Ben Sidran has been a major force in the modern day history of jazz and rock and roll, having played keyboards with or produced such artists as Van Morrison, Diana Ross, Michael Franks, Rickie Lee Jones, Mose Allison and Steve Miller.
It's been a long and varied journey for Sidran—from playing boogie-woogie piano as a six year old in Racine, Wisconsin, leaning into his jazz records, “literally like an Eskimo huddled around a fire,” to growing up to play boogie-woogie piano around the world. Despite the reality that he is better known in Europe and Japan than in America—a fact of life for most jazz musicians—Ben Sidran is an American success story.
A jazz pianist of international renown, lyricist of a rock classic, award-winning national broadcaster, record and video producer, scholar, author, journalist, and father to a second generation musical prodigy, Sidran makes your average Renaissance man look like a slacker.
Born in Chicago in 1943—his father was a friend of Saul Bellow's—Sidran was raised in the industrial lakeshore city of Racine, Wisconsin, going up to Madison to play keyboards at frat-house parties while still a teenager in 1960. The next year he was enrolled at the university, playing dates on campus and around town. He soon joined the Ardells, a Southern comfort party band led by frat boy singer Steve Miller and his friend Boz Scaggs. But when Miller and Scaggs went west to become stars, Sidran stayed to complete his degree in English lit.
After graduating from the UW in 1967 (with honors), Sidran moved to England to pursue a Master's Degree in American Studies at the University of Sussex. But when the Steve Miller Band came to England the following year to record with the legendary British engineer Glyn Johns, Sidran found himself back on the two-track life of academia and music.
It started with his haunting harpsichord break on Scaggs’ “Baby's Calling Me Home” for the Miller band's debut album, “Children of the Future.” A little later on, Ben would pen the lyrics for Miller's “Space Cowboy,” earning a place in rock history (and enough royalties to pay for his graduate degrees).
While still pursuing his studies, Sidran also developed a relationship with Johns, often doing session work at Olympic Studios with musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. In 1969, Johns produced Sidran's demo tape, featuring Charlie Watts, Peter Frampton and others.
Upon receiving his doctorate in American Studies at the height of the war-induced grad school glut, Sidran faced bleak prospects in academia. Then he realized his time for studying the information was over; it was time to become the information. So in the fall of 1970, after dropping his dissertation with some publishers in New York, he moved to Los Angeles to go into the record business.