Oskaloosa Legend Max Bennett Passes Away

Max Bennett (submitted photo)

Max Bennett (submitted photo)

MAX BENNETT – May 24, 1928 – September 14, 2018

Max Bennett, the internationally known jazz bassist, session musician, composer, and producer, has died. He passed away at his home in San Clemente, CA with his beloved wife Teri by his side. He was 90.

Max Bennett’s versatile music career spanned seven decades in which he toured, performed in concert or recorded with such iconic artists as Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Aretha Franklin, Elvis, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys, Quincy Jones, Motown greats including Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, and literally dozens of other artists, as well as numerous jazz luminaries including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Dizzy Gillespie. Max was considered a member of the Wrecking Crew, credited with being one of the most successful and prolific groups of session musicians in music history. In the Wrecking Crew, Max recorded with hundreds of artists on dozens of Top 40 hits during the ‘60s & ‘70s.
Max recorded for countless television shows and movies and made numerous live Television appearances.

Together with saxophonist Tom Scott, Max created the jazz fusion ensemble LA Express. Joni Mitchell came to see them at a jazz club and invited them to record the album that would become Court and Spark. They then went on to tour and record with Joni from 1974 to 1977. LA Express also released 4 albums in their own right. In the decades following LA Express, Max formed three of his own bands, Freeway, The Maxx Band and Private Reserve. Max was also a talented composer and arranger who wrote songs in many styles, including the popular Rock Island Rocket, which has received airplay all over the world. Throughout his career, Max played on at least 11 Gold & Platinum albums, 3 albums that went multi-Platinum, 7 Gold albums, 1 Grammy Award-winning album, and 3 Grammy-nominated albums.

Max is survived by his beloved wife, Teri McDermith-Bennett and his son, Adam. Plans are in the works for a memorial & tribute concert for his family, friends, bandmates, and fellow musicians at a date to be announced. A burial will be held privately with his family.


• Max was born in Kansas City and grew up in Oskaloosa, Iowa. His first instrument at age 9 was the guitar. But he discovered the string bass in high school and never looked back.

• Max played his first professional gig in Chicago with jazz musician and bandleader, Herbie Fields, in 1949.

• Max served in the Army during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953.

• Max began playing for Ella Fitzgerald at Club Crescendo on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood in 1957. After a successful stint there, Max was invited to join Ella’s extended tour of the US, Europe and Scandinavia (Lou Levy on piano and Gus Johnson on drums). One highlight of the tour was recording the album, Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert.

• Following Ella’s tour, the band went on its own tour of Europe and Scandinavia with Jazz at the Philharmonic, a star-studded program that included Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Herb Ellis, and Big Joe Turner.

• For Peggy Lee, Max was the bassist and bandleader. Max also found the song, Fever, for Peggy. They toured for several years and recorded 8 albums. One of their live performances was May 19, 1962, at Madison Square Garden for the “birthday salute” to President John F. Kennedy – where later that evening, Marilyn Monroe sang her famous Happy Birthday Mr. President, to JFK.

• Max was in demand as a professional bassist and studio musician for 30 years and was considered a part of the group of session players known as the Wrecking Crew, based in Los Angeles. Max did countless recordings with hundreds of artists for the studios, movies, and television.

o Movies that Max recorded included, The Trouble with Girls (Elvis), Grease, The Exorcist, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Lady Sings the Blues. Five-time Grammy award-winning composer & arranger, Lalo Schifrin, tapped Max to record a number of his movie scores, including Dirty Harry and Bullitt. Max’s numerous television shows included The Partridge Family and The Monkees. Max’s live television appearances included The Judy Garland Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, The Oscars, and The Grammy Awards.


• In 1973, Max helped create a new concept of jazz with LA Express. The original ensemble was led by saxophonist Tom Scott and included jazz greats Joe Sample (keyboards), Larry Carlton (guitar) and John Guerin (drums).

• Joni Mitchell came to one of LA Express’s regular Tuesday nights at The Baked Potato, the storied jazz club in Studio City, CA. After the performance, she asked the band if they’d like to record a few songs for her next album. They accepted and found themselves at A&M Studios in Hollywood. Max believes the first song they recorded was, Help Me. The band ended up recording Joni’s entire album, Court and Spark.

• The collaboration was so successful, Max and LA Express recorded and toured with Joni from 1974-1977. They also recorded most of the songs for Joni’s albums, Miles of Aisles, The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira.

• In later years, other artists that Max toured with included Joan Baez and Frank Zappa, with whom he recorded Hot Rats.

• Throughout the following decades, in addition to continuing to record with various artists, Max performed and recorded with bands that he formed and led: Freeway, The Maxx Band and Private Reserve.

• Max’s own song catalog contains approximately 200 songs that he wrote and arranged, including Rock Island Rocket, TCB & E and Reflections.

• Max and his band, Private Reserve, played for his own 90th birthday party on May 20, 2018, and Max continued playing until shortly before his death.

• Max’s unofficial tagline is: Layin’ it down since 1949


Hal Blaine – Drummer, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Fellow Wrecking Crew Musician “Max Bennett was a God to most of us in the Wrecking Crew. Max was a bona fide jazz player and working with him was inspirational to me and so many other newcomers. A beautiful player and a beautiful person. My career was blessed by what I learned from Max.”

Lalo Schifrin – 5-time Grammy Award winning Composer, Arranger, Conductor & Musician, best known for his film & TV scores including Theme from Mission: Impossible “Your bass lines are some of the hippest I ever heard. I also remember, with joy, our musical experiences we had at the studios. After all, you played some of my most important movies like Dirty Harry and Bullitt.”

Bill Kohlhaase – Former LA Times Music Critic (Excerpt from his review of Max’s CD Great Expectations) “In the kingdom of electric bass, the groove is king. And few groove as deeply as Max Bennett. As a founding member of LA Express – which included the likes of Tom Scott, Joe Sample and Larry Carlton – he was one of the prime movers of the West Coast fusion movement.”

Leland Sklar – Bass & Session Musician (September post on Max’s website) “One of the cats I always looked to for inspiration. I will miss you but man, what a legacy you have left us with. Your groove will be treasured for many years to come. Always in our hearts.”


Please refer to www.maxbennett.com for more from Max on Ella, Peggy, LA Express and other wonderful stories about every aspect of Max’s career.

On recording & touring with Joni Mitchell (Max’s website): “It didn’t take long to realize what a great talent she was and we ended up recording the album, Court & Spark. It won a Grammy, went double platinum and was the beginning of a lengthy and wonderful musical relationship with her.

As music history shows, we embarked on a U.S. tour in 1974 with Joni and L.A. Express. The concerts were a great musical experience and the audiences the most appreciative I have ever played for. We continued to perform and record with Joni from 1974 through 1977, including the live album, Miles of Aisles and subsequent albums, Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira.

As far as tours and performances that I have done in my career, I feel that the relationship with Joni was the pinnacle of great music and total fun! She is a great lady!”

Posted by on Sep 21 2018. Filed under Local News, Obituaries. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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