Every Halloween, without fail, I pop in the (VHS, natch) copies of two of my favorite movies from my youth: Phantasm and Rocktober Blood. Then, this past Halloween evening, as I pecked online at information about both films, I was shocked to learn that the voice behind Billy Eye Harper, British-to-L.A glam vocalist Nigel Benjamin, passed away at the age of 64. (Double shock: Five days later, Nigel’s ex-London bandmate, Lizzie Grey, died on August 5th; you can read up on Lizzie on Wikipedia.)
Back in July 2017, as part of B&S Movies’ “No False Metal Movies Week,” Sam took a look at Rocktober Blood. There’s nothing more that can be said about the plot and acting of the film, so for this remembrance of Nigel, we’ll dig a little bit deeper into where Nigel came from and how he came to be the voice of Billy Eye Harper.
While the glut of video-direct heavy-metal horror films varied in script, acting, and production-value quality, some with greater financial resources than the Sebastians, there is a unique quality to the Sebastians’ vision of Rocktober Blood that the others don’t possess: unlike their celluloid brethren, which grafted the preexisting song catalogs of Michael Angelo Batio (Shock ‘Em Dead), Fastway (Trick or Treat), King Kobra and Lizzy Borden (Black Roses), the Names (Terror on Tour), Thor (Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare), and Paul Sabu (Hard Rock Zombies) to double for their film’s faux-rock stars, the soundtrack for Rocktober Blood featured all-original tunes that reflected and drove the film’s plot.
Those fan-worshiped original tunes of “Killer on the Loose,” “Rainbow Eyes,” and “I’m Back” were penned by Sorcery (who also starred in the film as Billy’s band Headmistress), a metal band that cut their teeth on L.A’s Sunset Strip alongside Mammoth/Wolfgang—the nascent version of Van Halen that opened Sorcery’s earliest shows. Sorcery, with then frontman David Glen Eisley, received their first taste of national recognition with their appearance on an early-‘80s Dick Clark-produced Halloween television special and honed their acting and soundtrack chops in 1978’s Stunt Rock (be sure to check out Sam’s 2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 16: Rock ‘n’ Roll Miscreants review; Yeah, it’s true: we friggin’ love Sorcery over here at B&S Movies).
However, prior to filming and recording the music for Rocktober Blood, in which Eisley would have appeared as the “vocals” of Billy Eye Harper, Eisley joined ex-Angel keyboardist-founder Greg Guiffria’s eponymous band that scored a 1984 MTV video and U.S Top 40 radio hit with “A Call to Your Heart.”
Stepping in for Eisley was a singer who, to make ends meet as he scratched by with his rock ’n’ roll dreams, took up acting as his “day job.” Like Rick Springfield (for U.S television series), Kim Milford (Song of the Succubus), and Lane Caudell (Hanging on a Star) before him, Nigel Benjamin, while waiting for that big hit record, got his first acting job as Chris, the manager and producer of Billy Eye Harper.
As with Springfield (who recorded and toured with Australia’s Zoot), Kim Milford (who replaced Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group), and Lane Caudell (several singles-only deals as a solo artist; fronted Player precursors Skyband), Nigel Benjamin’s rock ’n’ roll pedigree was his replacing Ian Hunter in Mott the Hoople from 1975 to 1976 for two albums as the truncated Mott and touring the world with Humble Pie, Judas Priest, Kiss, REO Speedwagon, and Thin Lizzy.
Benjamin’s first bands in the early seventies were the London Southend-based glam-groups Grot and Fancy; after issuing their 1973 single “Starlord,” Fancy transformed into the Billion Dollar Band, and then Royce. After Mott’s demise (to become British Lions with Ray Major on lead vocals) Benjamin formed English Assassin; signed to Arista Records, they recorded a still unreleased album. The one English Assassin “album” that did see a release was Just for the Record, a 1978 solo album by famed British motorcycle and film stuntman Eddie Kidd—an album that English Assassin backed and Benjamin produced. (Kidd did his own “Stunt Rock” music n’ stunts movie, 1981’s Riding High (full film/You Tube).
After relocating from England to Los Angeles, the city’s nascent hair-metal scene adopted Benjamin and he fronted the infamous London—a band with an ever-evolving roster that, while never scoring a deal of their own, served as a rock ’n’ roll boot camp for musicians who joined the more commercially successful bands of Cinderella, Guns N’ Roses, and W.A.S.P.
Then, one day, Nigel Benjamin’s ex-London bandmate, bassist Nikki Sixx (who also went through the ranks of Circus Circus and Sister alongside Blackie Lawless, later of W.A.S.P, and Lizzie Grey), was forming his next band: Mötley Crüe. Benjamin, in interviews over the years, expressed there was no love lost between him and Sixx. So when Sixx asked Nigel to join the “new band” as lead vocalist, Nigel turned him down. Despondent, Sixx and his drummer, Tommy Lee, went to a rock club and saw a cover band, Rock Candy, with a tall lean, blonde-belter named Vince Neil: Mötley Crüe was born.
Nigel Benjamin was then hired for his first acting job as “Chris” in Rocktober Blood for a non-singing role. While some web-Intel indicated Benjamin was reluctantly drafted—after being hired as an actor—to become the “vocals” of Billy Eye Harper, what really happened: Benjamin came onto the film as a production assistant, then stepped in to handle the vocals for Billy Eye, and then was given a part in the film. According to Benjamin, regardless of the band’s onset bragging about their “career,” Benjamin claims he never heard of Sorcery until meeting them on the film set. And while Sorcery believed Benjamin “joined” the band, Benjamin insists he never joined and wanted no part of the band. (Another person Benjamin met for the first time on the Rocktober Blood set was Mötley Crüe’s future drummer, Tommy Lee, brought to the set by a visiting Nikki Sixx. Nigel came to date the sister of Tommy Lee’s future wife, actress Heather Locklear; the Locklear sisters and Benjamin eventually shared a home.)
So, why didn’t Nigel Benjamin change acting roles and portray Billy Eye Harper in the film instead of having another actor lip-sync his vocals?
Well, Sebastian International Pictures was a family affair. While their son, Benjamin, worked behind the scenes on their film’s business and technical aspects and took on occasional, small support roles, their younger son, Tracy, always appeared in the family’s films as a co-star or lead actor. Making his early-teens debut in Flash and the Firecat, Tracy had his first leading man role in the Sebastians’ other rock ’n’ roll flick: On the Air Live with Captain Midnight, a film best known to the over-50 crowd from its incessant early-Eighties airings on the USA Cable Network’s weekend-night rock video programming block, Night Flight. (Other oft repeated rock movies on the program were Rocktober Blood, the Ramones’ Rock ’n’ Roll High School, and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.)
For many years the fans of Rocktober Blood—those unaware of Nigel Benjamin’s musical past—believed Tracy Sebastian, who starred in the film under his stage name of Trey Loren, sang the vocals and the ersatz-Headmistress was a real band. Exasperating the confusion as to who composed and performed the film’s songs: the film’s scant opening titles sequence and end credits failed to properly credit the musicians. The names of Sorcery’s guitarists Richard Taylor and Lou Cohen, bassist Richie King and drummer Perry Morris appear—without a reference to their band; the same holds true for the uncredited vocals for Donna Scoggins’s Lynn Starling character by Susie Rose Major—which fans believe were done by Scoggins. In addition: some minor, incidental tunes heard throughout the film in the background of various scenes (appearing in-full on the subsequent vinyl-only soundtrack) were recorded by Susie’s band Facedown—with Susie and her fellow band members of Paul Bennett, Michael Zionch, and Barry Brandt (ex-Angel drummer) receiving no credits and, as result of the way the credits read in the film, for many years fans were lead to believe the members of Sorcery wrote and performed the tunes that Facedown contributed to the soundtrack.
During an interview with the online publication Full In Bloom, Nigel Benjamin had this to say about his Rocktober Blood experience:
“[There’s] nothing to tell. They [Sorcery] asked me to sing the songs for Tracy Sebastian to lip-sync to, [and] then somehow thought that I had joined them! [Then,] when I got asked to star in the movie, they [Sorcery] wouldn’t pay me to finish singing because I was being paid to act! I stopped singing, [and] they [Sorcery] lost the gig. I finished the soundtrack with Pat Regan, my then keyboard player [which was the band Eyes]. I didn’t know who Sorcery was. Nobody I knew did either. According to [the guys in Sorcery] they were huge . . . go figure. Some of the guys were cool, though.”
