March 22nd, 2023 marks George Benson’s 80th birthday. I celebrated his born day back in 2022 with a mixlcloud mix that is repeated below. I acquired a collection of George Benson CD’s from a collector, and my collection of Benson’s music from 81 shown on the mix image, to some 128 now, weirdly my “wantlist” went up by 6.
JazzFM based in London produced a program that aired Sunday March 19th in a primetime slot called “George Benson in his own words.” https://jazzfm.listennow.link/20608631 You can listen to the full show replay with the music tracks. It’s mostly music, but has some very interesting spoken segments. I transribed the spoken sections and it is reproduced below. JazzFM does not say how, where or whom did the interview. The interviewer is not heard, at one point though while discussing a young Wynton Marsalis, Benson mimics Marsalis speaking to Benson, and Benson refers to himself as “Mr Vincent”.
Robbie Vincent is of course a legendary British soul, funk and jazz radio presenter and dj, he has a jazzfm show. I’ve also listened to Robbie Vincent many, many times and you can hear him laugh at a couple of points. It’s Robbie!
On How George Got Started
I remember that My stepfather had just met my mother, and he brought his guitar. He had just got it out of the pawn shop. It was an an electric guitar and he had an amplifier. I was amazed that the sound was going through a wire coming out of the guitar where the signal was and going to a box on the other side of the room, which amplified the signal and it was all like miracles to me you know as a seven year old.
Once I heard that sound, I put my, I sat right in front of the speaker and put my back against it so I can feel the vibrations of the sound and I never got over that. I still love that sound of the guitar today. He let the guitar stay in the room and he went to the bathroom. While he was gone, I ran over and snuck a few strokes on that string with the electric guitar that he had just set up to play. He heard it, he ran back in the room. He said, you know, I told you not to play that thing, but now that you have you’re going to have to learn to play it.
But the point was I was seven (years old) and my hands were not big enough, so he found the ukulele in a garbage can – someone had thrown it out and cracked it all up. He glued it back together and put four strings on it and he taught me the basics on it. I took it to the streets and made a fortune with that little ukulele.
On Working With Quincy Jones
I can tell you this, working with Quincy Jones was one of the great highlights of my career. Because there’s nobody like him. Quincy Jones came to me with a statement that flawed me. He said George, put yourself in my hands, man. He said, I probably know more about you than, you know, about yourself. And I thought that was a gigantic insult at first. I said, well, you know. His name is Quincy Jones, he does sell a lot of records and he’s been doing it long time. Let me try it out.
So I let him you know, pick the lead and he would take me down some trails and then we’d back up and then we go down as a trail again. On the last song of the album, “Give me the night” I was on my way home. He called me at the hotel. He said, George, you can’t leave. I said, what do you mean I can’t leave? He said, man, we got one more song. I said we’ve been in the studio a whole month, every day for a month. The album is finished, and he said, no – he said. I think you love this song. I said, I tell you what. I’m going to do this one more day.
So I went to the studio and we recorded “Give me the night.” He said, I got all the guys and everything is ready to go. All you can do is show up. So I went to the studio and then I had done several vocals, tried it out, and Quincy was not happy and I didn’t know why. We are going to try one more time, and we tried it and I started messing with the vocal [Benson mimics his own singing in a higher more compressed style].
I was just figuring it out, when I did a few bars and he said George can you do me a whole take like that? I said no. Because I know you Quincy, you may use that. He said, no, I’m not going to use it, I just want to hear it well. When I got home and he sent me the test pressings, I was living in a Hawaii at the time I got the test pressing and I was anxious to hear if he used that vocalization. I hope he didn’t use it, but he did. After hearing it 3 or four times, I accepted it and I got used to it and I said, I know why he did it. He wanted attitude. I put it on and my son, my little boy came over to me, he said, dad, can you play that song that goes “all right tonight”, and he was like, 12 years old. I said, man, this one was going to be a hit.
On Working With Miles Davis
Well, it took two days before Miles came to play the trumpet. He came in his studio the first day. Played about three notes. Packed his horn back up in the case and he took off without saying a word, so that session was over. The second day he came back and did the same thing again, took the horn out, played a few notes in the microphone. Put his horn back in the case and took off. So the next day I say, well, you don’t need me going to the studio. He’s gonna walk out again.
He called me and said, George, you come to the studio today. You know, but he did his voice [Benson mimics Miles Davis raspy voice] You’re going to come to the studio every day and that. I said, you know miles, I can’t keep taking your money like that. He’s said no, we are gonna make a record man, don’t worry about it[again mimicking Davis]. You know, the way he talked you don’t?
And so I went to the studio and short enough, we ended up making a record. I didn’t know what to play. I just played a little bit, the first thing that came to my mind. But one thing I realized about him. He did not allow anybody in that band to shape your approach to the music and I never opened my mouth around him. I was always afraid there was going to be a backlash and he was a boxer too, I said he’s not going to get mad at me in here.
I was very disciplined when I was around him, but there’s something about him you liked even with all of that craziness that he did, you liked him. And I could never understand why, I just liked Miles. First of all, I guess I like this honesty. He would come out and tell you he didn’t hold anything back, he would tell you when you were doing right, tell you when you doing wrong.
He made me feel very, very proud to be a black musician in the world. He talked about our contribution to the world of music and to the world of jazz and so I liked being around him. I didn’t do all of the drug stuff because that is not me, so I couldn’t hang around him. But I liked whenever we had occasion to get together, he was always amazing and the things he said never escaped me once he said something it was in my mind permanently.
On Working With Tommy LiPuma
Tommy LiPuma, the great producer, he had found the song “This Masquerade, he made me learn it, even though I was reluctant. When we were getting ready to record it and he decided, well, no we’re not going to put a vocal in this album, the instrumentals are going so good. I don’t want it destroy it – But he didn’t tell me that.
