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George Benson "Benson Burner"

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When guitarist George Benson's Warner Bros. debut Breezin' was issued in March 1976, it immediately became a hit; indeed one of the largest hits jazz has ever known. Guided by the successful hit single “This Masquerade" (Leon Russell's 1972 original, previously covered by Helen Reddy and The Carpenters), Breezin' went on to win three Grammy awards and become a triple platinum success, an unprecedented feat in jazz and one that was bettered by very few in the pop-music world at the time.

Any label that ever had anything whatsoever to do with Benson prior to Breezin' scrambled to get out something with the guitarist's name on it in order to capitalize on the newfound and rather unbelievable fame George Benson immediately acquired in 1976.

One of these releases was Columbia's double-album compilation, cleverly titled Benson Burner, released in December 1976, with an asking price of $4.98 (a bargain in those days, especially for a double album) and featuring over 100 minutes of little-known music and, in a lot of cases, previously unissued music.

The guitarist had launched his solo career—under the guidance of legendary impresario John Hammond—at Columbia Records in 1966, often recording with his own group at the time, which included Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Even though Benson had long been a practicing jazz pro, and had even recorded his own solo album in 1964 under the auspices of then boss Jack McDuff, the Columbia sides represent the guitarist's first forays into his own thing.

At the time, The George Benson Quartet issued two albums, It's Uptown (1966) and The George Benson Cookbook (1967), both of which have seen repeated issues on CD. Benson's organist, Lonnie Smith, now known as Dr. Lonnie Smith, also had his debut album released by the label, Finger-Lickin' Good Soul organ (1967, not yet issued on CD) with pretty much the same line-up that featured on Benson's Columbia records.

Surprisingly, Benson Burner has found its way onto CD by the always reliable reissue Gods at Wounded Bird in a two-disc set that is more remarkable than an initial glance might suggest. While Wounded Bird has previously reissued LP compilations like this that may make you wonder why they'd bother, it's usually because they know something about the compilation that is particularly special.

Such is the case with Benson Burner. There is not much detail included on the original Benson Burner—nor do many discographies accurately reflect the treasure trove of music that's included here. But while there are a few retreads of music available on other George Benson albums, there is much here that is only available here.

This disc requires a discography, which I will attempt to provide here. I owe many thanks to Didier Deutsch, who helped me collect all this information many years ago for my Lonnie Smith discography.

But it's worth noting all the valuable music you can hear on Benson Burner that is either known under a different name or can't be got elsewhere. Indications of “sessions" below mean the song was not previously issued. Check it out:

New York City: August 1, 1966 Bennie Green, All Hall (tb); Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Billy Kaye (d); Lenny Sced (cga).

1. Bayou (aka Ready And Able) (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

New York City: February 9, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

2. Hammond's Bossa Nova (aka J.H. Bossa Nova) (from the IT'S UPTOWN sessions) 3. Willow Weep For Me (from IT'S UPTOWN)

New York City: May 23, 1967 King Curtis (ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (p); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

4. Clabber Biscuits (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions) 5. Chicken Giblets (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: November 22, 1966 Blue Mitchell (tp); King Curtis (el-ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson, Melvin Sparks (g); Charlie Persip (d).

6. Mama Wailer (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: November 22, 1966 Blue Mitchell (tp); King Curtis (el-ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Marion Booker (d).

7. Goodnight (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions) 8. The Man From Toledo (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: November 22, 1966 Blue Mitchell (tp); King Curtis (el-ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson, Melvin Sparks (g); Charlie Persip (d).

9. My Babe (from FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN)

New York City: May 27, 1966 Richard “Blue" Mitchell (tp); Harold Ousley (ts); Howard Johnson (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); Al Michelle (g); Charlie Persip (d).

10. Minor Truth (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: September 6, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

11. Slow Scene (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions) 12. Flamingo (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: January 10, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Ray Lucas (d).

13. Redwood City (from the IT'S UPTOWN sessions)

New York City: October 19, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Marion Booker (d).

14. The Cooker (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

Same, add King Curtis (ts).

15. The Return Of The Prodigal Son (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

New York City: August 1, 1966 Bennie Green, All Hall (tb); Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Billy Kaye (d); Lenny Sced (cga).

16. Push Push (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: October 19, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Marion Booker (d).

17. Benson's Rider (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

New York City: May 23, 1967 King Curtis (ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); unknown (hca); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

18. Doin' The Thing (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: May 27, 1966 Richard “Blue" Mitchell (tp); Harold Ousley (ts); Howard Johnson (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); Al Michelle (g); Charlie Persip (d).

19. Bright Eyes (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: February 9, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

20. Myna Bird Blues (from IT'S UPTOWN)

New York City: May 27, 1966 Richard “Blue" Mitchell (tp); Harold Ousley (ts); Howard Johnson (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); Al Michelle (g); Charlie Persip (d).

21. What Do You Think? (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions) 22. Keep Talkin' (from FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN)

New York City: January 10, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Ray Lucas (d).

23. Peg-Leg Jack (from the IT'S UPTOWN sessions) 24. Jaguar (from IT'S UPTOWN)

New York City: March 15, 1966 Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g, vcl); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

25. Hello Birdie (from IT'S UPTOWN)

Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g, vcl); Ray Lucas (d).

26. Ain't That Peculiar (from IT'S UPTOWN) 27. Forevermore (aka Eternally) (from IT'S UPTOWN)

In my humble opinion, much of the music of Benson Burner bests the otherwise officially issued Benson sets from the 1960s. It's worth every penny—until a complete set of all these sessions comes out in some fashion or form.

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This story appears courtesy of Sound Insights by Doug Payne.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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