Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BENSON, George

(b 22 March '43, Pittsburgh PA) Guitarist, singer. Sang with local R&B bands; began playing guitar in public age 15, sang and played guitar on R&B single for RCA Groove label '54: 'It Shoulda Been Me', 'She Makes Me Mad'. Joined Jack McDuff quartet at 19; LPs Benson And McDuff, The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson with McDuff '64, later on two-disc set on Prestige. Met main influence Wes Montgomery '65; albums on Columbia It's Uptown '65, Cookbook '66, Benson Burner '65--6; on Verve Giblet Gravy '67 (quintet with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter), Goodies '68 with vocals by the Sweet Inspirations. Turned down chance to join Miles Davis, played on one track of Miles In The Sky '68. After Montgomery's death his producer, Creed Taylor, signed Benson to A&M (LPs Shape Of Things To Come, Tell It Like It Is, Other Side Of Abbey Road, I Got A Woman And Some Blues '68-- 70), then to Taylor's new label CTI: Beyond The Blue Horizon (Feb. '71) followed by single and album White Rabbit (Nov.) which got pop play on radio. Material from this period issued on several LPs with various titles incl. Bad Benson, Good King Bad '74--5 with big bands, strings; Benson And Farrell '76 with Joe Farrell on reeds and flute. Along the way an album written by Cedar Walton was made but never released because it was 'too good', according to Benson. The Harlem Underground '76 incl. Benson, Willis 'Gator' Jackson, on Hubbub CD '96 is a five-track 35-minute soul odyssey incl. 'Fed Up', 'one of the most memorable domestic arguments ever set to music' (Ben Thompson).

He had a substantial mainstream jazz following but not a lot of financial success; switched to WB: Breezin' '76 incl. Leon Russell song 'This Masquerade' (no. 10 Billboard pop chart with Benson vocal; instrumental title single also charted), made no. 1 LP chart, won Grammys: septet LP made in studio, 31 strings dubbed for MOR set. Earlier albums reissued in the wake of this; Benson resumed singing; four more WB LPs top ten USA '77--80: In Flight, Weekend In L.A. and Livin' Inside Your Love (two-LP sets), Give Me The Night (title track no. 4 single). The George Benson Collection '81 (also two LPs) no. 14 USA LP chart (incl. no. 5 single 'Turn Your Love Around'); In Your Eyes '83, 20/20 '85 good sellers; TV-advertised Love Songs no. 1 LP in UK '85; seven US top 40 singles '76--83. Jazz fans were dismayed by the funky crossover style, but Benson had a family to support, blamed broadcasting and the music business: 'If kids can't hear it, I don't care how good it is, you can't sell it to them.' Others feel he plays hits in concert 'with such panache, creation and re-creation ... that he is in truth a great jazzman' (Derek Jewell). When The City Sleeps '86 on WB followed by guitar LP with his former prot‚g‚ Earl Klugh, incl. an arrangement for large orchestra of ''Round Midnight' by Bulgarian-born collaborator Angle Rangelov; Collaboration appeared '87. Love Remembers '93 was described as 'soft- option snooze'; That's Right '96 was a debut on GRP, the label where jazz-oriented MOR ends up, reuniting him with Tommy LiPuma, prod. of the hit albums of the late '70s.