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"Life is a school. Especially when you play with the likes of Chat Atkins, Hank Garland. Other guitar players all over the world." - George Benson

Posted: April 22, 2024
George Benson gets back to Americana basics on Walking to New Orleans, the singer-guitarist's tribute to both piano-pounding Crescent City hit machine Fats Domino and the original rock guitar hero and poet, Chuck Berry. "I'm a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys," the 10-time Grammy winner says of his double-barreled tribute. "They were fantastic. Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit."
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Photo credit: Carlos Hyde

A life of trust, loyalty, and dependability”. Separate yourself from others with traits that define you.

Excellent character traits often define each of us. Whether they are good or bad, your character will define you for a lifetime. If you continue down a particular path of bad character traits, it can damage your “credibility”. Even if you decide to change, your previous actions are unforgettable. Honestly, it takes a while for someone to see you differently. We have all been there at some point in our life. We may have been young and stupid, or just oblivious of how people view us. Though, there does exist individuals that just “get it”. They get the importance of having an excellent character from an early age onward. Traits as being warm, friendly, clean, honest, loyal, and dependable will help distinguish you from others. Especially for those that look to stand out from the competition.

In a market that is flooded by competing artists, it is imperative that you allow character to define who you are. If you are going to cast a shadow of talent, then your character should mean everything to you. The word character is defined by the Webster – Merriam dictionary as one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. If you created a poll and asked people to define the word character, you would probably get many incorrect answers. Such as, “character” is a person’s nationality, or ethnicity. It is their culture or upbringing. Well, in a way, they aren’t completely wrong. Just misguided or misinformed. Nationality or ethnicity can define your upbringing, but it will not give you character. Character makes you different than everyone else. It sets you apart. In many ways, it gives you the advantage over others.

Individuals with good character traits inspire others to do great things. Artists in the music industry, often can create change in others by their fine example. For instance, George Benson is one of them. He is successful and has inspired other artists to focus and to never waiver, especially when times seem bleak.

ABOUT GRAMMY AWARD WINNER GEORGE BENSON

On November 13th, GRAMMY-winning jazz icon George Benson will release ‘Weekend In London,’ an electrifying new live album capturing his 2019 performance at London’s intimate 250-seat Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Only a handful of lucky fans were present as the lights went down that magical night in 2019. But now, Kevin Shirley’s dynamic production is your invitation to slide onto Ronnie Scott’s red velvet banquette, call for a scotch on the rocks and catch the sparks as Benson’s honeyed vocal and fluid licks drive the finest live outfit in modern jazz.

“We captured a lot of the atmosphere on ‘Weekend In London,’” says Shirley. “It was very crowded, like it always is at Ronnie Scott’s, no matter who’s there. We were almost touching as we were playing, people all up on the bandstand. But I’m always happy to be in those surroundings. A lot of big Benson fans were there – and some of the screaming ladies. It was a fantastic night.”

The 2019 show that became ‘Weekend In London’ was another fabled night to go down in the club’s folklore. This hard-bitten jazzman might prefer spontaneity to setlists, but this latest live album nods to many of his countless career peaks, whether he’s opening with the deathless groove of 1980’s US #4 smash “Give Me The Night,” revisiting fan favorites like “Love X Love” and “In Your Eyes,” or breathing fresh mojo into classic covers like Dave Bartholomew’s “I Hear You Knocking” and Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto.” “We don’t plan the show out in advance,” explains Benson. “But we know there’s things we gotta play, and if you leave too many out, you’re in for a troubled night. We know what people have come to hear. So, I’ve got half the battle won.”

For jazz fans, of course, part of the appeal lies in the improvisation – and ‘Weekend In London’ furthers Benson’s reputation as the best in the business. “Basically, the whole show is improvised except the melody itself and the ensemble playing,” he explains. “We play the arrangements, to remind the audience what song they’re listening to, but then we can go crazy and do all the improvisation.”

 As an all-time icon and Grammy-winning giant of jazz, we have grown used to seeing George Benson on the stages that befit his sky-high status. During a six-decade career marked by awards, acclaim and Billboard-topping output, the Pittsburgh, Hill District-born veteran has earned his place in both the history books and the biggest venues around the world. So, it’s a rare treat – and a whole different thrill – to find this megastar going nose-to-nose with the breathless 250-capacity crowd at London’s most prestigious bolthole. “I like that kind of intimacy,” says Benson. “I can feel the love when it’s up close and personal.”

George Benson gets back to Americana basics on Walking to New Orleans, the singer-guitarist's tribute to both piano-pounding Crescent City hit machine Fats Domino and the original rock guitar hero and poet, Chuck Berry. "I'm a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys," the 10-time Grammy winner says of his double-barreled tribute. "They were fantastic. Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit."

Walking to New Orleans is the pop-jazz-R&B legend's first recording since 2013's Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole, but it couldn’t be more different. Where Benson embellished Cole's cool tunes with lush orchestral arrangements, Walking to New Orleans came about by hunkering down in Ocean Way Studios, a century-old Gothic-revival stone church located on Music Row, with a quartet of first-call Nashville cats.

Walking to New Orleans toggles between tracks written and/or recorded by Berry and Domino as though Benson were moderating a musical conversation between Missouri and Louisiana. It kicks off with a rock-solid rendition of Berry's 1964 post-incarceration story song "Nadine (Is It You?)," which Benson makes his own by scatting in unison with his guitar solo. Then a horn section pumps up Fats's 1951 R&B hit "Rockin' Chair" and his first R&B-pop crossover smash, "Ain't That a Shame," from 1955, with Benson's guitar standing in swingingly for the originals' sax solos.

