Side A's Joey Benin now a full-time church minister

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Oct 11 2020 09:44 AM

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Joey Benin

MANILA -- When songwriter-musician Joey Benin joined Side A back in 1986, he was then the “Benjamin” in the group. He was only in his senior year at the University of the Philippines College of Music, when he was asked by drummer Mar Dizon if he wanted to become part of Side A.

Benin lost no time to give his nod and joined the band. He became Side A’s bassist for 21 years. The decision was something he never regrets to this day.

It was Benin who prompted the then six-member Side A to venture into recording with “Eva Marie,” a song he originally penned for his then girlfriend-turned-wife, Bing Ledesma whose real name is Eva Marie.

Clearly, Benin’s songs are some of the most popular ballads ever written. Big hits like “Forevermore,” “I Believe in Dreams” and “Eva Marie” are already his legacy not only to his generation, but even for the ones to come.

Today, however, 13 years after he said goodbye to Side A and stopped performing onstage, Benin disclosed that he is now a proud grandfather of four grandchildren, the kids of his second son, Jaco.

Benin admitted it was not easy to leave Side A after 21 years. He was replaced by Ned Esguerra, who started performing with the band back when Joey Generoso was the soloist and until now, when Yubs Esperat, Jr. took over from thge vocal chores.

“That was why I was still able to work with Leevon [Cailao], the one who replaced Kelly [Badon], three years before I also left Side A,” Benin shared.

The original Side A included soloists-musicians Rodel Gonzalez (who is now based in the US), Pido Lalimarmo and drummer Dizon.

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Joey Benin

Benin has also devoted full-time into church ministry at Victory Christian Fellowship in Silay. Negros Occidental, where he has since happily settled. On weekdays, he is often in the church and on Sundays, he presides in worship services.

“For the longest time, we have always been active in the church, but now, I decided to go full time into church ministry,” Benin said. “I am very active in church activities now.”

First, it was Side A’s original soloist, Rodel Gonzalez, who went full-time into church ministry back in 1990. That was the reason he also left the band.

It was in Silay, where Benin comfortably relocated, too, with his beautiful wife, as well as his four children Boey, Jaco, Clara and Sarah. 

Benin admitted to have been really smitten by his erstwhile Assumption College girlfriend, Ledesma, whom he met through an audition. “Talagang nabighani ako,” Benin fondly recalled.

“I had a new wave and punk band, Siege, then. There was a manager who was also a talent scout. He had a concept to get musicians who were students from the UP College of Music or Ateneo and singers from Assumption.”

When Side A staged its first major concert at the Rizal Theater in 1987, Benin’s parents, who came all the way from Pangasinan, watched the show. The following day, he brought his parents to the house of his girlfriend and asked for her hand in marriage. They tied the knot in 1988. 

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Joey Benin with wife Bing Ledesma (seated) and their children (from left) Jaco, Sarah, Clara and Boey.

Benin and Ledesma moved to Silay back in 2007, when he also said goodbye to Side A. “A year before that, nagpa-alam na ako kay Wyngard [Tracy], our manager, and to the other members of the band,” Benin said.

Silay is two towns away from Bacolod, where the airport is. Benin’s wife is really Ilongga. “We’ve been wanting to relocate abroad, in Australia,” Benin said. “Five years earlier, back in 2002, we were at the farm of my in-laws and we were thinking about moving to Bacolod. One vacation, na in-love ako sa place in Silay. We thought, pwede kaming tumira dito.”

Relocating in Bacolod brought the Benin family much closer. While it was a major adjustment for the kids, the bonding evidently worked to their advantage. 

“When we got to Silay, Clara had just graduated from grade school and Sarah was in third grade,” Benin recalled. “Very affected si Clara because there was no internet at that time and no TV.”

The dad, however, enjoyed spending more time with his kids, something that rarely happened while they were in Manila. “I enjoyed bringing them to school when we got here,” Benin said. “I would often hang out or pick them up from school. Sa Manila, rarely ko nagawa ‘yun kasi palagi akong puyat sa nightly gigs ng Side A. We enjoyed being here [in Bacolod] as a family.”

Convincing his daughters to spend college in Bacolod was another story. The girls had to return to Manila to finish college.

Once in Bacolod, Benin and his wife took the task of managing Punong Gary’s Place, named after Ledesma’s only brother who died in a motorcycle accident in 1999. Gary was an only boy and the second in a brood of six children. Ledesma is the fourth.

