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John "Jellybean" Benitez (1957 - )

Related: Madonna - Electric Circus - Experiment 4 - The Funhouse - New York music - dance music

John "Jellybean" Benitez is quoted as saying; "I thought I was the best d.j. in the world until I heard Walter Gibbons play. Everything he was doing back then, people are doing now. He was phasing records, backbeating them for an echo effect, quick cuts and little tape edits that would freak people out"


John Benitez a.k.a. "Jellybean Benitez" (born November 7, 1957 in New York City) is a noted DJ, remixer and music producer of Puerto Rican descent who is also known for producing the first hits and for his relationship with Madonna.

Relocating to Manhattan in 1975 exposed Benitez to disco nightclubs, which sparked his interest in DJing. He was soon performing at a nightclub called Experiment 4.

Benitez was soon an in-demand DJ, which led to work at Electric Circus and Studio 54. In 1981 he was hired as the resident DJ of the club Funhouse. Benitez also hosted a weekend dance radio show at WKTU.

Benitez started to remix singles, such as Jimmy Spencer's "The Bubble Bunch", The Rockers "Walking on Sunshine" and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock". Stephen Gray of the group Breakfast Club went to Benitez for a remix. This led to Benitez being introduced to Grey's bandmate at the time, Madonna. A romantic relationship developed between the two that lasted about two years. Benitez became involved with producing and remixing a bulk of the tracks on Madonna's self-titled debut album in 1983, including "Everybody", "Physical Attraction", "Borderline", "Lucky Star" and "Holiday".

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_%22Jellybean%22_Benitez [Feb 2006]

1983 Profile by Steven Harvey

John Jellybean' Benitez

"DJs are so aware of what's happening. We're there every week and we have the audience right in front of us and our job depends on what we play."

The ascendance of the 'beat box' - the Roland, DMX or Linndrum computers - is an emotionally charged issue in contemporary NYC disco. Originally coming out of rap, where a simpler manual model added punch to record scratching styles, it has become the dominant mode (along with a panoply of synthesisers) in dance music making. Many older DJs, musicians and aficionados dislike its replicant unerring beat. The drum computers are perfect for modern producers thinking in multi-track terms, where vinyl - as opposed to a live performance group - is the ultimate product. For kids in New York, electro-beat music comes right off their nervous systems. Its hard-edged scrambled sounds are in perfect sync with urban street life.

The Funhouse, where Jellybean plays records every Saturday from around midnight till Barn - for an audience of between 1000 and 3000 Italian, Latin and Black kids - is the seedbed for electro bop. The dancers, possessed and gymnastic, are the perfect test audience for producers who bring their reference discs, master tapes and test pressings to check over the clubs monster sound system. On my first visit it reminded me of a meeting between hardcore punk and disco.

Jellybean overlooks the dancefloor from the gaping mouth of a clown. A teenage-looking 25 year old, he grew up going out to clubs with his friends from the Bronx. Jellybean is the most vocal adherent of the DJ as producer (the phenomenon already in action) of the club mixers I spoke with. While he was already involved in studio mixing as early as 1979 (Mantus' 'Dance It Freestyle' and Novella Edmunds' 'Hotstuff') his work really took off after he forsook freelance spinning at Xenon and Electric Circus to build a consistent following at The Funhouse. He mixed many of the new Streetwise/Tommy Boy style releases including the seven inch version of 'Planet Rock', 'Pack Jam' by The Jonzun Crew, 'Walking On Sunshine'. and Quadrant Six's 'Body Mechanic'. His connection with the production team of Arthur Baker and John Robie has been widely noted in articles on The Funhouse but his first production work was done with writer/producer team Lottie Golden and Richard Scher. They progressed from freelance song writing to producing the all-electronic 'Nunk' and 'Light Years Away' for vocal trio Warp 9 with help from Jellybean.

As I write their latest venture is for Baker's Streetwise label 'Girls Night Out' by Ladies Choice, which will feature vocals by Golden, Catherine Russell, Tina B (of Rockers Revenge) and Ada Dire of Warp 9. The collaboration between Jellybean and the various musicians/producers who frequent The Funhouse underlines the friendly competitor status of the various independents. Their work is a new school of New York dance music springing from a direct interchange between the clubs and the producers.

SH: How do you see the history of mixing?

J: "I know that when I started buying a lot of records, Tom Moulton's name started showing up. They were already doing remixes when Joe Palmentari was on WPIX, Disco 102, back in 75 probably. That's when I was still a DJ in my bedroom, stealing my sister's turntable out of her room, using a Radio Shack mixer with no cue. I couldn't figure out how to get in in the exact spot."

The first promo 12 inch was Walter Gibbons' remix of '10 Percent'? "That was released and there was one on Sceptre at the same time -'Nice And Slow' by Jesse Green."

Weren't there some promo 12inchers before that? "The first promo 12inch I ever got was 'Mellow Blow' by Barrabas on Atlantic and Doug Riddick was supposedly the one who invented the idea of putting songs on a 12inch."

You said the first DJ to inspire you was Walter Gibbons. "There were DJs before that who inspired me. I was sort of like a DJ groupie. I used to read about them in Melting Pot magazine of N.A.D.D. (The National Association of Disco DJs). I thought I was the best DJ in the world until I heard Walter Gibbons play. Everything he was doing back then, people are doing now. He was phasing records - playing two records at the same time to give a flange effect - and doubling up records so that there would be a little repeat. He would do tremendous quick cuts on record sort of like Bboys do. He would slam it in so quick that you couldn't hear the turntable slowing down or catching up. He would do little edits on tape and people would freak out."

