Appreciated as both musician and performer by millions, George Benson has always had the duel personae of expert improviser and vibrant entertainer. He has always 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 ukelele 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.