illiam Bennett, a rock guitarist and
entrepreneur whose studio near ground zero provided a haven to
frustrated performers with day jobs on Wall Street who dreamed of
playing live rock and roll, died on Oct. 7 at Bellevue Hospital
Center. He was 49.
The cause was complications of injuries he received in a car
accident in the East Village in September.
In 1997, Mr. Bennett, himself a refugee from the business world,
purchased a TriBeCa studio, the Off Wall Street Jam, where he
coached and encouraged other reborn musicians and helped arrange
engagements for them at clubs in Manhattan.
After the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, he raised money to bring
music and instruments to downtown schools, and returned to his
studio on Murray Street — within two blocks of ground zero — and
hung out a sign encouraging firefighters and construction workers to
come inside and play.
Mr. Bennett was a mentor to the 400-odd dues-paying members at
the Jam, keeping files on all of them so he could help them find
suitable bandmates. He kept the studio's four rehearsal rooms booked
solid and ran open-mike lunch, evening and weekend jam sessions. He
also sent out a weekly e-mail bulletin featuring reviews of the
previous week's shows and an advice column, Ask Dr. Sharpley. In it,
he documented musical pathologies like solofrenia, the disease of
guitarists who cannot stop playing solos.
Mr. Bennett, who referred to the Jam as a mental health club,
divided all musicians into three classes: Plan A, for serious young
artists who hoped to make the big time; Plan B, for those who were
good enough to make a living; and Plan C, for the closet rockers who
played at the Jam.
He had been all three, said Tyrone Johnson, 23, an assistant at
the Jam, which remains open.
William Bennett was born on Oct. 19, 1953, and grew up on the
Upper East Side of Manhattan in a family with show-business roots.
His maternal grandfather, Jack Blue, worked as George M. Cohan's
dance director, and later ran a stage dance studio on Broadway.
Mr. Bennett graduated from the State University of New York at
Stony Brook, majoring in music and psychology. As a young man he
played in several bands, including the Immortal Primitives, which
had some success and opened for the Ramones. But eventually he took
a day job at a photography agency, and for several years did not
play guitar at all.
Buying the Jam, which had opened in the early 1990's, was a
serious financial risk and never earned him much money, said Greg
Manning, a friend who advised him to buy it. "I told him, if you
make it work, you might be happy for the rest of your life," Mr.
Manning said. "That's how it turned out, though his life was way too
Mr. Bennett is survived by his mother, Julie Bennett Blue, and
his sister, Tara Bennett Goleman.
Before his death, he had been planning a three-day rock
extravaganza to honor his 50th birthday on Oct. 19, with appearances
by dozens of bands he played in, many of them cover acts with names
like the Rolling Bones and Abbey Roadkill. Several of his friends
said they were going to proceed with the plan in his honor.
Mr. Bennett's principal band, the Rolling Bones, played at a
wedding on the night of his funeral.
"Man, it was hard," said Mr. Manning, who plays bass in the band.
"But we rocked it. We knew it was what Billy wanted us to do."