How would you describe your mix sound? 'It depends on the record. A lot of mixers have a certain sound of record that they mix. I try different types of music, A lot of mixers only do records that work for their audience but their audience is sort of locked in whereas I have a young, predominantly straight, Latin crowd which is a little more openminded to different types of MUSIC.''

How would you characterise your live sound at The Funhouse?

"Maybe a lot of Latin percussion. I know my sound is a combination of Walter's and mine and of the hip hop culture from the street from my early days."

How do you see hip hop music as having influenced the discos? "Not discos - rock clubs. The black clubs find it's putting them down, The people who go to clubs in suits don't really relate to the street at all. I find that more White people are into raps and Scratching than Blacks unless they're young."

At The Funhouse do you tease them with little bits of other songs? "I do. I like finding songs that sound like other songs. This week I was playing I Hear Music In The Streets' by Unlimited Touch) and I had 'The Music got Me by Visual. The guy goes 'I hear music in the streets' and when he's going to sing 'music' I switch to Visual but just the beginning where there's no downbeat and then go back."

What the DJ brings to remixing and producing is a real sense of specific audience. "DJs are so aware of what's happening. We're there every week and we have the audience right in front of us and our job depends on what we play."

From your perspective how do you see the music changing now? "A lot of people seem to be copying the Baker/Robie sound which is going to get boring. I got to the point where I was playing and it seemed like I was in a video arcade. Certain records come out and influence a whole sound. The influential records that I'm playing now are Visual, David Joseph and Warp 9." --Steven Harvey, 1983, Collusion Magazine

Madonna [...]

[...] They snapped her up and her debut single Holiday became a huge hit in 1984.

Producer John 'Jellybean' Benitez is considered to be the brains behind her debut and he was at her side for the next two years, watching her career diversify as she made the bold move into films.

Desperately Seeking Susan, with newcomer Rosanne Arquette, was a smash hit and soon Madonna believed she could turn her hand to anything.

Her romance with Jellybean ended abruptly. He was heartbroken and seemed to grasping at straws when he said shortly afterwards, "We're still talking, I'm sure we'll be friends."

The reason for the sudden end of their affair soon became abundantly clear - Sean Penn. When she married the Hollywood firebrand after a whirlwind romance the words "bad career move" were on everyone's lips. Madonna says he reminded her of her father, their birthdays were one day apart and she claimed they could reach each other's minds.

To this day Madonna still considers the Dead Man Walking star to be the love of her life but the brief two years they spent together were marred by marital battles on a scale that ranked above even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Jason of DeepDisco

hey jan, what's new?
Just thought i'd tip you on some info that i think needs correcting on your site. at http://www.geocities.com/jahsonic/Jellybean.html you have... "His first remix was "The Bubble Bunch" by Jimmy Spicer, soon followed by the classics "Walking on Sunshine" by Rockers Revenge and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock"." as far as i know, his first mixing job was on my "track of the week" this week - "(dance it) freestyle rhythm" by mantus, and that was in 1979. "bubble bunch" was 1982.

Jason of http://www.deepdisco.com on 15 Feb 2001


John Benitez was born in South Bronx, New York city, back in 1959. The family lived in an apartment on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx, and his sister Debbie was the one who gave him his nickname - Jellybean.

Already as a child he used to entertain his family and friends by playing them different records on the turntable. This was the time when songs like "Don't leave me this way" by Thelma Houston was among the hottest songs in the charts. It was back then he first started to collect records and he soon learned, during his home sessions, that he could get the "audience" in different moods depending on what song he played...

He always thought of a DJ as a guy playing records on the radio, but when he entered the Sanctuary nightclub in Manhattan in the late seventies his life changed forever... When he heard the DJ mixing two songs together he definatly know he wanted to become a professional discoteque DJ !

Jellybean started his DJ career in a club in the Bronx, called Charlie's. But he really wanted to go further... he wanted to work in the famous Manhattan clubs. He got a gig at a club called Experiment 4 and by getting the right contacts he came to play at the trendy Xenon. This was really a break-through for his career...
During 1978 to 1981 all the hottest clubs, like Electric Circus and the legendary Studio 54, all wanted to hire Jellybean to play in their club. From april 1981 'til june 1984 he was the resident DJ of the Manhattan club Fun House. It was during his sessions at this club the well known phrase "Jellybean Rocks the House" was founded !

The crowd at the Fun House were very musically aware and Jellybean got total freedom to explore dance music and examine the break beats, instrumental fills and all the other components of the 12-inch extended mixes. His style was so popular that he were asked to host a weekend dance show in America's No.1 radio station - WKTU.

Many new upcoming bands and artists got a break thanks to John playing their songs at the Clubs and/or in his radio show. Already back in 1980 he's included in the Special Thanks section of The Invisible Man's Bands self-titled album, which include the awesome disco song "All Night Thing".

John had achieved his DJ goals and he now wanted to go on to remixing singles. His first remix was "The Bubble Bunch" by Jimmy Spicer, soon followed by the classics "Walking on Sunshine" by Rockers Revenge and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock".

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