The Chuck Berry songbook is also represented on Walking to New Orleans by the good-timey "You Can't Catch Me," the sinuous "Havana Moon," the rollicking "Memphis, Tennessee," and the bluesy "How You've Changed." Fats Domino weighs in with the rollicking "I Hear You Knocking," "Blue Monday," and the album's iconic title track.

Chuck Berry was already a standout star in the mid-'50s when Benson was still playing R&B in and around his Pittsburgh hometown. While Benson never committed himself to rock 'n' roll, he could sense the guitar emerging as the most popular instrument in the world and had no qualms about giving the people what they wanted. "It was hard to compete with the jukebox when you had a local gig in those days, so you might as well go along with it," Benson says with a chuckle. "And if you added a little showmanship, you really had 'em," he adds, admitting that he's indulged in some onstage Berry-style duck walking himself over the years.

 Benson also regards Berry, with whom he shared bills in Europe, as a significant guitar innovator. "When he couldn't afford a big amplifier, he had a little old tiny amplifier with built-in distortion when he turned it up loud. So, he was one of the earlier inventors of that 'fuzz' sound."

INTERVIEW GRAMMY AWARD WINNER GEORGE BENSON AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Guitar Thrills: Hello is Mr. Benson. Thank you for taking the time to interview with Guitar Thrills Magazine. We really appreciate your efforts as an artist. Can you tell us how you got started, and what specific impact you have had on others?

George: I loved music since I was a little boy. I would sing all the time. It was part of my childhood. I inherited it from my mother. Mother was a bible person and enjoyed reading the scriptures. My father enjoyed playing guitar and purchased me a Ukulele when I was 7. All I knew at the time was just 3 chords. Who knew those 3 chords would have catapulted me into a life of extraordinary performances. Not everyone was excited that I started singing since I could play the guitar well. However, others desired me to pursue a life of doing both. Which is what I ended up doing.

Guitar Thrills: That is excellent. You have a very natural demeanor, and your voice is impeccable. Were you always talented and when did you discover that you were going to an artist?

George: Since I was 19. I attended stage shows and would receive offers from others to hear me sing. I played in night clubs. Until I had my first breakthrough. At the age of 21, he recorded his first album as leader, The New Boss Guitar, featuring McDuff.  My next recording was It's Uptown with the George Benson Quartet, including Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone.

Guitar Thrills: There is a lot of competition in the music industry. However, competition has always been a driving force for me to exceed expectations. What inspires you to be your best as an artist? How do you plan on overcoming the challenges to standout from others.

George:  Life is a school. Especially when you play with the likes of Chat Atkins, Hank Garland. Other guitar players all over the world. There is always something new to learn. So many variations of guitar playing. To some degree, it came be difficult to keep up with all the new styles. However, I do my best to give my fans all that I have learned. I have played with some of the best artists, and it has helped me to become who I am today.

Guitar Thrills: I mentioned early in this topic, that character is important. It is a defining factor in separating yourself from the rest. How do you feel about the value of good character? Also, what do you think is your best character traits?

George: Character means everything. An artist must be genuine. They must play for the right reason. The rest will come. Play because you love to play. If you do, there won’t be any disappointments. Not everyone can become a big star. I never thought I would become anything. I was just a boy that loved playing guitar and singing.

Guitar Thrills: Excellent traits for sure. What are you accomplishing now as an artist, that you could have only dreamed about early on in your career?

George: Music success. A loving family that I can continue to take care of. The top performing albums and high demand for my music, it was something that I never could imagine would happen.

Guitar Thrills: Who have you performed with that you never thought was possible?

George: Myles Davis, Chet Adkins, Hank Garland, and Quincy Jones. The list seems unending.

Guitar Thrills: Tell us about the song “Give me the night”. Did you know it was going to be a smash it before it was released to the world?

George: It was written and composed by Heatwave's keyboard player Rod Temperton and produced by Quincy Jones. At first, I didn’t want to sing it. Then Quincy Jones turns to me and said, “yes you are”. From the moment it was released it was a hit.

Guitar Thrills: You have already achieved things that take other artists years to accomplish.  With all your accomplishments, why do you continue performing and releasing music?

George: I must continue to do what brings me joy in life. God, Family, Music, there are priorities in my life. They bring me unending joy.

Guitar Thrills: Your sound is unique. I wouldn’t change a thing. However, have you ever thought about a different genre?

George: There are plenty of genres today. Some that were not around when I first started. The late Glen Campbell was known for his un-traditional country sound. Many have led the way with their new styles and sound. I am content with the genre I am blessed to perform all around the world.

Guitar Thrills: It is well-known that you perform with the Ibanez brand of guitars. Why Ibanez?

George: I collaborated with Ibanez. In fact, Ibanez George Benson guitars are the result of a skillful team (under my direction) use the finest woods and components to create instruments with durability. They have a smooth sound that produce gritty blues growls. The Ibanez model that I endorse is a work of art.

Guitar Thrills: What are your next steps as an artist? Do you have an upcoming release or album that you are working on?

George: I continue to tour and working towards a location near you. Check out the tour location and dates at https://www.georgebenson.com/tour-dates/ I look forward to performing live.

Guitar Thrills: Besides music, is there anything else in your life that carries as much weight?

George: My faith, family, and the close bond between friends. It is an amazing connection that is overlooked by some and received with gratitude by others.

Guitar Thrills: You are a very talented artist. Your character is impeccable. We only hope that all of those reading it will take to heart, the importance of having excellent character. I know you are setting the example and have done so for many years. Thank you for taking the time to interview with Guitar Thrills Magazine.

George: Thank you. Give my love to the friends.

Guitar Thrills: We look forward to speaking to you again in the future and will keep tabs on your continued success as an artist. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions today.




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