And from Just a Buzz, a Mott the Hoople fansite, Benjamin had this to say about the film:
“If it had been a little bit worse, it would have been a cult classic. It was just not quite bad enough to be bad. I’ll tell you something very strange about it, though. I acted in it, I was a production assistant in it, I sang some of the soundtrack, and I wrote some of the music — but I still did not know the story until I went to the screening. I never saw a script for more than twenty minutes before I was supposed to do it, and any script they gave me the night before changed to a completely different scene the next morning. I went to the movie screening and I had no idea what the movie was about until it was all finished!”
(Benjamin’s insights seem to explain how Susie Rose Major’s Las Vegas-based Facedown came to contribute “Watch Me Rock,” “Would You Let Me Touch You,” “You Can’t Kill Rock ’n’ Roll,” and “High School Boys”: Sorcery was fired from the film and the Sebastians needed songs to fill out their proposed—and poorly distributed—film soundtrack.)
So where are the members of Headmistress, now?
Riba Meryl, who co-wrote the faux-rock epic “Rainbow Eyes” with Sorcery’s Richard Taylor, became an actress and portrayed “Janis Joplin” in the speculative 1984 rock ’n’ roll conspiracy flick Down on Us (released to video in 1989 as Beyond the Doors to cash-in on the film’s Jim Morrison connection (full movie/You Tube) and on a 1987 episode of the rock ’n’ roll U.S television series Throb (trailer/You Tube and “Death Be Not Weird” episode/You Tube). After her lone, non-Janis character acting role in 1987’s Banzai Runner (full movie/You Tube), Meryl concentrated on television and film session work and contributed the song “Brand New Start” to a 1989 cop-murder drama, The Jigsaw Murders (full movie/You Tube). Sadly, Riba passed away in 2007 at the age of 52 from breast cancer. (Why didn’t Riba Meryl provide the vocals for the song she wrote? We may never know.)
Donna Scoggins, who made her only acting appearance as Lynn Starling, went onto a highly successful international modeling career, and then became an equally successful copywriter in corporate advertising.
As for the voice behind Lynn Starling: Susie Rose Major is still rocking in 2019. Most recently, Susie provided guest-lead vocals for the cleverly-named Quint (remember 1975’s Jaws?) that recorded the original tunes “Bad Asser,” “Brand New You,” “Great White Skies,” and “Hell on Wheels” for the SyFy Channel’s Sharknado film series. Quint, by the way, is led by Robbie Rist, best known to the over-50 crowd as “Cousin Oliver” from the early-Seventies American TV-comedy series The Brady Bunch. (Suzi’s tunes are on Soundcloud.)
Uh-oh. Shameless Plug Alert: Watch out for B&S Movies’ “Shark Week” coming January 5 – 11, 2020.
After his stint with Mott, Nigel Benjamin formed the band Satyr with bassist Chuck Wright (ex-Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot, Greg Guiffria’s House of Lords), then Eyes (Satyr without Wright; along with Bob Steffan, guitars; John Telsco, bass; Pat Reagan, keyboards; Richard Onri, drums—they appear on the Rocktober Blood soundtrack), and then gave up the rock ’n’ roll dream and retired from the music business. Working behind the scenes as a session musician, Benjamin found success in designing and building recording studios; he came out of hiding in 2003 to appear as an expert car builder and TV personality alongside Jesse James (Sandra Bullock’s ex) on Monster Garage, one of U.S television’s earliest reality series. Benjamin then returned to making music with the digital-only albums (on Soundcloud): Buffalo, In the Absence of God, and Relentless Hammer of Dreams.
As for the members of Sorcery (Facebook): They went onto successful careers as session musicians in the television and film industry; inspired by his band’s newly acquired Internet fan base, drummer Perry King continues to market Sorcery’s music and movie catalog in the digital realm. And while Nigel Benjamin claimed to never hearing of Sorcery before their meeting via Rocktober Blood, it turned out that horror film director Eli Roth did—and was a fan: he used two of Sorcery’s Stunt Rock-era tunes, “Talking to the Devil” and “Sacrifice,” in 2015’s Knock Knock (part of B&S Movies “Exploring: Slasher Remakes” roundup) and 2018’s Death Wish.
Don’t forget to check out Sam’s reviews for these great “No False Metal” movies that we love:
And the faux bands just keep on rockin’ with Ten Bands Made Up for Movies.
Yeah, heaven’s rockin’ just a little bit harder. We’ll miss you, Nigel. You are the king of the faux rock stars we love at B&S Movies.
Nigel Benjamin Sept 12, 1954 ~ July 31, 2019