George Benson

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

George Benson Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


A3 Pencil Print-Price £45.00-Purchase

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*Limited edition run of 250 prints only*

All Pencil Prints are printed on the finest Bockingford Somerset Velvet 255 gsm paper.

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Last Update : 8/12/13

I was following George Benson’s career and buying his records long before he became a ‘lounge cocktail smoothie,’ with a vocal style sufficiently intimate to attract a strong female following. As a guitarist myself, his fluid, beautifully melodic guitar playing had drawn comparisons to the great Wes Montgomery, prompting me to purchase his 1972 album ‘White Rabbit,’ a record that illustrated his jazz sensibilities to full effect. Then suddenly, he opened his mouth to sing.

‘Breezin,’ his 1976 debut for Warner Bros Records took many by surprise. Who knew the brother could blow like that? Falling somewhere between Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, George’s vocal style was as mellifluous as his guitar. The album’s smash single, “This Masquerade,” introduced to pop audiences that scat-guitar thing he does that pushes his music into the stratosphere. More than 3 million people bought Breezin, and “This Masquerade” won the Grammy for record of the year. George Benson, the handsome down-to-earth guitarist from Pittsburgh, was now a pop star.

The following year, my father came home from a day on the road raving about a cover version he had heard of ‘Nature Boy,’ the 1948 Nat King Cole classic Capitol recording. ‘Who’s recorded it?’ I enquired, but unfortunately he hadn’t caught the name. Remember, in the pre internet era, readily accessible information was nigh impossible to obtain. By the time I did find out, the album was already six months old, but it was soon on my turntable.

Not wishing to lose any momentum, Warner Bros. had released ‘In Flight’ on February 4 1977. The album followed the recipe of ‘Breezin,’ with an even mix of vocals and instrumentals. The illustrious Tommy LiPuma, who oversaw the previous album, returned to the producer’s seat, whilst Claus Ogerman (a stalwart from the second Sinatra-Jobim collaboration in 1969), once again handled the orchestrations, string arrangements that swelled behind and cascaded over muscular rhythm tracks. George was surrounded by top-shelf musicians – guitarist Phil Upchurch, drummer Harvey Mason, keyboardist Ronnie Foster – all stars of jazz-funk fusion.

‘In Flight’ adhered to the sophisticated pop-soul formula of ‘Breezin,’ but there was more of a dance pulse in the arrangements, perhaps a nod to the burgeoning disco scene. But the music was still mostly subdued, awash with lush strings and warmly mixed and engineered by the great Al Schmitt. The album is ingratiating and relaxed without ever becoming aural wallpaper, all thanks to George’s majestic vocals and guitar.

Side 1 opens with the atmospheric reading of ‘Nature Boy,’ the sonic reverberations around the house prompting my father to rush excitedly upstairs to complement me on my vinyl acquisition. This reading of Eden Ahbez’s composition receives a small injection of funk, punctuated by palpitating percussion and chugging mini-moog lines. The strings are haunting, soaring intermittently for maximum contrast and tonal texturing. Top and tailing it all is Benson’s theatrical vocal – a masterful recording.

The funk suggested on “Nature Boy” ramps up anoother notch on ‘The Wind and I,’ as George takes engaging melodic twists and turns throughout. Side 1 closes with “The World Is a Ghetto,” a remake of the War classic. Where the original was dramatic and moderately paced, George gives his version an almost buoyant rhythm. It stretches more than 9 minutes, with Benson’s vocals delayed until midway through the proceedings. Given the song’s length and danceability, this cut surely was aimed at the clubs yet I never heard played in England.

“Gonna Love You More,” a vocal rewite of ‘Breezin’ opens Side 2 before Benson fires off some cool licks on “Valdez in the Country,” a Donny Hathaway original, complete with a California makeover. Airy and sunny, it’s pure Hollywood and reflective of its geographical origin. Closing with the sensitive soul standard “Everything Must Change” Benson croons with a melisma reminiscent of early Stevie Wonder.

Sadly ‘In Flight’ didn’t alter George’s status as a well kept secret amongst my college friends – there were no big hits, but it continued Benson’s hot streak as a jazz pop vocalist. Sporting an attractive star cover shot, our man all laid back and casual in an orange fitted shirt and white slacks, the album went platinum. Later in the year, he hit the road with the ultimately tragic Minnie Riperton on a successful tour, and subsequently would become an even bigger star, with more platinum albums and a matinee idol nose job. My drawing of him dates from the late 70’s and his album ‘In Flight’, a moment in time when his star-making formula had just lifted off with a fresh pair of wings. This is how he looked when he could storm the charts with vocal offerings without offending jazz guitar purists. Hollywood might also have beckoned, for he bore a remarkable resemblance to the the American football player turned actor Carl Weathers, who would become an internationally known star in the ‘Rocky’ film series.

Amid all of his success, Benson’s life has been hit by personal tragedy. He and his wife have lost three of their seven sons, one to kidney failure, one to crib death, and one to gunshot injuries stemming from a bar fight.

Recommended listening

Breezin' (1976)

In Flight (1977)

Give me the night (1980)

George Benson - Guitarman (2011)

Benson’s second offering for Concord and a long overdue but extremely welcome return to his jazz instrumental sensibilities. Whilst his vocals remain as smooth and silky as ever, happy am I to report that gliding effortlessly through eight instrumentals, the combination of Benson’s Ibanez and languid virtuosity is still capable of organically breathing fresh life into standards.

‘Tenderly’ and ‘Danny Boy’ are sublime solo readings that open the disc, whilst the lush, balladic, string-laden arrangement of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, harks back to his 1970 reinvigoration of the band’s ‘Abbey Road’ album for A & M records. Other highlights include the contemporary yet digified reading of John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’, which is simply gorgeous.

Eschewing strings, Benson’s soulful treatment of the Buddy Johnson nugget “Since I Fell for You,” with his voice and guitar accompanied only by Garfield’s piano, is pure minimalism and all the more resonant for it.

There’s a sense of focus to Benson’s interpretative skills these days – long may it continue.


George Benson - The Official Website