During his decade of performing music in front of audiences, Brad Bendis has expanded his repertoire significantly.
“When I first started playing, my shows were about 90% Neil Young covers,” the South Fayette Township resident recalled.
Sure, he still likes to bring out a tune or two from the Canadian-born icon with the high-pitched voice. But Bendis’ songbook now includes selections from more than 100 artists, a great many of them gaining popularity before he was born.
“There’s just something about music from that time, from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, even, too. There was substance,” he said. “If I hear a good new song, I’ll think, I have to get that in the set list.”
New or old, Bendis will perform plenty of his favorites during his 10th anniversary show, scheduled for 8 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at Steamworks Creative in Hampton Township. Of course, he’s looking forward to the occasion, particularly because of the venue.
“This is a place that cares about the musician: We want to have an intimate, close, personal space, so that they can have a captivated audience,” he said about Steamworks, which was launched as a collaborative venture between performers and lovers of live music.
Bendis’ first performance venue was at the since-closed Farmhouse Coffee in Peters Township, which used to host Friday open-mic nights. Naturally, he selected a Young song as his opener, but it was the relatively obscure “Distant Camera” from Neil’s 2000 album “Silver & Gold.”
“I wish I had picked an easier song to play, because it has kind of a complicated riff for someone who had only been playing a couple of years and trying to play in front of people,” he said. “But I just love the song so much, and I thought to myself, that would be cool.”
He proceeded to execute the opening guitar part flawlessly
“But I was so proud of myself that I didn’t blow it, I missed my cue to come in and start singing,” he said. “And I thought, ‘thank God I picked a song that no one else knew.’”
His singing, coupled with guitar and harmonica playing, has earned him a considerable local following, and his performance schedule has become about as full as it can get.
“This game is like any other. It’s networking. It’s getting your name out there,” Bendis said. “About a year ago, I felt like I was getting complacent. And so I thought, ‘you know what? I really have to start busting my hump.’”
And so he has been able to make a career in music for himself, something he attributes in no small part to the support of his parents, Randy and Cindy, who often are in the front row for his shows.
“I have the only dad in the world who didn’t tell me to quit music and go get a real job,” Brad said.
Randy also gave him some advice to avoid stage fright.
“He said, ‘Son, when you’re up there, just find a spot out in the distance. Keep your focus on that. Don’t worry about what’s going on around you,’” he said his father told him. “I still follow it to this day.”
On any given day, Brad might be wearing a T-shirt honoring another huge musical influence, Johnny Cash. In fact, he opens his shows in the same manner as the “Man In Black,” performing a spot-on “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“All through high school, he was all I listened to,” Bendis said about his time at South Fayette, from which he graduated in 2007. “I mean, I didn’t listen to anybody else. Occasionally, I might throw an Eric Clapton CD on, but I got to know mostly all of his catalog.”
He has great respect for other artists, too, such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and a certain singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who died in 1973, but still has legions of fans.
“I was playing ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’ by Jim Croce, and I saw college kids to 60-, 70-year-old men singing along,” Bendis said. “A great song is a great song, and great songs are timeless.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/bradbendis.