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William Bennett, 49, Guitarist Who Was a Mentor to Many, Dies


Published: October 14, 2003

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Deaths (Obituaries)

Bellevue Hospital Center

Bennett, William

William 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 short."

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."

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