Today our Off the Road series welcomes back legendary guitarist and vocalist George Benson, joining HPR All Things Considered Host Dave Lawrence remotely from his home in Arizona. He’s the latest guest in our series of interviews with artists sharing their experiences during the pandemic. It’s the first in two days of incredible storytelling and an exclusive musical performance with the one-time Hawaii resident.
George is back with a new album, Weekend in London, recorded last year at the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. A play on the title of his popular 1978 Weekend in L.A. live album, it features George returning to the venue with a wide-ranging set filled with his classics and tasty covers.
During his interview session, George talked about the ways the pandemic has touched him and his band, curtailing their usual touring, and hitting some of the places he regularly plays, like Europe and Australia. We also dug into his connections to some of the music luminaries who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19, including a powerful story of Ellis Marsalis bringing two of his young sons, Wynton and Branford, to see George, and then reconnecting with Wynton years later for an unforgettable jam session in New York, ironically at the club owned by another guest in the series, Randy Brecker.
In his half-hour interview he also explained the significance of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in his career, from his love of the venue, to telling stories about Ronnie himself and some of the big name stars that have played there over the years. George also talks about folks who came to see him in concert there decades ago, like fellow Off the Road guest John McLaughlin. He also provided insight into his unique approach to the 2019 concerts featured on the new album, where he had no setlist, instead keeping his musicians on their toes by spontaneously calling out songs as the concert took place.
But perhaps most touching are the ways that George Benson, a one-time Maui resident, connects with Hawaii. Through stories about his life here and connections to local island heroes like the late Willie K, George shares fun memories and special times, made even more personal by the fact that he brought along a ukulele, his first instrument as a child. Having George Benson play and sing for us becomes a highlight of this amazing chapter in our series, and we’ll include that tomorrow when we conclude, and post the complete interview.
Off the Road is a series of interviews with musicians remotely sharing how they’ve been touched by the pandemic and other crises, including hours of conversation and many exclusive musical performances, speaking to artists across the musical spectrum, including Deep Purple, Jack Johnson, Alice Cooper, Al Di Meola, Soul Asylum, William Shatner, 10,000 Maniacs, Third World, Carlos Santana and many others.
Hear some of the new live album, Weekend in London: