Ben Weisman was an American composer significant for having written more songs recorded by Elvis Presley (fifty seven) than any other songwriter in history. The Mad Professor, as Weisman was nicknamed by Elvis, worked with the King from 1956 ("First in Line") to 1971 ("Change of Habit").
Their early association (1957–62) produced many of the most powerful rockers and poignant ballads in Presley's repertoire, including "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do", "Follow That Dream", "Rock-A-Hula Baby", "Crawfish", "As Long As I Have You", "Pocketful of Rainbows" and "Fame and Fortune".
In recent years, covers and remixes of Weisman's classics have been worldwide hits once again.
Since Ben's outward appearance was atypical for a "rock 'n' roll guy." Elvis' nickname for him was "THE MAD PROFESSOR." All within ear shot also understood that Elvis was playing off the fact that Ben was a "mad professor" of music and composition.
Weisman's recorded compositions number nearly 400 songs and have sold over 150 million units. These songs have been recorded by many musical legends including, The Beatles, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Conway Twitty.
At Weisman's last social gathering with "The King", Elvis proudly announced to the crowd that he had recorded more of Ben's songs than those of any other songwriter.
Then he took me over to the piano, Weisman said. Elvis wasn't looking too good. His eyes were puffy and he'd gotten very, very heavy. He said to me, 'Benny, there's a song I love called "Softly As I Leave You." Indeed, I knew it well.
After he sang his heart out Elvis said, 'This is not a song about a man who's leaving his girlfriend. It's a song about a man who is going to die.'
I didn't know what to say, but I knew there was trouble coming. As Elvis held my arm, I could feel his hand shaking. It made me feel as though mine was shaking, too. And that was the last time I saw him.
After Presley's death Weisman composed the symphonic tribute, "The Elvis Concerto," to honor the musical partner whom he shared so many artistic achievements that were also commercial successes. After performing a worldwide tour of the concerto, Weisman, with Elvis gone, retired from public life and wrote very little music thereafter.
Elvis challenged my imagination. Weisman said. The songs had to have a combination of blues, country, rock and pop, sometimes gospel or swamp boogie, you name it. I lived my creative life walking in his musical shoes. And what shoes they were! Elvis had so much spirit.
Elvis was a transformer, a rebel, like a meteorite, someone who only comes along once every few hundred years. Astonishing to be a part of it! And to write for him, to try and express what I knew he was going through during those crazy years. I was there for the whole journey. How lucky can a songwriter be!
MY UNCLE BEN
(Weisman Memorial Service 2008)
Ben was a man of few words.
I’ll try to honor that idea right now.
Ben knew the secret of life.
In a word, it was family.
The kindness between Ben and
his brother Alfred was legendary
one might even say it was religious
The deep-deep love between Ben and his
wife Lisa was unparalleled
one might even say that it was divine
For Ben was a very special person
Rare even, and for a very simple reason:
Ben knew how to love and
Ben knew how to care for his family
When Ben saw that Joy
and I were truly in love
and it took him a second
to figure it out
it was like this
I was family
and I would be forever
And to be part of Ben’s
family was a wonderful warm feeling
and I loved the way he accepted me
into his magical heart forever
* * *
I loved Ben
and I loved his music
I really loved his music
Ben used to come over to our house
I’d drag out my electric guitar
and chop away at the chords
to many of his songs.
I’d ask him questions like
Why a Bm here?
And do you play this C chord
with a G in the bass?
I thought Ben would grow tired of
my questions. But he never did.
He loved to answer them.
And I thought, here’s a guy who hung
out with Gershwin talking to me -
A guy who couldn’t even get up
the nerve to try a song out at
an open mike night
And he’s treating me with
the respect that he would reserve
for someone like Duke Ellington
And I couldn’t understand why
And then I figured it out
Ben judged you by what he considered
the great equalizer
And for Ben the great equalizer was love
the only thing that was important
to Ben was how much
love you had for something
If you loved what you were doing
or if you loved the people in your life
You were alright with Ben
You were family
* * *
I married into a creative, eccentric,
crazy and wonderful family
I quickly found out that
there was one song that
Ben wrote that was the
“special one” between he and Joy
It’s called Pocketful of Rainbows
The story was that when Joy
was a little girl, if she heard that
song, Pocketful of Rainbows
she couldn’t control herself
she had to dance
There’s even an old scratchy
8 millimeter film
of a little six year old Joy
dancing to the song
It seemed that something in
this song Pocketful of Rainbows
had a magical effect
on both Ben and Joy
I wanted to know why
I wanted to discover the ‘secret code’
First off: It’s a song about finding a way
to make “Mister heartache leave.”
Always a great goal
and Here’s part of the verse:
I've found a way to make him leave
Got a pocketful of rainbows
Got a star up in my sleeve
And then the chorus:
No more teardrops
Now that I've found a love so true
I got a pocketful of rainbows
Got an armful of you
Ah ha, that’s it I thought
the key is that line
“got an armful of you”
That’s how you make
Mister Heartache leave
And that’s the key to
and frankly it’s also the key
to understanding my wife Joy
It’s what life comes down to
“an armful of you”
an act of total love
“an armful of you”
know this secret
and you inherit the stars
* * *
I pray that Ben is now back in
Lisa’s arms – or in some magical
state of consciousness that is
as wonderful as the earthly love
we can share down here –
But if he’s not that’s okay
He led a great life
He left his mark
On millions of music fans
And on me
How did he leave his mark on me?
I tell my daughters Chloe and Lily
that one of the best ways to learn
a sport is to watch the best play
To see how it’s done by the pros
the legends, the immortals
and then you try to emulate them
Five years ago when Joy became
Ben’s lifeline to this world
I got to watch the best in action
But it wasn’t a sport
it wasn’t a game
it was life
and by watching
Joy and Ben together
by watching a family
that wasn’t afraid to show
their love for another
I found the pros, the legends, the immortals,
that I needed to emulate
I learned a lot about love
I learned that we only become
whole by taking care of others
To live for your self
one might be able to
approximate flashes of glory
But that was second place
Second place to an ‘armful of you’
* * *
I know that many of us in
this room today feel like a part
of Ben Weisman’s family
and that’s how Ben would
have wanted it
Ben was a family guy
The fact that he was a musical
genius, sure, that’s impressive
but it’s not what I remember
It’s not what I’ll miss
I’ll miss the man
who showed me the way
and to love
Trust me Ben, because of you
I’m gonna follow that dream
wherever that dream may lead me
Written by Stephen Auerbach