1. Chicago Times Show Review

    April 5, 2012 by admin

    He’s still got it.

    Though his 70th birthday arrives next year, singer-guitarist George Benson epitomized youth and exuberance Friday night at the Chicago Theatre, where he tore through his hits at faster tempos and higher energy levels than a large and enthusiastic audience may have been expecting.

    Better than that, Benson somehow found new insights in very old songs, delivering them with a freshness one doesn’t often encounter from major performers who have been revisiting their classics incessantly through the decades.

    Yet Benson was ill served by a harsh, over-amplified sound system that often denied listeners the opportunity to savor the subtleties of a richly nuanced, gravelly voice. Throughout his intermissionless set, Benson frequently found himself competing with an over-miked band, its waves of sound washing over the voice that everyone had come to hear.

    Not that Benson himself was particularly pleased with his vocal work early in the show.

    “I’m just warming up, you guys,” Benson told the crowd at one point. “My voice ain’t there yet — but it’s gonna’ get there!”

    Actually, inasmuch as one could focus on Benson’s vocals amid the din, he proved musically quite effective from the outset, though definitely somewhat raspy of tone. But in performers of Benson’s vintage, the inexorable deepening and darkening of an instrument often adds to its appeal, bringing new colors and textures to a voice already quite familiar around the world. Certainly that was the case this time.

    Benson ostensibly was performing in support of his newest release, the aptly titled “Guitar Man,” but the show dipped just sporadically into that repertoire, instead amounting to something of a greatest-hits parade. When the hits come from Benson’s lips and lungs, however, they’re worth hearing once again.

    Exactly how Benson managed to find so much more to say in the inevitable “On Broadway” – which gave the evening an extended, grand finale – might have been a mystery, except for one incontrovertible fact: Before Benson became a crossover star he was a hard-core jazz musician and, in many ways, he remains one.

    So Benson improvised melodic flourishes and melismatic turns of phrase, taking “On Broadway” away from its familiar contours and reshaping it to suit the moment. Though this performance lacked the thrilling, sustained, unstoppable crescendo of the famous recording, Benson’s spontaneous re-imagining of “On Broadway” offered something else: vocal and guitar fireworks with an intensity and heat that simply never let up.

    Earlier in the evening, Benson appeared to surprise his audience – judging by its muted response – with “Moody’s Mood,” a tour de force of jazz singing. Artistically, this was a high point of the evening, Benson referencing his jazz credentials with a profoundly personal response to saxophonist James Moody’s classic “Moody’s Mood for Love.” Here was a melody line that bounded up and down the scale with abandon, Eddie Jefferson’s celebrated lyrics applied to Moody’s intricate saxophone solo. Only the most accomplished jazz vocalists dare sing the tune – particularly in the wake of Moody’s own revered version – but Benson finessed its twists and turns with seeming effortlessness and a distinctive interpretation.

    Benson also looked back to more of his hits, from the buoyant guitar work of “Breezin'” to the imploring vocals of “Turn Your Love Around” to the slow-and-soulful musings of “This Masquerade,” the latter performed with palpable fervor.

    Throughout, Benson made his way around his guitar quite dexterously, but especially in an unlikely version of the folk song “Danny Boy” (from the “Guitar Man” album), his poetic solos – complete with twangy notes and droning pedal points – evoking a distant time and place.


    Twitter @howardreich

  2. Ottawa Citizen Preview

    June 25, 2010 by admin

    A husband at age 18, guitarist-singer George Benson knew music as a career was a risky proposition, so he tried other jobs, becoming as handy with tools as he was with a guitar. But then a sudden realization hit him.

    Photograph by: Paul Kane, Getty Images

    George Benson buried the hatchet for music

    Career choice paid off for versatile performer

    By MARKE ANDREWS, Vancouver Sun June 23, 2010George Benson

    When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

    Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre

    Tickets: $67 to $77 from ticketmaster.ca

    A husband at age 18, guitarist-singer George Benson knew music as a career was a risky proposition, so he tried other jobs, becoming as handy with tools as he was with a guitar. But then a sudden realization hit him.

    “I knew my biggest potential was in the music world, and one day I had a hatchet in my hand and I realized that if I made a mistake with that hatchet, any career I might have would be over,” says Benson by phone from his home in Pardise Valley, Ariz., on a brief break between tours. Benson performs Saturday at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

    It makes sense that Benson stayed with music. He began playing for money at the tender age of seven, performing numbers on a ukulele at stores and street corners in his home town of Pittsburgh. The city was known for its musicians, which included drummer Art Blakey, pianists Ahmad Jamal and Earl (Fatha) Hines, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and singers Billy Eckstine and Eddie Jefferson. The latter befriended Benson when the young ukulele player was in second grade.

    “He had a recording, I Got the Blues, that I sang around town as a little kid with my ukulele,” says Benson. “He came to me on the street corner when I was seven and asked me to sing that song for him. I sang it and he laughed so hard he rolled on the ground.”

    Benson started living the musician’s life early, making his first record at age 10, switching to guitar and playing in jazz and R&B bands during his teens, and recording his first album as bandleader at age 21. His formal musical training was minimal; he relied on his ear to learn how to play.

    “I learned what I learned by listening to other artists, and hanging around great people who knew what they were doing,” says Benson. “I’m still doing the same thing, just going through different sources.”

    Although he didn’t start singing on his recordings until his 1976 album Breezin’, Benson always sang, and had a particular fondness for rhythm and blues. You can hear strains of the late singer Donny Hathaway in Benson’s voice, which makes some sense when you learn that Benson and Hathaway were good friends, even though Hathaway did not have a clue that his guitar-playing buddy wanted to sing.

    “We were friends toward the latter part of his life,” said Benson. “We hung out together, and wrote songs together, although nothing that came out. To be around that voice, man. He was a natural. At that time I wasn’t known as a singer even though I did sing, but he didn’t find that out until a short time before he died, when I sang On Broadway and Masquerade.”

    On his most recent release, Songs and Stories (2009), Benson performs a Hathaway number, Someday We’ll All Be Free, and sings a duet with the late singer’s daughter, Lalah Hathaway.

    Though he spends a good part of his year on the road touring, Benson likes to spend his time off at home, either at the Benson house in Paradise Valley, or his other place in Inglewood, N.J. In his spare time, he conducts Bible studies.

    And choosing music for a career not only made for a happy individual, Benson has been successful enough to win 10 Grammy Awards, and he and his wife have raised seven sons on a musician’s income.


    © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
    Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/music/Benson+buried+hatchet+music/3191036/story.html#ixzz0rp2Q5KTd

  3. Tour Update

    June 9, 2010 by admin


    We are currently finalizing a summer tour throughout Europe and Africa along with a run of dates in Australia this November.  New dates can be found here.

  4. Tour Update

    February 25, 2010 by admin

    We just updated the tour dates section with 7 shows in the UK at the end of May and first week of June as well as new dates in Concord, CA and Kansas City, MO.

    For more info click here.