George Benson: From Chitlins to Chateaubriand to Caviar


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AAJ: I was going to say from Chitlins to Chateaubriand to Caviar. You moved on to Blue Note in a sense, working with Lou Donaldson.

GB: That was really great. After we got a reputation [with Jack McDuff], it seemed like every record I was on, we got a lot of airplay. Lou Donaldson got wind to that and plus he wanted Lonnie Smith---Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ. So we went into the studio with Lou and recorded that exciting Alligator Boogaloo, which was an off-the-cuff kind of thing. Lou made the stuff up in the studio. But Lou was a natural, a jazzman from his heart, had a lot of blues he was playing and he knew how to swing. And me and Lonnie specialized in swing. So that made a great combination and it put us on the map around New York and around the country. People didn't know who we were until that record, and then they started to pay attention.

AAJ: You then went to CTI and Creed Taylor, working with a house band including Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Garnett Brown, Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Deodato. That experience..?

GB: The stint with Creed Taylor's CTI label was a tour de force with White Rabbit (CTI, 1969) and The Other Side of Abbey Road (A&M, 1969), and performing as house guitarist on several successful albums with Hubert Laws, Garnett Brown, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson. Actually, Creed Taylor produced them for A&M Records, but he started using his logo.

That was one of the problems they [A&M] had with Creed. They didn't want him to use his logo; something like that..He started his own record company and we ended up doing White Rabbit, which was really his label; and I had all those great people on my record. And so it was an amazing house [band] we had, and on the road too.

AAJ: So you then went to CTI working with a tremendous house band.

GB: We took that band on the road. The CTI Summer Jazz Festival—or Summer Jazz Tour— and man, every place we played was packed to the brim with people; and I had not experienced that before; that put us on another plane. The only thing that was missing from my career was a hit record. I mean a big one. We had small hits---White Rabbit and a couple of others. And then we ended up with the last record I made for them. Actually, the last one I made for them was Good King Bad (CTI, 1975). Before that, the one that got Warner Bros. interested in me was called Bad Benson (CTI, 1974).

Then Phil Upchurch came into the picture. I went on to Columbia and A&M and did some things, and did some singing on The Other Side of Abbey Road and "Old Devil Moon on Benson & Farrell (CTI, 1976), with Joe Farrell.

AAJ: A transition went from CTI To Warner Bros., and someone presented Leon Russell's "This Masquerade to you. What kind of experience was that?

GB: Tommy LiPuma sent me that song. I hadn't heard of him before and I had never heard that song. I called my sister and asked her about it. She said, "You haven't heard it? It's beautiful. So it was Tommy LiPuma who sent me that song. I was getting ready to work with him. I had selected him as my producer at Warners because he had said something to me when I first met him. He said, "I heard you sing five years ago and I cannot understand why they are not using your voice on records.

When he said that, I told my manager, "That's the guy I want to produce my albums. My first record for Warners.' And that's how that happened. He started sending material and he sent me "This Masquerade. I didn't pay much attention to it; it was a nice song, but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it. Then he called me and asked me "How do you like that song? I said, Which song? He said, "You know the song, "This Masquerade. I said, "I got to find it, 'cause I put it in a bin somewhere.

So, he sent me another copy and I checked it out. While I was listening to it, Jorge Dalto, who was my keyboard player, knocked on the door at my house, and he and his wife came in and she said, "Oh, my favorite song. That's Leon Russell's song. I said, "How do you know these people and I don't? She said "I'm telling you, that song is bad. I said, "Maybe I better learn this. So I did. I learned it, but at the last minute Tommy LiPuma had a problem because the instrumentals were going along so great on the album [Breezin' (Warner Bros., 1976)]. He didn't know if he wanted to put a vocal on the album. I said, "Man, you made me learn this tune let's do it one time. And we did. We did it in one take."

AAJ: Well, the other day at the bar reminded me that it was me [then at KAGB-FM], OJ, and Ahmad Rashad who presented you that gold album for Breezin'. You performed it at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (in Los Angeles) in 1976. And if I'm not mistaken, it was your first gold album.

GB: That's Right.

AAJ: I'm going to wrap it up. I'm gonna say "Breezin' —Gabor Szabo, Bobby Womack [High Contrast (Blue Thumb, 1971)].

GB: Amazing record. To me that record is the epitome of funk. There are many wonderful things there: the acoustic guitar sounds of Bobby and the electric of Gabor. They co-wrote it; and you know nobody got rhythm like Bobby Womack. That brother can bleed out some rhythm...

AAJ: My home boy from Cleveland.

GB: That cat is awesome. So anyway I asked for him to come into the studio and add something else to the record that was not on the first one—you know, to make it different; and he came in with "Duo Duo duo duo do duo do duo do. That was not on the original by him and Gabor.

So he brought that into the song, and it made a difference. It became an identifying mark and separated it from all the other versions. It was first done by a group by Sammy Somebody and the Hip Huggers. That's what they were called.

AAJ: I still have the original by Bobby and Gabor.

GB: Wait till you find the one by the Hip Huggers. It was bigger than that. That's what was not on the first version. Bobby brought that into the song and it made a difference.


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Umbria Jazz Festival
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