98. George Benson

George Benson is an outstanding guitarist and vocalist, who made a transition from jazz guitarist to “household name in popular music” in the mid-1970s.


George Benson (b. 1943), guitar, singer, songwriter

George Benson Official Website

“George Benson’s Solo Analysis of ‘What’s New'”, by Steve Khan

George Benson frustrates jazz critics who wish he had continued creating pure jazz music, rather than crossover into a jazzy style of pop music, often referred to as jazz fusion.

I tend to defer to sophisticated critics who describe the musicianship in greater detail, especially when discussing jazz music. A great reference for jazz music is The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, Ninth Edition, by Richard Cook and Brian Morton. Here is part of the team’s review of one of George Benson’s earliest albums, The New Boss Guitar:

“Benson’s pop success tend to camouflage the fact that he was a brilliant musician. His first records were made when Wes Montgomery was alive and the acknowledged master of the style which which Benson developed for his own ends: a rich, liquid tone, chunky octave chording and a careful sense of construction that makes every chorus tell its own story. At his best, Benson can fire off beautiful lines with almost insolent ease.”

Here’s a link to this great reference book, even for the most committed jazz enthusiast:

The Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings

Perhaps Mr. Benson compromised his jazz career by crossing over to pop. However, his popularity served an essential purpose in my music education. His breakthrough record, Breezin’ was released in January, 1976. I had graduated from high school in 1975 at a young age, and was taking a year off from school to develop physically, so I could try and play basketball in college. One of my best basketball buddies, Tim Kral, still only a junior in high school, was working as a disk jockey once a week at KZSU, the Stanford University radio station. His brother Steve was a very accomplished guitar player, and Tim was just starting to scratch the surface of jazz music. George Benson released the jazzy Breezin’ in mid-winter, just the kind of album that is easy for the novice to comprehend, but filled with the kind of guitar work that we already coveted. Tim and I saw a memorable concert that year, George Benson and The Crusaders at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos.

George Benson was an inflection point in my musical education; the beginning of my introduction to jazz. Before that, it was pop music, with The Beatles and then Creedence Clearwater Revival as the big favorites. In high school the boundaries expanded, introducing the many great guitarists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the period I regard as the greatest in rock music history. After Benson, the exploration into jazz started, albeit slowly. Many things I listened to in the late 1970s are no longer part of the repertoire, and won’t be found in the big collection. Jazz is an essential ingredient in the great musical expression, and I try to have a reasonable grasp of the art form.

Mr. Benson made his pop breakthrough as a singer, covering Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade”. I am primarily interested in Benson as a guitarist, shown here with the great Chet Atkins:

In addition to Breezin’, one should try Beyond The Blue Horizon for his late 1960s work, and perhaps find The New Boss Guitar or a similar set from his earliest days working with organist Brother Jack McDuff in Pittsburgh from the mid-1960s. Other than Breezin’, I have included very few of his pop songs, as they fail to augment or expand upon the excellent first pop album. There are a couple stray favorites from my childhood thrown in as well. Here is the list:

George Benson Songs:

Ode To A Kudu, George Benson ✭✭✭
Shadow Dancers, George Benson ✭✭✭
Thunder Walk, George Benson ✭✭✭
Take Five, George Benson ✭✭✭

Breezin’, George Benson ✭✭
Valdez In The Country, George Benson ✭✭
Lady, George Benson ✭✭
So What, George Benson ✭✭
Somewhere In The East, George Benson ✭✭
This Masquerade, George Benson ✭✭
Six To Four, George Benson ✭✭
California Dreamin’, George Benson ✭✭
Last Train To Clarksville, George Benson ✭✭
Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream, George Benson ✭✭

Flute Song, George Benson & Joe Farrell
Turn Your Love Around, George Benson
Sweet Alice Blues, George Benson
Chattanooga Choo Choo, George Benson
What’s New?, George Benson
Shape Of Things To Come, George Benson
Bullfight, George Benson
Rock-A-Bye, George Benson

Related Songs:

Last Train To Clarksville, Jerry Reed ✭✭✭
Last Train To Clarksville, The Monkees ✭✭✭

Chattanooga Choo Choo, Glenn Miller

California Dreamin’ The Mamas & The Papas ✭✭✭✭

So What, Miles Davis ✭✭✭✭
So What, David Grisman & Jerry Garcia ✭✭

Valdez In The Country, Cold Blood ✭✭✭

This Masquerade, Leon Russell ✭✭

Take Five, Dave Brubeck ✭✭✭✭

Breezin’, Gabor Szabo ✭✭

Shape Of Things To Come, Max Frost & The Troopers ✭✭

What’s New?, Billie Holiday
What’s New?, Frank Sinatra

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