The crowd always got a little quieter and paid more attention to the stage every time they heard Phil Bensen's voice project from the Stone Pony's stage. He was a regular at the club's open mic night and he never failed to disappoint. Mixing originals with classics from Marvin Gaye and the Tempations, Bensen created quite a stir with a booming, Motown-influenced voice. It was something the Jersey Shore hadn't heard in a while.
"People have come up to me and said, 'I can't believe you pulled it off,'" said Phil Bensen. "You're the first whie boy I've seen pull that off."
Bensen recently released his first CD entitled "Airbrushed Memories" and will be setting up shows throughout the area. He hopes to get shows in New Jersey, New York City, Philly and in his old college town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When people see him live they are bound to remember that voice. It's got the timeless quality that the best Motown songs have; hearing it just seems to take you back to memories long since forgotten. Bensen recognizes that his voice will be what takes him places, but wants to make sure he's viewed as a complete songwriter as well.
"I'm trying to get into the zone now where I'm making the songs that I write fit my voice better so I can showcase my voice better," explained Bensen. "Lyrically, when people hear you live they don't really listen to the lyrics very much. Its more of the melody and the voice that they hear. And then when they have the CD in their car they listen to the lyrics. When I write, I definitely don't compromise lyrics. I've always wanted to write the best songs as possible."
Bensen hasn't been playing that long. The 23 year-old singer-songwriter only really started playing live while attending college. Music, it seems, was simply in his genes. His grandfather was a child star in Norway who used to sing for the King. Bensen's father was a musician as well.
"Everyone on my father's side has powerful voices," said Bensen. "I really got into writing songs when I heard John Mayer play. I was like, 'Where is he getting these sounds from an acoustic guitar?' And I just tried to learn as many chords as possible. Vocally, I've always loved Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and newer guys like Gavin DeGraw and Jason Mraz. I just want to always get that smooth but powerful and believability when I sing."
Bensen grew up in Hazlet, New Jersey wanting to be a soccer player. That was his passion throughout his childhood. Music took over when he saw the emergence of the singer-songwriter scene. "I saw them and thought that could be me singing and playing guitar on stage."
You can catch Phil Bensen live at the Bitter End on June 5th and at the Indigo Coffeehouse on June 11th. Vist www.philbensen.com for more info.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.