Peter Bennett (May 10, 1935 – November 22, 2012) was a popular music promoter who worked with several prominent artists including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and The Jackson 5.
Peter Bennett was born as Pietro Benedetto in The Bronx, New York. As a distant cousin to singer Tony Bennett, Peter changed his last name in the early 1950s as his famous relation had. Peter and Tony both knew they had family from a similar Italian locale and remained close through the music business. Pete Bennett first entered the entertainment world as a drummer. In 1956 at the age of twenty one he sat in with trombonist and big bandleader Tommy Dorsey at New York’s Paramount Theater. An historic engagement that held a reunion of Dorsey and his former boy singer of the early 1940s, Frank Sinatra. Bennett made his television debut in 1961 performing on drums his first single, “Fever,” with his group Pete Bennett And The Embers on ABC-TV‘s Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand. His behind the scene work helping singer Bobby Vinton plug his early 1962 recordings for Epic Records first introduced Bennett to the world of music promotion. By the summer of ’62, Peter was working his new found magic pushing Nat King Cole‘s Capitol Records single Ramblin’ Rose into the top 10, a return for Nat after four years.
In 1963 Bennett began a long-standing business relationship with accountant, turned personal manager Allen Klein. Klein at the time held exclusive representation of soul and R & B legend Sam Cooke. Bennett helped Cooke’s return to the top 10 charts promoting classics such as “Another Saturday Night” and “Shake.” By 1964 Klein and Bennett found themselves at the center of the British invasion. Following the American release of The Beatles second LP, “With The Beatles,” and its unprecedented success, Klein arranged business deals to handle the stateside affairs of other leading UK groups including The Rolling Stones, The Animals and Herman’s Hermits. It fell on Pete Bennett’s shoulders to persuade disk jockeys coast to coast to break iconic musical time pieces such as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction“, “The House Of The Rising Sun” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” into nationwide number one hits. Peter believed, and told many colleagues, that the “B” side of The Stones single, “Satisfaction,” “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” was an ode to himself. On August 15, 1965 Bennett drove Mick Jagger and Bobby Vinton to The Beatles performance at Shea Stadium in New York City. While watching the opening number, “Twist And Shout” from the dugout area, several teenage girls noticed Jagger and began a frenzied screaming fit. Bennett grabbed Jagger yelling, “We gotta get outta here or we’re gonna get killed!” Swiftly departing this mini-mania, they missed the rest of the show. A year later Frank Sinatra sought Bennett’s assistance in making his 1966 Reprise Records release, “Strangers In The Night” his first chart topper in eleven years. Pete also found his services requested by Elvis Presley. In 1969, at the end of a long career slump, Bennett helped push the single release “Suspicious Minds” to number one, Presley’s first in seven years. Bennett was a backstage guest at Presley’s opening night comeback to the concert stage at The International Hotel in Las Vegas in July 1969. In 1970 Perry Como recorded “It’s Impossible,” a ballad in his easy going style he believed could break through the rock and soul wave that kept him at the bottom for over a decade. Phone calls and a few back favors owed to Bennett helped this violin laden lament give Como, a singer with 14 number one records to his credit, his first top 10 hit since 1958.
Following the death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein in August 1967, Bennett was hired as promotional manager for the group and Apple Corps. His first promotion work for the organization was the 1968 debut single for Apple Records, “Hey Jude“. In three weeks it reached number one in Billboard magazine where it remained for nine weeks, the longest run at the top of the charts for the entire 1960s. Following his success with “Jude,” Bennett promoted all future Apple single and album releases including The White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be.
After the band’s breakup, Bennett became the promotion manager for each of the four Beatles individually: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as the original drummer Pete Best and numerous other stars. He was the promoter for The Concert For Bangla Desh at New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. The two-show charity event was organized by George Harrison and featured Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Ravi Shankar, Badfinger and surprise guests. Preparing for the concert, Harrison had Bennett as his second pair of eyes keeping a watch over a very fragile pre-show rehearsal. Backstage Bob Dylan was having second thoughts about appearing as one of those surprise guests. Bennett kept Dylan busy by asking him to tag along to the Plaza Hotel and seek out a no-show British guitarist who had a little too much sex, drugs and rock n roll the night before. Pete returned, on time, with the guitarist and Dylan and the show went on. In 1975, with his EMI Records contract due to expire, John Lennon asked Bennett to reach out to CBS records head Walter Yetnikoff to see if the label was interested in the former Beatle coming on board. Before serious negotiations began, Lennon chose to take a career break. Michael Jackson heard of these discussions and asked Bennett if he could open a door to CBS for himself and his brothers. At that time, The Jacksons were becoming unhappy with their deal at Motown Records and they needed a change. Pete Bennett helped make that change. By 1976, The Jacksons were signed with Epic, a subsidiary of CBS. The following Christmas became a celebratory day at the Bennett household with the Jackson family in attendance. Five years later, Bennett was asked again to work his magic for Michael on his current album release, Thriller. Bennett went to work and it became the biggest seller in music history. Peter Bennett was referred to in Billboard Magazine as the man who “made unknowns into stars and stars into superstars,” he has the distinction of being the only promotions manager to work simultaneously with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. In later years he promoted concerts for comedy legends Bob Hope and George Burns. Burns once paid Bennett for his services by autographing hundreds of copies of his book, “Gracie” following a performance in Orlando, Florida. Pete later spoke of that experience, “It cost me more to ship those damn books back home to Connecticut than what he owed me!”
Bennett spoke at many music conventions and nostalgia shows sharing his stories and fond memories with fans. Some off the record tales, usually unprintable with a very humorous take, continue as pop music folklore. In 2006 he began work on his autobiography which remains unpublished. He hosted forums billed as “An Evening With Pete Bennett.” Old friends like former Moody Blues and Wings guitarist Denny Laine would appear as a featured speaker. In September 2007 he appeared at the first annual Orillia Beatles Festival to discuss his involvement with the Fab Four.
Bennett died of heart failure on November 22, 2012 at age 77; the 49th anniversary of the release of “With The Beatles.”