George Benson - guitar, vocals; Ronnie Foster - keyboards; Wayne Dockery - bass; Marvin Chappelle - drums
Coming up in the mid '60s as a torrid bop-oriented guitarist and highly touted heir to Wes Montgomery (who died on June 15, 1968), George Benson began melding popular elements into his music as early as 1968 (on Giblet Gravy, which included covers of The Association's "Along Came Mary" and the Young Rascals' "Groovin'"). The following year, producer Creed Taylor recruited Don Sebesky, who had provided the lush arrangements on Montgomery's 1966 hit recording, California Dreaming, to arrange Benson's 1969 A&M Records debut, Shape of Things to Come. By the time of this Great American Music Hall appearance on April 5, 1975, Benson was coming off a string of successful recordings on Creed Taylor's CTI label - 1973's Body Talk and White Rabbit and 1974's Bad Benson, the latter showing some early manifestations of what later would come to be called "smooth jazz." The savvy guitarist balanced this GAMH set with burners and smoother numbers, all bearing his fluid six-string signature.
Accompanied by his regular working group - keyboardist Ronnie Foster, bassist Wayne Dockery and drummer Marvin Chappelle - Benson opens with the flamenco-tinged opus "El Mar" from White Rabbit. With Foster comping on Fender Rhodes electric piano and throwing in the occasional Mini-Moog fill, the guitarist resorts to dramatic strumming for the desired Spanish effect. Next up is Benson's rare cover of Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar," a soul-jazz anthem from the early '70s that he had not previously recorded. Taking his time, the guitar eases into the soulful theme before unleashing his legendary chops. Following a barrage of single notes, he slides into a few choruses of virtuosic chord melody playing before Foster enters with a fluent piano solo. Dockery adds a (barely audible) bass solo before Benson enters with more fretboard pyrotechnics before returning to the familiar theme.
A faithful rendition of Phil Upchurch's "No Sooner Said Than Done," a breezy and beautiful number from Bad Benson, showcases Benson's brilliant chordal melody and octaves work in a lyrical setting. Foster also delivers a memorable Rhodes solo on this soothing number. Next, Benson reaches back to his 1970 Beatles tribute album, The Other Side of Abbey Road, for a soulful reading of George Harrison's "Something," which features George alternating between golden vocals and virtuosic guitar work. Switching gears, they close out the set on a burning note with the instrumental romp, "Body Talk," which showcases some of Benson's most pyrotechnic playing of the set and turns Foster loose for some frantic forays on his Mini-Moog.
Born in Pittsburgh on March 22, 1943, the multi-Grammy-winning artist was a child prodigy who started out singing at age eight and recorded two singles for RCA by age 11 (including a cover of Ray Charles' "It Should've Been Me"). Inspired by guitar greats Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, he became interested in jazz and by 1962 was playing in organist Jack McDuff's soul-jazz quartet. He recorded his first album as a leader in 1964 (The New Boss Guitar of George Benson with the Jack McDuff Quartet) and formed his first group in 1965 (with organist Lonnie Smith, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and drummer Jimmy Lovelace), later releasing It's Uptown on the Columbia label (produced by super talent scout John Hammond, who had discovered such great artists as Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan). Switching to the Verve label in 1967, he began working with producer Creed Taylor and arranger Don Sebesky on a series for the A&M imprint, including 1968's Shape of Things to Come, 1969's Tell It Like It Is and the 1970 Beatles tribute, The Other Side of Abbey Road.
Following a string of successful recordings on Creed Taylor's CTI label (1971's Beyond the Blue Horizon, 1972's White Rabbit, 1973's Body Talk, 1974's Bad Benson and 1975's Good King Bad), Benson was recruited to Warner Bros. by Tommy LiPuma, who produced 1976's platinum-selling Breezin', which rode to the Top Ten hit on the strength of its sole vocal track, a cover of Leon Russell's "This Masquerade." Benson followed with a string of commercial hit albums for the Warner Bros. label through the '70s, '80s and early '90s with occasional forays into jazz, notably 1989's Tenderly (featuring pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Ron Carter) and 1990's Big Boss Band (with the Count Basie Orchestra). He switched the GRP label in 1996 and released a string of albums beginning with That's Right, followed by 1998's Standing Together, 2000's Absolute Benson and 2004's Irreplaceable. He scored a hit in 2009 with Stories and Songs, a contemporary jazz outing produced by bassist Marcus Miller for the Concord Jazz label, and followed with 2011's acclaimed Guitar Man, which marked his return to true guitar hero status. (Bill Milkowski)