COOLEST OF CATS
Photo courtesy Nicoletta Pavarotti and Family
Jazz legend George Benson talks about his upcoming
signature Fender amp, dissects his incredible picking technique,
and explains the thought process behind Guitar Man—
his long-awaited return to ripping 6-string work.
BY JOE CHARUPAKORN
George Benson’s velvet-voiced crooning has afforded him commercial success of the sort that’s virtually unheard of for a guy who is, at heart, a guitar virtuoso. If you
only know Benson from hits like “This Masquerade” or “On
Broadway”—which are often heard with the guitar solos truncated
to fit a radio-friendly format—or if you thought he was just a
smooth singer who liked to hold a guitar as an accessory, you
might not be aware of his prowess on the guitar. In which case,
you may be surprised to know that he’s a jazz guitar phenom of
the highest order.
Benson’s latest release, the 12-song Guitar Man, showcases more
6-string slinging than many of his previous releases. “That title
was a way to let people know there would be more guitar on this
record than they’ve been hearing in the recent past,” says Benson.
Among the album’s highlights are tributes to two of the jazz icon’s
guitar idols. “Tequila” tips the hat to Wes Montgomery, while “I
Want to Hold Your Hand” is a nod to Grant Green rather than the
Beatles. But though Guitar Man features plenty of guitar, it’s not
quite as over-the-top as the pyrotechnic-laden classics from 1974’s
Bad Benson. This latest effort is more refined and has about just as
much guitar as a successful commercial album would allow, as evidenced by the fact that Guitar Man reached No. 1 on the Billboard
jazz charts a few weeks after its release.
We caught up with the smooth operator to discuss the new
album, his gear, and his unique picking technique—which has long
been a hot topic among the hordes of Benson wannabes.