Today our Off the Road series concludes with multiple Grammy Award winning musician George Benson. The one-time Hawaii resident 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.
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 the popular guitarist and vocalist returning to the venue with a wide-ranging set filled with his classics and tasty covers.
During his interview session and part one of our radio feature, George talked about the ways the pandemic has touched him, as well as the musicians in 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 today’s conclusion to our interview special, George also explained the significance of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in his career, from his love of the venue itself, to explaining who Ronnie Scott was, and some of the big name stars who performed there over the years. George’s storytelling also details some of the folks who came to see him in concert at the club 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 that makes for a great finale in part two that airs today.
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 the complete new Weekend In London album: