a cover of the Troggs' Wild Thing, Nigel's group was forced to change its name - and so the Billion Dollar Band became Nigel's next group on the local Southend-on-Sea music scene. The Billion Dollar Band played many gigs and recorded a few demos, but falied to breakout of the local scenes. Nigel eventually hooked up with ex-Merlin members Jamie Moses and Bob Webb to form Royce, bringing along Phil Mitchell and Kevin Morris to round out the group.
The Billion Dollar Band
[Les Withers, Royce roadie] Chris Stevens Music Centre was the local music shop. I went to ask, 'Does anyone want a roadie?' Chris said, 'Yes I know someone! Phil Mitchell. He works here in my shop repairing guitars and lives in Hockley. He is rehearsing with Nigel Benjamin.' Making my way to find them I came upon Nigel's house. Knocking on the big old hardwood door and ringing the bell gave no reply, but someone was in because of what was coming out of the letterbox and the leadlight windows, as well as any other crack that 200 watts of sound could find its way through!
Royce soon built a solid reputation, and once again Nigel was involved with another group that had become the top local attraction in Southend. The group soon set their sights on bigger things, and began playing gigs in London at the Speakeasy and the Marquee.
[Kevin Morris] Royce played some shows in London, and had some serious record companies and publishers ready to spend some cash developing the band. Which is where Mott came in! Royce played at the Speakeasy a lot, and Nigel knew one of the girls that worked there. She in turn knew Pete Watts and Mick Ralphs, and passed on a tape and told them we were at the Marquee and they could check him out there.
Mott The Hoople, of course, had just undergone a major upheaval. The group had disbanded in November 1974, when Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson left the group to start work on Ian Hunter's first solo album. Overend, Morgan, and Buffin eventually settled into Gooseberry Studios, on Gerrard Street in London, to write material and form a new group. Nigel Benjamin auditioned for Mott on 18 April 1975, and was offered the job. After some consideration, he decided to accept.
Mott immediately set about recording the Drive On album, which was released in September 1975. Mott played a short UK tour in, and then followed it with a three-month excursion to the USA. Barely a month after returning from their US tour, Mott was once again in the studio. On 16 February 1976, they entered Manor Studios to record their second album, Shouting and Pointing.
The group scheduled a six-date tour of the UK in early June, although the first three gigs were canceled due to an injury to Ray's hand. Mott then departed for another US tour, and returned to the UK only to learn that CBS was dropping the band. Although the band had received generally favorable reviews, Nigel and the band both realized that the new lineup wasn't working. The group fulfilled their obligation for a UK tour in October and November, after which Nigel quit the band.
Mott (Fisher, Griffin, Benjamin, Major, Watts)
[Nigel Benjamin] One of the last things Overend ever said to me on the road was, 'Nigel, I know you're upset, we'd like to do more of your material. But you don't understand, this is my last chance.' I thought, 'So we're not playing music because it's good, we're doing it because it's your last chance to make a few bucks?' I think about an hour later I picked up a phone and I started making moves.
I don't know if he'll remember it, but the one time I talked to Ian Hunter was at the Hammersmith Odeon, in a pub across the street. I forget who we went to see - Blackmore, I think it was - and I came to the conclusion that I had left the band for the same reasons he had.
Looking back, both Nigel and Mott recognize that he wasn't a good fit for the band. It may have appeared that Nigel was joining a band at the top of the mountain, but in fact Pete, Dale, and Morgan were down one of the holes. Another problem was that Nigel came from a different musical background, and wanted to take the group in a new direction - which didn't interest the rest of the band.
[Morgan Fisher, to Campbell Devine] None of us were great songwriters, and the main problem was we were getting singers in and trying to force them into an Ian Hunter-shaped hole. Nigel never felt very comfortable in the role, and we never really gave him the chance to do what he wanted anyway. Well, we gave him some chances, and then flattened him when he came up with something, because we really couldn't get into what he was doing. So there was a division in the band which never really closed. It was doomed.
After leaving Mott, Nigel regrouped with his old Southend friends to form a group called English Assassin. Cliff Cooper was brought in to manage the band, and Nigel soon got a deal with Arista Records. An album was recorded at Air Studios in London, but it was never released.
[Kevin Morris] We had hit a stalemate. We had an album of songs was recorded, and the cover was finished. Then the boss of Arista - Clive Davis, no slouch in the record business and who had paid a fairly hefty advance - wanted to remix some of the songs. In other words, 'fiddle with our baby'. Now in a similar situation today, and with the advantage of experience, any sane one of us would just let him do what ever he wanted. But as young chaps who thought we knew better, we of course told him to fuck off !
English Assassin backing Eddier Kidd on 'Revolver'
After the demise of English Assassin, Nigel decided it was time for a change. He moved his family to Los Angeles, and soon became involved in the burgeoning glam metal scene there. Nigel soon hooked up with a local glam group called London, which included guitarist Lizzie Grey, bassist Nikki Sixx, keyboard player John St. John, and drummer Dane Rage.
London gig poster
[Nigel Benjamin] There was an ad in the Recycler, and a friend pointed it out to me. 'There's some band here, looking for a singer who's influenced by you!' So I looked at the ad, and it says 'Wanted - singer influenced by Nigel Benjamin.' So I called the number, and I said, 'You guys are influenced by me, so I was thinking I'd come down and check you out.' They said, 'Well, we're playing the Starwood tonight.'
The band had a lot of balls to be doing what they were doing. I mean, everything was getting punked out over here, same as it had in London, and here was this band doing a glam rock thing. So we made a few changes, and in three months they went from pulling 150 people a night, to getting three times the fire limit - which was about 1200 people a night. We were making 1500 to 2000 bucks a night, which nobody else was getting. So I had some small amount of influence on that band!
Nikki Sixx and Nigel Benjamin in London
Friction in London eventually caused the band to split up. Lizzie Grey cites disagreements between Nigel and Nikki Sixx as the reason for the split, but Nigel also points a finger at Lizzie.
[Lizzie Grey] It finally came to a point where he and Nikki were so much at odds that Nikki wanted to fire Nigel, and Nigel wanted to fire Nikki. At the time, Nigel had Rudy Sarzo ready to play bass for us. Sarzo was with Quiet Riot, but Randy Rhodes had been snagged by what's his name, Ozzy Osbourne, and so Rudy was available. It finally reached the point where Nigel said he wouldn't stay in the band unless we got Rudy instead of Nikki, and I stood up for Nikki. He was my best friend, and Nikki and I were not going to split over this.
[Nigel Benjamin] I did quit because of Nikki, but I also quit because of Lizzie, because he couldn't play the same some the same way twice in a row. After I quit, Nikki was the one I spoke to the most. Nikki wanted me to join Motley Crue! For months they were asking me to join the band, because Vince was a drunk, and well, he couldn't sing!
Nigel, Lizzie, and Nikki with London
Nigel's next band was a local progressive group called Satyr. Satyr had been on the scene for years, having been formed in the mid-Seventies by bassist Chuck Wright.
[Nigel Benjamin] Satyr was like a cross between the Moody Blues and Emerson Lake and Palmer, a lot of progressive stuff. Chuck Wright called me; I don't know where he'd seen me. I drove to the rehearsal studio in the San Fernando Valley. When I got there I could hear 'No Such Thing As Rock And Roll' being played, and it sounded better than the album. They said, 'We've got all these things, but we really don't have any lyrics.' So I slapped down lyrics, and all of a sudden we had a set. So we said, 'Alright, let's do some gigs.'
The new lineup of Satyr lasted for quite a while, but a confrontation between Nigel and Chuck Wright eventually led to Wright's departure. The remaining members recruited a replacement, and eventually evolved into The Eyes, which released an independent EP in 1982. That group evolved once again into a band called Future.
In 1984, Nigel appeared in a horror film called Rocktober Blood. Originally recruited by a rock group called Sorcery to sing on the soundtrack album, Nigel eventually found himself composing music, acting, and overseeing production work for the film. In the film, Nigel plays the manager of a heavy metal group whose lead singer returns from the grave to exact his revenge. Rocktober Blood was released by Vestron on VHS video in the USA, and on laserdisc in Japan. A limited edition soundtrack LP was also issued.
Nigel in Rocktober Blood
[Nigel Benjamin] If it had been a little bit worse, it would have been a cult classic. It was just not quite bad enough to be bad. Iíll tell you something very strange about it, though. I acted in it, I was a production assistant in it, I sang some of the soundtrack, and I wrote some of the music - but I still did not know the story until I went to the screening. I never saw a script for more than 20 minutes before I was supposed to do it, and any script they gave me the night before changed to a completely different scene the next morning. I went to the movie screening and I had no idea what the movie was about until it was all finished!
Nigel later recorded music used for TV commercials in Japan, before traded in his microphone for a successful but less visible role behind the scenes in the music industry. Not much was heard from Nigel until 2003, when he popped up on an episode of the Discovery Channel reality TV show Monster Garage, hosted by motorcycle-builder Jesse James. In the episode, Nigel is a member of a team trying to build a mobile skateboard park out of a Winnebago.
Nigel on 'Monster Garage'
In 2009, Nigel surfaced again and began work on his first solo album In The Absence of God. After two years in the making, Nigel has begun posting songs from the album to his ReverbNation page.
In The Absence Of God