Procrastination has always been a bad habit of mine, as it is with many people these days. We become so caught up in our own daily dramas that we sometimes put off the very things that should be a priority. In my case, that overlooked item was a simple ‘Thank You’ to a special person. That special person was, Bennie Barresi.
It was 1973 when we first met. Having been a tom-boy during my childhood in Colorado, when I arrived at Washington H.S. freshman year, I had a bit of difficulty finding my place with the schoolgirls. Bennie noticed me wondering around aimlessly at Sam’s—Coke in one hand and cigarette in the other—and he offered to show me around WHS. He was the first classmate who took the time to introduce himself and make me feel welcomed at my new school. He was truly my first real friend in Arizona.
My family loved Bennie and his family was quite fond of me, and we spent almost every day together.
I remember that Ms. Barresi made the most delicious spaghetti sauce in the world. And I’ll never forget the time when Bennie stashed a piece of lemon pie in his room and took a huge bite of it, but had to spit it out because his cat had urinated on it. Ah, those were the days.
Our common bond was music. Bennie played the guitar— I sang. We were indeed the next: Sonny and Cher, Ike and Tina, Carpenters (okay, maybe not the Carpenters). J Our signature songs were: Bobby McGee (Joplin), Something (Beatles), Country Roads (John Denver), Stairway to Heaven (Zeppelin), and Leaving on a Jet Plane (Peter, Paul & Mary). As well as a few original pieces: Sunrise and Throwbacks. I’ve included the lyrics to the chorus of each song at the end of this story.
Even though Bennie left school in 1975 we maintained our contact and friendship. It was difficult enough to juggle my job at the Indian Drive-In Theater, WHS musical’s rehearsal, WHS choir practice and a college-boyfriend during Junior/Senior years, but somehow there was always time to hang out with Bennie and make music. We would jam at least twice per week, and as the world of technology advanced, so did our recordings.
Bennie was an absolute genius when it came to improvising. After the release of one of Queen’s most famous albums, Bennie was so impressed with Freddy Mercury harmonizing with himself that Bennie rigged up a way for us to dub, over-dub and over-over-dub our voices. I remember that Bennie once made a reel-to-reel recording of himself singing all of the parts of ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ (Beatles).
On the subject of Bennie’s musical genius, the thought comes to mind of a portable amplifier he made out of some old stereo parts and an empty cracker box. It was a sight to behold, but, it worked! He would plug his electric guitar and my microphone into that thing and we were wired for sound!
We made a recording in his bedroom studio one time of ‘Dreamboat Annie’ (Heart). It was the first time I had ever sung harmony, but the results were amazing! And that was all because of Bennie’s coaching and editing of the tape. We had such dreams back then of becoming famous singers.
I realized near the end of my senior year, that although I had a decent enough voice, I didn’t have ‘star’ quality. I sang with a few bar-bands until 1983 and then with the exception of singing at spiritual gatherings or church choirs and coaching youth step-dance groups, my performing days were over. From what I now have learned from his good friend Andy Olson, Bennie continued with music until the end.
Bennie was a major part of my life until 1979 when I moved back to Colorado. He had always been my, “Johnny Come Lately” and was without doubt my best friend throughout my high school years. When I returned to Phoenix in 1981, unfortunately, I was involved in an abusive relationship. I felt trapped and doomed and confided my situation in Bennie. Naturally, he rescued me. He took me to his home, his mom fed me, we went into hiding for a few weeks — then I got myself back on track.
We both got busy with our lives and unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to make music a priority any more. I had to work, pay bills, go to night school and think about my future. Somewhere along the way, Bennie and I lost touch. We never officially said good-bye, we just lost touch.
I’ve been living in Europe for the past decade. I work as an ELL-teacher at our local high school and one day with colleagues, we were sitting around talking about our own high-school days. Our discussion was focused on the importance of friendships when you are a teenager. I told stories about my talented friend, Bennie. I told them how Bennie was such an important part of my life when I was in high-school and how I truly believe that without his intervention I might have become a domestic violence statistic.
I realized that night that the life I’ve created for myself is partly due to the help I received from Bennie. If he had not helped me out of that relationship nightmare, who knows where or how things would have turned out. I told my fellow teachers, that one of the first things I would do when I went to America for a visit in 2008 would be to call Bennie and say a seventeen-year belated, Thank You!
When I was contacted by Andy Olson in response to my search for Bennie, I was shocked and deeply saddened to have heard that Bennie had been killed in a car accident on Halloween night, 2005.
Needless to say, I’ve learned a powerful lesson—never hesitate to let people know how much you care.
To the family and friends of Bennie, I extend my belated condolences.
To the heavens, I say—Bennie, thank you for everything and for always being a dependable friend; I only wish I could have told you in person. Thinking back on a conversation we once had with each other, I can imagine you are having a great jam session right now with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix! J So I end this with a quote from Jimi: “You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven.” So, B-B-B-Bennie, I’ll go on being the crazy jet and you go on enjoying your gigs in Heaven. Until we meet again…
Rest in Peace.
Listen to the some of Bennie’s music below and you will hear why he touched so many people in his lifetime..
When The River Runs Dry
Prayer For The World
Editors Note: Bennie Barresi was my best friend and died tragically on Halloween night, 2005 when he was hit by an SUV near 43th Avenue & Northern in Phoenix. The last song he played was an acoustic version of “Leaving On A Jet Plane” for a couple girls he met, before he jumped on his bike (with guitar on his back for the ride home).
Bennie Barresi was an explosion of musical ideas from the day he picked up his first guitar. In the early days, I watched him struggle to get through a song without messing it up, but then, he took a giant step forward and became a master at his craft. His sound was a mixture of Cat Stevens and Jethro Tull and so many other influences.
In my home studio, we recorded a lot of material over the years. Some of those songs are featured above. The track “Prayer for the World” was recorded live in my parent’s back yard at Arizona Country Club in Phoenix. That’s where I had my wedding to Cheryl and Bennie was the photographer for the event. He also brought his guitar and various tape machines (with his backing tracks for songs that he was going to sing) and I had it set up for audio. Around 1 am, as the wedding reception was getting smaller, Bennie grapped his guitar, cranked up the PA and out came “Prayer For the World” (echoing throughout the golf course). We were ready to settle in and listen to this one man show for as long as it lasted, but after a couple of songs, we woke my mom up and she yelled “Andy, turn it down!”
Listen and enjoy… and Happy Halloween!
P.S. You can see the Tribute Page to Bennie HERE