George Benson - guitar, vocals; Ronnie Foster - keyboards; Wayne Dockery - bass; Marvin Chappelle - drums
George Benson's second set at the Great American Music Hall on April 5, 1975, was marked by the same unparalleled six-string work that characterized his opening set. Again accompanied by keyboardist Ronnie Foster, a brilliant jazz pianist who was equally conversant with Fender Rhodes and Mini-Moog, along with bassist Wayne Dockery and drummer Marvin Chappelle, Benson lit into what sounds like the tail end of his epic rendition of "Take Five" (which appeared on the live In Concert: Carnegie Hall released in January of that year). Although only a snippet was preserved on tape from this GAMH concert, the giveaway here is the 5/4 meter of the vamp that Benson blows over. Next up is a lively instrumental interpretation of "California Dreamin'," the hit pop song by The Mamas and The Papas which had also been covered in 1966 by Benson's guitar idol, Wes Montgomery. They start off with a fairly faithful reading of that John Phillips tune before the guitarist and his empathetic crew start taking great liberties with the song. By mid-tune, Benson is flying up and down the neck of his guitar with remarkable ease, nonchalantly double-timing the tempo while tossing off pyrotechnic filigrees through chorus after chorus of his extended solo. Foster contributes a nice Fender Rhodes electric piano solo that adds to the heightened proceedings, particularly when he dials up some grungy tones on a ring modulator for edgy effect. They close out their second set at the Great American Music Hall on a funky note with "Ronnie's Groove," a signature vamp that Benson improvises over with typical aplomb.
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)