10 Songs featuring George Benson that You Might Not Have Heard
Jazz and R&B vocalist and guitarist George Benson turns 73 today, and although he’s given you the night, turned your love around, and has been breezin’ through his career since first introducing the world to his New Boss Guitar back in 1964, he’s also contributed to a number of other artists’ records as well. In celebration of his birthday, we thought we’d introduce you to 10 of those tracks.
1. Miles Davis, “Paraphernalia” (1968): By the time he worked with the legendary jazz trumpeter, Benson was already half a decade past his debut as a recording artist, so he’d been around the block a few times, but working with Davis was an experience unto itself. “I didn’t think he was difficult, just a singular kind of guy,” Benson told the Red Bull Music Academy Daily in 2014. “It was hard to figure him out. You never knew what he was going to do next, but you knew it wasn’t going to be ordinary, that’s for sure. He called me up with his froggy voice and invited me to the studio. The first day, nothing happened. The second day he played two notes and left. The third day he came to the studio, I said, ‘Miles, man, I don’t want to take your money if we’re not going to make any records.’ He said, ‘Naw, man, we goin’ to.’ His personality was incredible and he said what he wanted to the producer (Teo Macero); he asked me to join his band, but I turned him down. We later became great friends and would see each other at festivals when we were both travelling around the world doing shows.”
2. Ronnie Foster, “Cheshire Cat” (1975): By the time organist Ronnie Foster signed to Blue Note Records, the famed jazz label was on the decline, but Foster’s material caught more ears than the average Blue Note release of the era, thanks in no small part to Benson serving as his producer. On occasion, Benson would also chip in on the music and vocal side of things, as he did on the title track of Foster’s 1975 album, Cheshire Cat. As Jason Ankeny wrote of the album on AllMusic.com, “While Foster's original compositions boast the harmonic complexity and structural rigorousness of jazz, Benson's production is pure pop, with numbers including ‘Like a Child’ sounding indistinguishable from the commercial soul fare making radio play lists during the mid-'70s.”
3. Stevie Wonder, “Another Star” (1976): Released as a single from Songs in the Key of Life, “Another Star” was a top-40 hit, a top-20 R&B hit, and a top-5 dance hit, but the only way to truly appreciate it is to listen to the full 8-minute, 28-second album version of the song. That’s where you can enjoy both Benson’s lead guitar and his scat vocalizations in all their unedited glory.
4. Harvey Mason, “What’s Going On” (1977): Although he’s probably best known for his session work and his status as a member of Fourplay, Mason has done his time as a solo artist as well, most notably during a five-album run on Arista Records between 1975 and 1981. In the middle of that run lies the brilliantly-named Funk in a Mason Jar, which includes Mason’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” featuring very audible contributions from Benson.
5. Chaka Khan, “We Got The Love” (1978): Chaka Khan might be seen as an R&B artist through and through, but there a number of notable artists from a variety of genres backing her on Chaka, her debut solo album, including Hamish Stewart of the Average White Band, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and alto saxophonist David Sanborn. Benson may not be giving her any guitar on “We Got The Love,” but he does offer his vocals – it’s a duet – and he wrote the song, too, so you can’t say he wasn’t contributing a fair amount to the proceedings.
6. Lalo Schifrin, “Street Tattoo” (1979): Schifrin is best known for writing the theme to Mission: Impossible and scoring a variety of motion pictures, including everything from Cool Hand Luke to Doctor Detroit, so if you’re not familiar with his contributions to the 1979 film Boulevard Nights, we’ll forgive you, because he’s done a ton of scores. That said, you should definitely give at least one of the songs from the film a spin as soon as possible, because Benson really gives it his all on “Street Tattoo.”
7. Minnie Riperton, “You Take My Breath Away” (1980): If you want to talk about breathtaking, then let’s talk about George & Minnie Live!, when Benson and Riperton co-headlined a tour together in 1976 and into 1977. In the midst of the tour, they stopped by to visit Mike Douglas and performed a cover of “Misty” on his show, but they remained close even after they went their separate ways. After Riperton’s death from cancer, Benson performed a five-night run at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in 1979 and donated the funds earned from t-shirts and programs to the Minnie Riperton Cancer Research Fund. This duet was released posthumously, on Riperton’s appropriately-titled Love Lives Forever.
8. Greg Phillinganes, “Girl Talk” (1981): A session musician’s session musician, Phillinganes’s credits cover the gamut, including a stint as Michael Jackson’s musical director, tours with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Toto, and Stevie Wonder, and contributions to songs by Quincy Jones, Donna Summer, Lionel Richie, Neil Diamond, Kenny Loggins, Boz Scaggs, Rod Stewart, and Leo Sayer, among many, many others. On a couple of occasions, though, he’s ventured into doing solo work, including this track from his debut solo album, Significant Gains, featuring Benson on guitar. Given that it appeared between Phillinganes’ work on Off the Wall and Thriller, you’d think that it would’ve earned a certain degree of chart success, but so go the solo careers of session musicians far too often, alas.
9. Ivan Lins, “Juntos” (1984): Lins is one of those artists whose songs you know even if you don’t know you know them, owing to the fact that he’s Brazilian and records the majority of his material in his native tongue, but he’s the man behind “Love Dance,” recorded by Benson on his Give Me The Night album, and his work has also been covered by Sting, Barbra Streisand, Take 6, Ella Fitzgerald, and Michael Buble. Benson turned up on the title cut of Lins’ 1984 album, an effort which also featured a guest appearance by Patti Austin.
10. Lou Rawls, “You Can’t Go Home” (1989): Rawls’ vocals are the textbook definition of smooth, and he’s a pretty cool cat in general, so it’s no surprise that he’d be able to pull a wide variety of guest musicians and vocalists to appear on his albums. For At Last, he had a quartet of tracks which were written by Billy Vera, but the one from that foursome that really stood out was “You Can’t Go Home,” which featured Benson on vocals as well as on guitar.