22 March 1943, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. This guitarist and singer successfully planted his feet in both the modern jazz and easy-listening pop camps in the mid-70s when jazz pop as well as jazz rock became a most lucrative proposition. Before a move to New York in 1963, he had played in various R&B outfits local to Pittsburgh, including the Altairs and the Four Counts, and recorded a single, It Should Have Been Me. By 1965, Benson was an established jazz guitarist, having worked with Brother Jack McDuff, Herbie Hancock - and, crucially, Wes Montgomery, whose repertoire was drawn largely from pop, light classical and other non-jazz sources. When Montgomery died in 1969, critics predicted that Benson - contracted to Columbia Records in 1966 - would be his stylistic successor.
Further testament to Bensons prestige was the presence of Hancock, Earl Klugh, Miles Davis, Joe Farrell and other jazz musicians on his early albums. Four of these were produced by Creed Taylor, who signed Benson to his own CTI label in 1971. Benson was impressing audiences in concert with extrapolations of songs such as California Dreamin, Come Together and, digging deeper into mainstream pop, Cry Me A River and Unchained Melody. From Beyond The Blue Horizon, an arrangement of Jefferson Airplanes White Rabbit was a turntable hit, and chart success seemed inevitable - especially as he was now recording a majority of vocal items. After Bad Benson reached the US album lists and, via disco floors, the title song of Supership cracked European charts, he was well placed to negotiate a favourable contract with Warner Brothers Records, who immediately reaped a Grammy-winning harvest with 1976s Breezin (and its memorable This Masquerade). As a result, companies with rights to the prolific Bensons earlier product cashed in, with reissues such as The Other Side Of Abbey Road, a track-for-track interpretation of the entire Beatles album.
Profit from film themes such as The Greatest Love Of All (from the Muhammed Ali biopic The Greatest), the million-selling Give Me The Night and the television-advertised The Love Songs have allowed Benson to indulge artistic whims, including a nod to his jazz roots via 1987s excellent Collaboration with Earl Klugh, and a more commercial merger with Aretha Franklin on Love All The Hurt Away. Moreover, a fondness for pop standards has also proved marketable, epitomized by revivals of On Broadway - a US Top 10 single from 1978s Weekend In LA - and Bobby Darins Beyond The Sea (La Mer). Like Darin, Benson also found success with Nat King Coles Nature Boy (a single from In Flight) - and a lesser hit with Coles Tenderly in 1989, another balance of sophistication, hard-bought professionalism and intelligent response to chart climate. In 1990, he staged a full-length collaboration with the Count Basie Orchestra, accompanied by a sell-out UK tour. In the mid-90s Benson moved to the GRP Records label, debuting with the excellent Thats Right. The follow-up Standing Together was a disappointing contemporary R&B collection, and Benson wisely returned to instrumentals on Absolute Benson. Benson is one of a handful of artists who have achieved major critical and commercial success in different genres, and this pedigree makes him one of the most respected performers of the past 40 years.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.