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  George Benson

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Click below for a George Benson sample:

The World Is A Ghetto

El Barrio




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Versatility and staying power are two of the best ways to measure the talent of an artist. By these standards, George Benson rates as one of the most accomplished musicians of the last four decades.  Blessed with a strong, distinctive jazz technique and the foresight to predict shifts in his audience's taste, he has amassed hit in the jazz, pop, soul and dance arenas.  While his forays into pop music have often earned the wrath of jazz purists, he periodically silences them with solid performances at festivals and on new releases.

Benson's recording career began with Jack McDuff's organ combo and the attention he received led to the formation of his own group in the mid 1960s.  Following a series of successful albums with Lonnie Smith on Columbia, he knocked around A&M and Verve before heading to one of the leading labels of jazz, CTI.   Creed Taylor, the founder of the label, had worked extensively with Wes Montgomery, and he soon pushed Benson towards a similarly orchestrated style. It was during this time that he began experimenting with more funk-grounded backing, such as on Good King Bad.

In 1976, CTI's brightest days behind them, Benson moved to Warner Brothers, where he'd enjoy the most commercially successful moments of his career.   Backed by a band featuring the talents of Ronnie Foster, Deodato, Jorge Dalto, Harvey Mason, and working under the guidance of Tommy Lipuma, Benson came up with an album that changed jazz forever.  Breezin' was the surprise hit of the year, topping the pop charts and becoming the first jazz album to go platinum.  The hit single was "This Masquerade," which brought Benson's singing to the forefront for the first time since his youth.

Having perfected the formula, Benson stuck to it for the remainder of the decade.  His next three albums - In Flight, Weekend In LA and Living Inside Your Love - capitalized on his virtuoso playing skills, strong session players, and his gimmick of scatting in the same key as his guitar. The result was a string of crossover pop hits, such as "On Broadway," "The Greatest Love Of All," "Love Ballad" and "Everything Must Change."  The fact that most of his singles were covers of established hits simply confirmed what critics felt all along - that Benson was aiming for mainstream success at the expense of his jazz base.  Benson never really challenged that theory, only saying he wanted to play to as many people as possible with the realization that some compromises had to be made to reach that goal. And since he was selling out venues normally reserved for rock acts, it was hard to dispute his plan hadn't worked to perfection.

He began the 80s with his most blatantly commercial effort yet, Give Me The Night.  For the record he recruited Quincy Jones for production.   Coming off of the success of the Brothers Johnson, Rufus and Michael Jackson, Jones was one of the hottest boardmen in the business and he supplied Benson with the LP that firmly entrenched him as an r&b star.  "Love X Love" and the title song were expertly crafted disco-soul that became top 10 hits.  A version of "Moody's Mood for Love" was the only real nod towards jazz.

The first half of the decade was filled with hit singles: "Turn Your Love Around," "20/20," "Inside Love," and "Love All the Hurt Away," a duet with Aretha Franklin and clear indicator of how respected he'd become in the pop arena.  With his nosejobs, cadre of sportscars and increasingly inferior LPs, it seemed Benson had given up on jazz completely.

Imagine then the surprise that greeted Tenderly, an album of standards that reminded everyone that Benson still had the jazz.  It marked a return to playing that continued with his signing to GRP Records.  By now, smooth jazz was an established format and Benson was one of the masters, releasing several albums in the style that put him back in the spotlight.   He also began an association with the dance production team Masters At Work, singing "You Can Do It Baby" for their Nuyorican Soul project.  They returned the favor by producing "Song For My Brother" and "El Barrio" for his last couple of albums.

George Benson's Deepest Grooves

Beyond the Blue Horizon (CTI, 1971)

White Rabbit (CTI, 1971)

Body Talk (CTI, 1973)

Good King Bad (CTI, 1976)
James Brown associate David Matthews conducts the arrangements so it's no surprise there is a noticeable funk quotient in the songs.  "Em" sounds like a sample, but I can't place it right now.  Final LP before hitting it big on Warners.

Breezin' (Warner Brothers, 1976)
Commercial breakthrough that refuses to wilt in the face of persistent criticism as a sell-out.  The title cut has plenty of groove and is quite similar to what he was doing on CTI.  Of course, the big difference is "This Masquerade."  At least you have to admit the man can sing.

In Flight (Warner Brothers, 1977)
Continues in the vein of Breezin' with perhaps more funk in the trunk thanks to "Valdez in the Country" and "The World Is A Ghetto."  I guess Benson hadn't developed a strong sense of pop writing since he's always relying on covers.   

Weekend In LA (Warner Brothers, 1977)
Double LP of Benson in sunny California, highlighted by his thundering version of "On Broadway," which became a trademark of all his shows. 

Living Inside Your Love (Warner Brothers, 1977)

Give Me the Night (Warner Brothers, 1980)
His strongest pure r&b session.  There's something about Quincy Jones' production that seems to guarantee quality.  Maybe it's his team of talented writers and arrangers, most notably Rod Temperton, who wrote half the songs here, including the two hits. 

Tenderly (Warner Brothers, 1989)

That's Right (GRP, 1996)

Absolute Benson (GRP, 2000)
Still going strong in his fifth decade of recording, here Benson is surrounded by a crack group of players (Joe Sample, Cindy Blackman, Christian McBride) for some quality contemporary jazz.  There's one MAW song, "El Barrio."

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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