1. Benson peaks after tribute

    November 22, 2010 by admin


    The voice of The Peddlers, Roy Phillips, opened with an impressive jazzy keyboard and smoky vocals.

    Phillips was an unexpected but welcome treat with versions of Misty, Last Train to Clarksville and his own compositions.

    Then came the man we had been waiting for, with his mile-wide smile and rich tones.

    Dressed in a black tuxedo, George Benson captured the audience from his opening guitar chords.

    As well as using the CSO, he brought some talented singers and musos, including Barbra Streisand’s musical director as his conductor/ pianist.

    The lush strings of the CSO were put to particularly good use.

    Benson put his own twist on Nat King Cole’s songbook, including When I Fall in Love, Mona Lisa, Ramblin’ Rose, Too Young, Straighten up and Fly Right, Smile and Just One of Those Things.

    And, of course, Benson’s classic hit Give Me the Night, which got the audience dancing in the aisles.

    The multi-Grammy award winner and hall of famer also shared a snippet of a recording from his child prodigy days 60 years ago.

    The sexagenarian virtuoso guitarist has a remarkable voice.

    After the Cole tribute, Benson gave us a “Benson party” with his own songs, from jazzy blues, to impressive instrumentals, scat and old school. He possibly felt constrained by Cole’s songs.

    He let loose with Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love, In Your Eyes, and more.

    More than mere imitation, this was Benson at his best.

    For one night, the town hall became an old-school swinging nightclub. Even when he’s paying tribute to a great singer, you never forget, there is only one George Benson.

    REVIEW George Benson – An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole, with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, 8pm, November 16, Christchurch Town Hall. Reviewed by Margaret Agnew. Photo Dean Kozanic

  2. LA Times Review

    September 11, 2009 by admin

    George Benson’s wish-list fulfillment

    The guitarist’s latest album features songs penned by some of his favorites; Bill Withers even adds a new one.

    By Chris Barton

    August 30, 2009

    After his Grammy nomination-dappled team-up with Al Jarreau, 2006’s “Givin’ It Up,” veteran guitarist George Benson again wanted to work with artists he had long admired. This time, he decided to pay tribute to some of his favorite songwriters from the worlds of jazz and R&B, so he and bassist/co-producer Marcus Miller put together a wish list of names. 

    Tracks from many of the writers on Benson’s dream roster, including Rod Temperton, Lamont Dozier and James Taylor, appear on his new collection “Songs and Stories,” which was released Tuesday Also featured, though, is one of the artists he and Miller considered a longshot at best: Bill Withers.


Landing the reclusive singer-songwriter, who’s been semiretired since the ’80s, wasn’t easy.

    “We hounded him!” admitted Benson, who’s due to perform at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Sept. 10 and at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 12. “We had a nice breakfast with him one morning. . . . He came to the conclusion, ‘You know something, I haven’t done anything in years. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to approach writing today. But if I do, I’ll give you call.’

    “I had a feeling that he might,” Benson added with a laugh. “I knew it would be a privilege to work with him again and I knew he would not come up with anything ordinary.


He didn’t. Withers eventually delivered the slinky ballad “A Telephone Call Away,” which in Benson’s hands became a breezy but spirited vocal duet with singer Lalah Hathaway. Granted, Benson’s butterscotch-smooth guitar tone is relegated to the sidelines on the song, to shine more light on Withers’ unique storytelling.


His playing, however, is at the forefront of one of the record’s standouts, a string-accented cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia.” In a lengthy instrumental passage, Benson adds an elegant flourish to the song, a hit for Brook Benton in 1970.


”I never thought anyone would top that, and I don’t think we did either,” Benson admits. “My guitar solo I think is the thing that is my invention . . . [that] really makes the difference.


Throughout the recording process, a number of Benson’s songwriting collaborators, such as Withers, Smokey Robinson and Steve Lukather, would stop by the studio to offer input. Benson said their perspectives proved invaluable.


”I’m getting ready to tell somebody else’s story, but I have to be authentic in the sense that I have to tell it the way that they meant it to be told,” he said. “And the only way I can get that is to go straight to the horse’s mouth.”