The Benjamins

A Cover Band's Original Success Story

In just two years, the Benjamins have gone from newcomers to east coast cover band favorites, keeping their audiences alive with musicianship and a bouncy, commanding stage presence. They are now pushing their original material forward with hopes of signing a record deal.

This New Jersey band plays some of the most accurate interpretations of songs from many genres for audiences from Vermont to Delaware. Their accuracy goes beyond note-for-note versions of the songs they cover. The Benjamins also deliver the spirit and feel of those tunes, even when they have been re-arranged. They've constructed a stage show that starts on fire and never cools.

The band has accommodated themselves well with sound systems and play their songs even and tight. The screeching guitars of Abe Ruiz and thick metallic thump of bassist Ben DeGennaro glide along with their band mates. Ruiz plays enthralling leads that fit seamlessly into each song, whether improvised or re-produced, and can shred and bend with the best of them. DeGennaro's signature bass sound brings added dimension to any song in the band's repertoire.

The group boasts solid talent at each instrument. Singer Joe DeGennaro vocalizes smoothly and connects with the crowd throughout the night. He has a fine grasp of melody and vocal tone. Keyboardist Roger Hitchuk keeps the songs driving and plays smartly. Adrenaline-fueled drummer Jeremy Mykietyn locks in a stable, evenly-paced beat. All of these ingredients mix well, producing a loose and consistent chemistry.

Their July 2001 appearance on VH1's "Cover Wars" is one of many elite opportunities their work has offered. Others include corporate gigs for the NBA, Budweiser and Trump Hotel and Casino Resorts. Their following is immense, packing Jersey clubs like Point Pleasant's Jenkinson's, Red Bank's Chubby's, Caldwell's Ringside Pub and Lodi's Soundgarden.

The Benjamins have just released their new single, "Again," which is being sold online as part of a six-song CD via their website, Their strong following and the chops they posses present a strong possibility that, with label help, it may be soon be played by other bands on the cover scene.

The quick success they've attained is atypical for any band, original or cover. This motivates fans to track the group to see where they will land next.

When and how did you each of you get involved playing music? How long did it take for you to join a band?

Roger: I started playing the keyboard in the 5th grade when I got a cheap, little Casio keyboard for Christmas. Joined my first band when I was 14. Being in a rock band made my freshman year in High School a little easier.

Jeremy: I started playing in High School. My first band was formed in 1988 with Ben [DeGennaro]. It's funny how it has all come full circle.

What other bands have you been in?

Roger: Mainstay, Big Toe.

Jeremy: Citizen Pain, an original band from 1990-1997 [with Ben DeGennaro].

What were the circumstances behind the Benjamins forming?

Jeremy: Basically Roger, Joe [DeGennaro] and I started the Benjamins when we weren't happy in our old cover band, Big Toe. Who would figure, with a name like that?

What bands and musicians inspired you to start playing music?

Jeremy: Rush. Neil Peart has always been my drum god!

Roger: My first albums ever were Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and "Born to Run". Roy Bittan's piano playing floors me to this day.

What styles of music do you listen to now and what is your favorite style of music that you cover?

Roger: We all have our different musical tastes, which tend to vary greatly sometimes. For example, Joe's favorites are Bon Jovi and Toad the Wet Sprocket, while his brother Ben, leans towards hardcore music. I think part of the Benjamins' success is that we can draw on these influences and find a common ground that your average club goer can relate to. My personal favorite style of music that we cover is the 80's stuff. It's more keyboard oriented, and we make it a point to re-arrange them to make them sound current. A ska version of "Vacation" by the Go-Go's is a good example.

What are your favorite Benjamins' cover songs?

Jeremy: I like the newer stuff right now, Nickleback, Hoobastank, Staind.

Roger: "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode and "Papercut" by Linkin Park.

How do you decide on which songs to play? Does where you play factor into this decision?

Jeremy: We keep our ears to the ground for current stuff, and we try to recall our youth for everything else.

Roger: Where we are playing is a definite factor in what we will play on any given night. Since we tend to cover about four different states a month, we've learned that different areas seem to lean toward certain styles more than others. So our set can be anywhere from dance-oriented pop to heavy stuff like Metallica or Drowning Pool.

What are your favorite places to play?

Jeremy: Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant by far. Also, Crocodile Rocks in Allentown, PA.

Roger: The Soundgarden, in Lodi, NJ has been a second home to us.

How do you get the audience involved and keep them interested in your music?

Jeremy: We try to change the sets every night to keep it fresh, as well as add new stuff all the time. We'll get people involved by sticking microphones in their faces and getting them to sing.

Roger: We've yet to find any suitable backup singers!

Are there any other cover bands who've inspired you to do what you do?

Jeremy: I always enjoyed seeing many bands, but two that I used to see a lot were Fuzzy Bunny Slippers and U. U. U.

Roger: I think the Nerds have set the standard for cover bands. Their continued success proves that people recognize and will support a quality act. True professionals.

What do you think keeps the New Jersey scene so popular?

Jeremy: People love to see bands around here. It's not all about club music and dancing in NJ.

Roger: The most successful cover bands are the ones that can replicate the energy and sound of the famous acts they cover. At local venues, people have the opportunity to get a taste of the excitement they feel when seeing a famous act.

Do you see a lot of fans returning to see you play? If so, what does that mean to you?

Jeremy: Totally, and it is awesome! We've made so many good friends this way, and it means a lot. We love our fans!

Roger: Our success is solely dependent on people returning to see us. That is something that we do not take for granted, because we all remember what it is like to play in front of nobody.

Can you tell me a little about the original music you guys are working on: its styles and where you plan on taking it to?

Jeremy: It's a mix of our influences. Very unlike anything out today. It has a modern sound, but an 80's-ish sensibility. Like if Journey and Nickelback had a lovechild.

Roger: We're hoping to take our music all the way. The sky's the limit, and it's now or never.

What do you foresee in the Benjamins' future?

Jeremy: More original music out soon, a self-produced album this summer and perhaps a record deal by the end of 2002? We'll see.

Josh Davidson

Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.