A Masterful Musician
The magnificently lauded artisans that are Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklyn, Michael Jackson, James Brown are some of the names that make up an exclusively elite group of entertainers that literally appealed to ALL colours, creeds, generations and dispositions. And, what’s more important than that is their music has stood the test of time. Add to that illustrious list the name of George Benson - a master musician who, as far back as I can remember, has always held listeners captive in the vividly diverse musical arena. These are a special kind of artisan, the kind that are not only exceptionally gifted but are highly dedicated to their craft hence, throughout the decades, they have continually produced the very best that music has to offer. And, the real beauty of their impact is the unique ability to reach and intertwine with the listener regardless of musical partiality.
With the Mastery of his Guitar, George Benson has mesmerised listeners the world over. His legacy spans four decades and, although some of his most popular tunes were recorded over 30 years ago, the appeal is just as effective today as when they were first released. Songs like the Magnus Opus ‘Breezin’ (the title track of the most popular Jazz album ever), the excellent rendition of Leon Russell’s ‘This Masquerade’, the party classic ‘Give Me The Night’ and the beautiful ballad ‘Living Inside Your Love’ are highly regarded as standards amongst the very diverse of critics - whether from a Jazz, R&B or Pop perspective, the same appreciation are inescapably tendered.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr Benson recently… I asked him what was the formula used that kept him in the business for so long…
“Once you get a good beat and you can hear every nook and cranny in the music, there’s so much that can be done with it. The more I learn about the music is the more I know I need to learn. That’s one thing about education, you keep moving up and as you move from high school to college, it gets harder [laughs] but if you want to move to a specialist and become a brain surgeon where you’ve got another four to eight years of study then it gets harder. That’s the way it is with music, if you want to make some progress then you’ve gotta move up to another level. But, if you find something that eats up your mental capacity then you have to dig deep, stretch out, pay more attention to detail and use all of your past experience to make that happen. That’s the challenge that keeps me in it.
I tried to retire about 20 years ago but people kept on calling me from all over the world saying, ‘we’ve got to have Mr Benson for our projects, how dare he retire’ [laughs] and who am I to say no. That’s what I’ve always dreamed of, right. So, when it finally came true, I found it very difficult to turn people down, not only for the monetary thing which is always nice but, for the sincerity of the people who did not want to be sorry they missed the chance and not wanting to let the opportunity pass them by to be able to work with me. I still keep my Band together, the best band in the world - [the George Benson Band]. Some of the original guys have been with me for 30 years; some 20 years, others 15 years [laughs]. The Band is pretty mature; guys who know and understand who George Benson is and what he wants to give to his public and they are with me 100%. It’s very difficult to get a Band to thinking like that where everyone is on the same page and not trying to prove any other point but to make people who came to hear us glad they came - that’s always been my motto.
My favourite albums are ‘LIVING INSIDE YOUR LOVE’ - I really like this because it has a variety of things in it, I’m a person who loves variety, it features me as a guitar player as well as a singer and gives the listener the opportunity to hear the different sides of me; ‘BREEZIN’ is great but it only has one vocal on it; ‘ABSOLUTE BENSON’ and ‘GIVE ME THE NIGHT’ which is a party record, if people are up and they wanna dance then this is the album. A beautiful song is ‘NATURE BOY’ - the story behind that is we were gonna do some rehearsals with NATALIE COLE but, she didn’t show up that night so I hurried back to the studio and recorded that song with one take..!! I don’t really have a formula for what I do. It’s more ‘off the cuff’, that instant vibe is what makes it special for me”.
The veteran Guitarist is as versatile as they come - he can change his style to something that’s completely different to his usually smooth, connoisseur Jazz mode. Flickering between real Soul gems, Pop ballads and Jazz odes is a natural part of his repertoire. Armed with a sleuth of good grooves, Mr Benson’s lovely guitar playing will compliment any track. He currently has two new albums out - ‘Songs And Stories’ and ‘Classic Love Songs’. The George Benson Band was on tour in the UK at the end of May/beginning of June 2010 and, those who caught the legendary Jazz Maestro were treated to wonderful performances.... MCS
‘Songs And Stories’
Smooth and sassy dinner Jazz is scrumptiously served up from the plateau of the ‘Songs And Stories’ set with some party grooves dished up as a side order. The umpteenth album from the deeply eclectic catalogue of the Jazz mastermind epitomizes the essence and style of his musicology over the years. Some of the industry’s finest are gathered together to make this an exceptional offering. George Benson teams up with song-writing legends like Rod Temperton (who penned the mega-hit ‘Give Me The Night’), Bill Withers and Smokey Robinson who, share their magic on ‘Family Reunion’, ‘A Telephone Call Away’ (duet with Lalah Hathaway) and ‘One Like You’ respectively. In the mix, Mr Benson goes and puts his spin on some very classical songs like James Taylor’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight’, Tony Joe White’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ and ‘Sailing’ by Christopher Cross. Then he ‘gets all funky on us’ as he calls on the services of Roger & Larry Troutman (Zapp) alongside Marlon McClain & Robert Harris (Dazz Band) to drop the spritely ‘Nuthin’ But A Party’. The party vibes continues and is played out by ‘Living In High Definition’ (Lamont Dozier), one of the standout cuts on the set. Hence, what you get here is a nice combination of his variegated musical delivery mode - from brilliant guitar solos to the impromptu scats and then lovely vocal dexterity on a few ballads. So, don’t be surprised by this as delivering high quality albums is something that comes naturally to George Benson - he’s been literally producing the goods since he started in the business way back in the ‘70s.