What I’ve Been Listening To: George Benson/Walking To New Orleans

The other day, I found myself looking at the Billboard Blues Chart, something I rarely do. That’s when I spotted Walking To New Orleans, the latest album by George Benson. While I had known the jazz guitarist had crossed over to other genres like pop, funk and R&B, I had not associated him with the blues. Intrigued by my “discovery,” I looked up the album in my music streaming service and started listening – boy, what a fun and groovy record, which celebrates the music of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry!

Before getting to the album, I’d like to give a bit of background on Benson, who was born in Pittsburgh on March 22, 1943. He started out playing the ukulele as a seven-year-old before he picked up the guitar a year later. At the age of 10, Benson recorded his first single She Makes Me Mad, which appeared on RCA-Victor under the name of Little Georgie. His debut album The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, recorded together with The Brother Jack McDuff Quartet, was released in 1964 when he was 21.

George Benson

In the mid-60s, Benson worked with Miles Davis and appeared as a guest on Davis’ July 1968 studio album Miles In The Sky. Until the mid-70s, Benson recorded a series of albums mainly in the jazz domain. The release of Breezin’ in May 1976 marked his breakthrough into pop and biggest success topping the Billboard 200. Another big mainstream success was Give Me The Night, which appeared in August 1980 and peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard 200. I believe this Quincy Jones-produced record was my introduction to Benson. He has since released numerous additional studio, live and compilation albums.

Walking To New Orleans, which came out last month, is Benson’s 45th album and his first new recording since Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole from June 2013. “I’m a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys,” Benson explained. “Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit.” With that said, let’s get to some music!

The Chuck Berry tune Nadine (It’s You) makes for a great opener. Berry released it as a single in February 1964. I dig the honky tonk piano and the horns, which like on many other tracks on the album give the song a great groove.

Rockin’ Chair is one of the five Fats Domino songs on the record. Co-written by Domino and Alvin E Young, it appeared as a single in 1951 – another great tune that makes you want to move and snip your fingers.

Next up: Chuck Berry classic You Can’t Catch Me. Written by Berry, the tune appeared as a single in 1956. It was also included on Rock! Rock! Rock!, a soundtrack album for a motion picture of the same name.

The last track I like to highlight is the album’s great title song, another Fats Domino tune. Written by Bobby Charles, Domino released it in June 1960 as a single. Featuring Domino’s signature rock & roll piano style, the song also appeared on his album …A Lot Of Dominos! that came out the same year.

The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Kevin Shirley, a.k.a. “The Caveman.” Shirley has worked with many artists, such as Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Rush and Led Zeppelin. Backing up Benson is a quartet of excellent Nashville musicians, including Greg Morrow (drums, music director), Rob McNelley (guitar), Kevin McKendree (piano) and Alison Prestwood (bass).

“We did have us a ball making this record,” Benson summed up. It’s exactly that sentiment that is evident throughout the album and makes it such a fun listening experience. I think it may also encourage me to pay closer attention to the Billboard Blues Chart going forward.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, George Benson website, YouTube

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7 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Listening To: George Benson/Walking To New Orleans”

  1. Huh! Wow, George Benson. I’d almost forgotten about him. This is the last type of thing I expected to hear from him. I figured he’d smoothed off the rough edges a long time ago. He’s rockin’. Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Huh!’ was my initial reaction as well when I saw Benson listed on the Billboard Blues Chart. 😀

      That’s why I checked out the album right away. While as a covers album it doesn’t really present anything new, I think there is so much joy that comes across when you listen to these tracks – you can literally hear these guys had a lot of fun recording these cuts.

      While it’s obvious Benson is jazz guitarist at heart, I think his guitar-playing works really well, even though it’s a lot more polished than Chuck Berry.

      Like

  2. Absolutely fantastic Christian. I never would have looked for this. I go way back with GB. I lost track when he went pop but his early jazz records are part of my music history. I’ve been pulling them out lately but I guess I have some new stuff to listen to. This sounds great. Nothing new other than a very good musician paying tribute to a couple of pioneers and not just going through the motions. Good choice George. Thanks for the reveal on this. Onto my spin cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it just great? George Benson and the blues – who knew?

      Perhaps not surprisingly, he is approaching it with jazz style playing that’s much more polished than Chuck Berry’s often rather crude style. I actually think that’s part of its charm!

      BTW, I just posted on another fantastic new blues covers record I think you’d dig as well: “Baby, Please Come Home” by Jimmie Vaughan. He may not be as famous as his younger brother and his style is very different – but man, what a great guitarist and what a fun record!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I I watched a documentary on the Pittsburgh jazz scene. Amazing how many of the jazz guys I like came from there. I’ll be getting to a George album in the future. I listened to him to much not to do a take.
        I’ll check out that Jimmie take plus the music right away. I knew about him ( Fabulous Thunderbirds) way before I was turned onto his brother. Your digging up some real gems Christian. Right up my alley with this stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

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