I'm Still Breezin' George Benson Was the Guitarist Who Took Instrumental Jazz to the Top of the Pop Charts and Then Became an R'n'B Star. the Money Rolled in but the Jazz Community Shunned Him - until Now. GAVIN ALLEN Meets a Musician Headed Back to the Top. CRADIFF WHATS ON Brought to You by WalesOnline.Co.UK Echolive

Article excerpt

Byline: GAVIN ALLEN

GEORGE BENSON

BORN: March 22, 1943, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

BIGGEST HITS: Breezin' (1976), This Masquerade (1976), Give Me The Night (1980), Lady Love Me (One More Time) (1983).

FINEST MOMENT: Benson says his finest moment was his 1976 Grammy award: "Standing on a stage with the best artists in America and being named Record Of The Year, that was pretty special."

MUSICAL TRADEMARK: Benson is able to play elaborate guitar lines and scat them with his voice at the same time, making his instruments "talk" simultaneously.

TRIVIA

Benson recorded the original version of Greatest Love of All for the 1977 Muhammad Ali film, The Greatest; the song was later a hit for Whitney Houston.

In 1969 Benson recorded his own version of The Beatles' album Abbey Road, and called it The Other Side Of Abbey Road.

In the '70s Benson was part of psychedelic soul group Harlem Underground Band whose song Smokin' Cheeba Cheeba featured on the hit console game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

WHEN American jazz luminary George Benson was told by his grandfather that he had Welsh blood it wasn't a total surprise to him - because of a conversation he had with a stranger in a sauna many years before.

"I take a lot of saunas because it's good for the voice," says Benson, 65, in his hepcat southern drawl.

"One day I'm sitting in a sauna and this old man sitting next to me hears me singing and says: 'you have a voice like a Welshman'.

"Now the only Welshman I knew was Tom Jones so I says, 'yeah I got a little gravel in my voice like Tom does' and that was that.

"But many years later my grandfather told me I actually did have some Welsh in me."

Benson excuses himself from further details of his Welsh connection by saying family trees hold little interest for him but his story would suit a South Wales boy.

Born in the steel-making industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the tail end of the Second World War, Benson grew up in relative poverty.

He studied electronics and commercial art at Connelly High School but dropped out weeks before graduation after falling out with his teacher.

"I was playing gigs at night and that made me drowsy in class, so he said to me, 'George, it's either school or music'," recalls Benson.

"That was no contest. I didn't go back the following day."

Realising music was going to have to be his living, Benson played everywhere he could and the self-taught teenager came up with a cunning way to get free guitar lessons. …