When we got ready to do it, I guess he told Al [Al Schmitt was the recording and mixing engineer] just stick a microphone up there. We’re not going to use it anyway. Any old microphone will do. So he got the worst microphone that he could find for music. It was a talk show microphone. And he put that in front of me, you know, thinking – Oh, we’re going to scratch this anyway – and I remember Bobby Womack walked in the studio while we were playing the playback on “This Masquerade” and he said, man, who in the world has a voice like that?
And of course, I was knocked out by that and when I was listening back to the music, everything was so clean or naked is a better word to use right now. I felt they needed some juice on, you know, put some on this stuff, you know, make it sound better. But his whole thing was making it sound natural.
I said Al, I’ve never liked my voice, when I hear my voice back in the studio from a recording, it always sounds like somebody else. He said, well. There’s some things we can do. I said. Like what? And so we knocked the low end off. You know the the very low end I said, you know what, that’s better. And I said. Do that again, he knocks him more off. He knocked a little more off and it got better again. I said, you got any more? He said, no, you’ll sound like Mickey Mouse if I do it again. So, we left it like that and from that point on we could not stop playing that record.
Tommy LiPuma made a great statement and he was right, he said we could be here all day on this and we’ll never get better than it is right now. So let’s do something else.
On A Young Wynton Marsalis
When I met the young Wynton Marsalis, he was 13-years old. He tugged on my coat, “Mr Vincent” . I said yes, he said when I grow up, I will be just like you, that’s what he told me. Next time I saw him he was my same height, just about. He said, you don’t remember me? He was dressed to kill. Hankies, ties and all.
I said, you know son you do look familiar, he said New Orleans – I said in the park, 125,000, B.B. King – yeah, that’s me. So what are you doing in New York? He said, playing with Art Blakey, he was proud. I said playing with Art Blakey, in my mind I said that means he can play. He said, I want to know if I can sit in tonight. We are Seventh Avenue south owned by the Breaker Brothers in New York. I was sitting playing with him and Tom Brown, they had a battle at night and they burnt paint off that place.
That young kid at 17 years old played the crap out of a trumpet and then they started to criticize him because he criticized everything that was in jazz including up myself, because I had all the hit records, I had all the gigs. He said something negative about me. They started getting on him, I said man don’t do that, don’t stop him, Jazz needs a champion and he’s it today. This kid is going to be the champion for jazz and he has been for many years so you don’t know where this stuff is going to go.
On London, And Ronnie Scotts
Well, you remember for many years I was a club act, I played at all the greatest clubs in America. Then I came over here [London] and played the great Ronnie Scott’s club and that was a highlight. Every night, the great John Williams classical guitar player came to see the show. I had Earl Klugh, nobody had ever heard of him before, he was like 19 years old. John McLaughlin, his career was just getting off the ground and I would hang out with Ike Isaacs. Fabulous guitarist and we became friends later on. I went down to Australia and hung out with him, one of the greatest days of my life, I hung out with Ike Isaac
So, London means a lot to me. Ronnie Scott means a LOT to me because of his love for jazz music. He didn’t take no crap, he said – Do you want to talk ? Then go outside. But a lot more about him. He was a knowledgeable of all the musicians and he brought over what he knew would spark to jazz interests of people in the neighborhood from all over Europe they came. He didn’t take no stuff from me either, he said in the next set, play more jazz.
You know, I was trying to find me an audience. I was playing some things mixed with every kind of thing you could think of. Eventually we found an audience for what we do, but he said, make sure he was like, my father. My father was the same way – when you play next time you play, put some more jazz with the music – I said – Dad there is like 5 people in the place, what you worried about?
You know, that’s the thing that those people I played to in those joints and five people, they allowed me the space to experiment and they allowed it because that’s what jazz is improvisational and experimental. So they turned me into whatever it is I am today and they showed me I could take any music and add my jazz experience to it. And it worked for me very well. So when someone says jazz to me they are saying a lot.
On His Style
I never thought that people would really like my solo concept because I don’t play traditionally. I don’t play classical guitar. And I don’t play flamenco, but I like to. Both of them are my favorite styles of guitar and of course, the Dango Reinhart technique, which is the gipsy guitar. I’m getting a chance to dabble in it right now and I’m getting a good response. So I’ve been practicing just a little bit of flamingo and I’m adding the things I learned by listening to classical guitar players to my harmonies and we are coming up with nice things on the album. My own invention was “Danny boy / Londonderry Air” was an experiment and people responded to it very well.
I think overall, especially if you’re a guitar player, you can see the growth in my playing. During those many years of making records as a singer, remember, I started late. I am not going to mention my age, I started very late in my singing career. When I got famous as a singer and walked on the bandstand and stood next to Barbara Streisand after she had announced that the winner of record of the year was George Benson with “This Masquerade”, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I rushed on the bandstand in front of thousands of people in the place and millions watching it on television and I was suddenly a real star. Something I never imagined would happen. After that, we had 26 more smash hits in a row, singles and big selling albums. we sold out over 50 million albums. I think it was 70 million the last time I checked.
So I had a career that I never and it all happened like overnight when I think about my career is like a big sheet stretched out over a wall and you could go to any part of that sheet and a part of my career is there and you could explain from that sheet what was going on in my life. That’s the way my memory is. It doesn’t go wishy washy, you know it’s all intact, it’s like it all happened yesterday. [Ends].
George Benson – Weekend In London (Live)
In July 2019, George Benson again appeared at Ronnie Scott’s club, some 45-years after his first appearance there. A Live double album as we as a CD was released from the performance in 2020. He is the streaming version, choose your platform.