One could say that rock ‘n’ roll has been very, very good to Spanish guitarist/composer Roni Benise.

Benise (pronounced Buh-NES-say) grew up on a Nebraska farm with a passion for rock music that stayed with him through the late ’90s, playing in bands throughout the Midwest. It wasn’t until he moved to the West Coast around 1994 that he discovered flamenco music and another world opened up.

“It was definitely an epiphany. It was one of those life-changing moments of, ‘Wow, this is it!'” Benise told Pollstar. “I just knew, and after that everything fell into place.”

His new passion for Spanish guitar mixed with rock led him to meet violinist Jim Sitterly, guitarists Gilberto Gonzales and Yussi, bassist Mychal Lomas, drummer Carlos Lopez and percussionist CG Ryche. Gigs weren’t too plentiful at first, so the group got creative.

“With Spanish guitar, people think of elevator music or background music. You know, where do you play that style of music?” Benise said. “Even coffee houses would have like four or five different performers on the bill and it was hard to get in.

“We started playing and having fun at different tourist areas where there were a lot of people. We played four or five gigs a week and that’s really how we got so tight. That’s when it all snowballed, creating a fan base in Southern California.”

Benise also formed his label, Rosanegra Music, during those early days. He put out an album a year, showcasing the musician’s blend of Latin styles he’d learned during his travels.

“I like to travel to a country, soak it all in, and then bring that flavor back and do a CD on it, which is a great challenge,” the performer said. “That’s why every CD is different and the show takes after that.”

Meanwhile, the street performances were so successful that the members of the band, also called Benise, were able to drop their day jobs and perform full time. It wasn’t long before the Cirque du Soleil-style performances were packing 2,000 to 3,000 capacity venues.

“We skipped over clubs completely. I started renting out performing arts centers throughout Southern California. We would sell our own tickets, do our own promotion and sell out our own concerts,” Benise explained. “We would do three or four of those a year and that’s where we generated all the interest from different record labels and management.”

It was one of those performances that caught the attention of industry vet Doc McGhee. With a background managing KISS and M”tley Cre, among others, he saw the potential.

“Ron is a very charismatic person. It was watching him live and seeing the connection he had with an audience that attracted me to it,” McGhee told Pollstar. “The entire show was geared around this kind of family vibe that just captured you.

“My brother, Scott, actually brought Ron in. So I went, ‘A flamenco guitar player from Nebraska?’ Scott goes, ‘I’m telling you, this is it.’ We went out and saw [the show] and I said, ‘You’re right, man, this is crazy but we gotta blow it up. Let’s do it.'”


McGhee’s interest couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I’d been looking for management for like three or four years, just like record labels. I met with everyone but it just wasn’t right,” Benise said. “Doc got it. He’s the only one who didn’t want to downsize us, but wanted to make it even bigger. That was my dream, too.

“I started in rock and now I have one of the best rock managers in the world.”

With McGhee and a top-notch creative team on board, Benise’s live show became “Nights of Fire,” a high-energy, colorful production of music, theatre and dance that tells a story, which the self-taught musician says is “like a rock concert even though it’s Spanish guitar.”

PBS aired the concert as a special in April just as the band set out on its first national tour, which earned Benise an ever-growing fan base.

“It was great! We played in Miami, which of course has this huge Latin and Cuban population, and here’s this white guy playing Latin guitar,” Benise said. “They went crazy for the music which, to me, was one of the biggest compliments I could have ever gotten.

“We played Chicago two or three days later and it went over just as well with a whole different demographic.”

And this is only the beginning, according to McGhee.

“We think [Benise] can do 250 shows a year around the world. Ron loves to work and they love to perform,” he said. “This show has more of a loyal audience that will come and see Ron because they know he mixes it up and does all kinds of things.

“The next show will be a little crazier, you never know. There’s so much room for growth.”

And as to what Benise might be up to next, he’s already brainstorming.

“Well, let’s put it this way. KISS has a lot of pyro in their show and we have their whole crew with us,” he laughed. “I’d love to add pyrotechnics. It’s one of those shows we can just keep adding to.”

Plans for Benise’s fall tour around the States and possibly Canada are still in the works.