“Punong” means fish farm or “palaisdaan” in Ilonggo. The place is owned by Benin’s father-in-law, Edgardo Ledesma, an architect who worked with the team of National Artist Leandro Locsin on the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

“We didn’t know anything when we started managing this,” Benin admitted. “Fish farm siya. There was no one managing this before. We started learning what to do, but we eventually learned.”

In 2014, the couple started running a weekend restaurant at Punong Gary’s Place. “By reservations only,” Benin said. “The ones who came were only those with reservations for lunch. Sometimes, when the reservations got more than 10, medyo kinakabahan na ako.”

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The Benins on a swimming holiday

Before the pandemic, business was steady. Benin experimented at serving different, slow-cooked dishes. “I was thinking, parang music lang ang cooking,” he reasoned out. “May ina-arrange ko lang at konting research. But now, we have a real chef who’s doing the cooking.”

Not before long, the venue also became an events place. “Nag-pick up na siya,” Benin said. “The first event we had was the acoustic set with Clara and our friend, Bullet Dumas, who happened to be in Bacolod at that time. Biglaan lang, so nag-set-up kami. Ang saya.”

Benin also proudly beamed at the mere mention of his children. The eldest, Boey, lives with them in Silay. He now helps in managing the restaurant, the farm and the resort.

Jaco, whom his dad named after a “really good” American bass player, Jaco Pastorius, briefly ventured into a professional singing career. He even became part of the Sunday noontime show “ASAP” and performed with Sam Concepcion.

However, Jaco is now happily married with four children, whom Benin and his wife constantly dote on. Jaco’s family lives only a few meters away, “walking distance,” from the family’s house in Silay.

Third child and eldest girl, Clara, is clearly a chip off the old block. As early as 12 years old, Clara could already write songs, according to her dad. “Mas magaling siyang songwriter sa akin,” Benin declared.

“Ang ganda ng music niya. Just listen to her songs and you will know. She was exposed to the music of Joni Mitchell and other classic '70s artists. Her influence in music is really wide.”

Clara followed in her father’s footsteps and embarked on a professional singing career. She also plays the keyboards and the guitar.

“Matiyaga si Clara,” Benin beamed. “When Jaco had a concert at Teatrino [in Greenhills] before, he called on Clara onstage to sing impromptu. Her performance had a very warm reception. She enjoyed it. At that time, she said she really wanted to sing.”

Benin’s youngest is Sarah, who stays with her maternal grandparents here in Manila. Last February, Sarah graduated at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, where she took up Industrial Design. She is now managing a team of creative people designing ads online for different companies.

“All of my children sing,” Benin disclosed. “They grew up surrounded by music. Maybe because their mom and I also sing.”

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The original Side A members (standing from left) Joey Benin, Naldy Gonzalez, Rodel Gonzalez, Pido Lalimarmo, with (seated from left) Kelly Badon and Mar Dizon

The seventh and youngest boy among nine children, Benin hails from Pangasinan, where his 94-year-old mother still resides. Previously, he penned a song, “Nanay,” for his mom, who still plays the piano and guitar to date. She also loves to sing, which is perhaps the reason Benin embarked on a music career.

Meanwhile, the song, “Nanay,” became the theme of Maricel Soriano’s 2006 film, “Inang Yaya,” megged by Veronica Velasco and Pablo Biglang-Awa. Benin’s “Nanay” even became a finalist at the 2007 FAMAS Awards.

Even while in Bacolod, Benin had been commissioned to make use of his creative process. He created the music for the Mind Museum at Bonifacio Golden City. Recently, he penned a song “Live Love,” with talent manager and multi-media producer Noel Ferrer for Martin Nievera.

“If this [pandemic] situation gets better, Rodel wants to go home again and the original Side A members will get ready for a reunion show,” Benin said. “We have re-recorded three songs from our first album and we have arranged three others from the original line up that we are set to record for ‘Redux.’ I am collaborating one with Rodel and I also wrote a new song for Side A.”

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Side A second batch (from left) Joey Generoso, Ernie Severino, Leevon Cailao, Joey Benin and Naldy Gonzales

Benin does not deny that he misses performing and the local entertainment scene, as well as friends and musicians. “When we see each other again, walang putol na tawanan lang,” he attested."

Up until today, Benin hasn’t given up on stringing wonderful words and pleasing melodies together. From the time he penned “Eva Marie,” Side A’s first tune that was heard on radio, Benin has never lost his creative fire. For the church or for the local music world, he is ready to deliver beautiful songs that will be remembered by many for a long time.