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November 23, 2014

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‘Million Dollar Quartet’ star Benjamin D. Hale: Finding my Nashville in Las Vegas

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Steve Marcus

Benjamin D. Hale performs as Johnny Cash during “Million Dollar Quartet” on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at Harrah’s.

Pia Zadora in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Singer/actress Pia Zadora performs during a guest performance in Launch slideshow »

Holly Madison in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Holly Madison poses after a guest performance in Launch slideshow »

As Robin Leach ends his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have again stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. As Robin gets ready to pick up pen, notepad and tape recorder to resume his Strip coverage, we continue today with “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s stars Martin Kaye, Felicia Garcia and Benjamin D. Hale. Here’s Benjamin.

Just like the chords of a country song, life can take on its own natural progression if you let it.

In the fall of 2012, my life took an unpredictable turn when country music icons Tim McGraw and Faith Hill opened a show at the Venetian. They were to replace the wildly successful 6 1/2 year run of “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular.”

I had been employed by “Phantom” as a performer, I met my wife in the cast, and it seemed life couldn’t get any better. For the first time, country music would change the course of my life.

It was around this time that my buddy Zach Ryan asked me to sit in and play guitar with his rowdy rock and roll band. It was rock and roll, but Zach sprinkled traditional country tunes into the mix, as well.

I remember thinking, “How have I ignored this type of music for so long?” My uncles were all rodeo cowboys, and my mom was a barrel racer. I have country in my blood.

Unemployment was looming over me, when out of the blue, I received a phone call from the American Country Awards asking if I would be interested in singing backup for Kristin Chenoweth. I tried to collect myself and quickly blurted out a resounding “yes!” Now I was hooked.

The awards couldn’t have been more exciting and inspiring to me. It was just the right pick-me-up to get me motivated and ready to start writing my own country songs. No more turning my back on my country roots.

I now feel that fate had been leaving me these “get back to your roots” hints all along the way. I had seen an audition notice for a new Broadway musical slated for Las Vegas titled “Million Dollar Quartet.”

I read the breakdown of characters they listed and saw that it was about Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. I thought, “What is this? Some sort of tribute show?” Nope.

I read further. It was about a historical jam session brought about by Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. All music was to be played live; no backing tracks.

With guitar in hand, I walked into that audition and began to sing. Well, you guessed it. I landed the job, the role of Johnny Cash, and it’s a job I truly love! Singing classic country and rock and roll songs in a Broadway musical in Las Vegas is just what the doctor ordered.

In addition to playing Johnny Cash, I have a country band called The Crimson Balladeers, and we just released our debut EP. Country music got a hold on me. I’ve learned to follow the natural progression of life’s journey, listen to the music it’s making and know that good things will follow.

Be sure to read our other “Million Dollar Quartet” star guest columns today from Felicia Garcia and Martin Kaye. On Tuesday, it’s time for the Venetian’s “Rock of Ages” stars Mark Shunock, Tiffany Engen, Becca Korte and Justin Mortelliti.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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