Ibanez LGB300 - Vintage Yellow Sunburst
George Benson Signature
Appreciated as both a musician and performer by millions, George Benson has always had the dual role of expert improviser and vibrant entertainer. He has consistently placed his keenly discerning art in the service of a rousing good time. Rounding out his singular approach with sly, seductive rhythm and blues, he's earned himself an impeccable reputation as one of music's most enterprising and engaging stars.
Few might have predicted that striking level of stardom some forty years ago, when Benson was a fledgling guitarist working the corner pubs of his native Pittsburgh. That's where his yen to please a crowd was born. "I was an entertainer first," he says proudly "As a kid I sang, danced, and played the ukulele in a nightclub. As my career has progressed, I've had the pleasure of playing with the baddest jazz cats on the planet. But that doesn't change my desire to entertain folks. That's really who I am."
It was Wes Montgomery, one of jazz's most creative players, who came across Benson early on; the vet complimented the young guitarist, urging him to continue his already impressive work. In the early 1960s, Benson apprenticed with organist Brother Jack McDuff; he found the organist's gritty swing a fertile ground for the sly, confident, and adventurous guitar lines, which earned him an early rep as a master.
"Jack turned me on to a lot of stuff," muses Benson. "A lot of the jazz tunes we played together were danceable, and that furthered my understanding of what people wanted. When jazz was danceable, it was king. The intellectual stuff that came later on?Charlie Parker and all that?turned toward a brainier sound. That was good, and I dug it. But I really like when people kick up their heels and go crazy."
Montgomery had called one of his best records Boss Guitar. Benson had both the conviction and chops to nip at his hero's heels; his 1964 debut was released as The New Boss Guitar. It lived up to its title. Benson's tone was juicy, and his blues solos sparkled with a carefully honed logic. A jaunty funk and swing aesthetic prevailed.
By the time legendary talent scout John Hammond signed Benson to Columbia, the guitarist's name was bubbling throughout the industry. His work for the label proved Hammond's hunch to be on-target: brains and flash were in perfect synch.
"I'd sat down with a great blind pianist from San Francisco name Freddy Gambrel," recalls Benson. "He turned me on to some wonderful ways to get in and out of chord changes and weld harmonies together. Of course I still wanted to be like Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, and Hank Garland?my heroes. I've always liked the hot guitar guys."