That Weekend in L.A. with George Benson

benson

 

In late September of 1977 jazz guitarist and newly minted crossover R&B crooner, George Benson landed in Los Angeles to record his landmark live album at the legendary Roxy Theatre.  At the time, Los Angeles was in the midst of creating incredible historic and enduring moments.  The months leading up to Benson’s performance on the night of September 30th at the Roxy Theatre, Angelinos had not only witnessed the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter with the rest of America, but locally experienced remarkable events that ranged from the unforgettable imagery of NASA’s Space shuttle Enterprise soaring across the sky piggy-backed on a Boeing 747 jet, experiencing the frenzy of the redefining sci-fi soon to be juggernaut film Star Wars, to welcoming Mayor Tom Bradley—arguably the most politically and socially significant person west of the Rockies in the ‘70s—into his second term, collectively breathed a sigh of relief with the capture of the sick “Freeway Killer” all while watching new Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda lead his team into the NLCS*.  Los Angeles was indeed primed and ready to receive a George Benson performance.

A year prior, Benson’s popularity reached the zenith of his career with the release of his hit single “This Masquerade” from his two time Grammy award winning album Breezin’. His sure-fire vocals and scats, which mirrored his guitar melodies and jazz riffs, catapulted him into the upper echelon of R&B crooners of the era.  Benson, for the first time, effectively crossed over from the jazz genre solidly into the world of R&B and pop. Attracting new and larger audiences for his live performances, Benson was indeed primed to deliver for a slick and beautifully complex L.A. audience.

On the afternoon of September 30th, Benson made his way up Sunset Boulevard amid fancy cars, infamous traffic, Hollywood sunshine, larger-than-life billboards, palm tree-lined streets, and of course a bit of that iconic L.A. smog on his way to the Roxy Theatre. The theatre on Sunset, commonly known as The Roxy, was founded by producers and Hollywood insiders Lou Adler, Elmer Valentine, David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, and Peter Asher who together opened its doors for business just four years earlier.  In a short time, The Roxy had emerged as the venue of choice for up and coming artists to showcase their talents to a consuming audience bent on catching a glimpse of the new hot thing. Upon Benson’s arrival, he was met by his well rehearsed and longtime band, which consisted of Stanley Banks on Bass, Ronnie Foster on synthesizer, the late Ralph MacDonald on percussion, Phil Upchurch on rhythm guitar, Harvey Mason on drums, and the late Jorge Dalto on piano.  He quickly rehearsed the setlist and worked out any kinks to create a flawless show.  After rehearsal, Benson met with the late producer Tommy LiPuma to work out stage sounds and board mixes.  In conversation with Benson, LiPuma agonized over what to name the album and pondered a few ideas. Ultimately, not wanting to apply a common and yet all too mundane moniker like George Benson Live at the Roxy, which is a style that has been used to name other albums recorded live at The Roxy, rather LiPuma settled on George Benson Weekend in L.A.  The title implied a happening–an event that was not to be missed.  Benson loved it.

That very night in late September, Benson stepped on stage to a sold out and packed Roxy.  The audience was filled with Angelino fans eager to be lifted to the next level by the magic of Benson’s performance.  Music industry heavy hitters such as Aretha Franklin, the late Minnie Ripperton, the late Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Scott, the late Leon Russell, and even actors David Soul and Keith Carradine were nestled into the crowd to certify Benson’s rising star as an R&B and pop artist.  Benson’s music swept over the audience and filled the gritty theatre with a lively atmosphere of celebration, which aided in the release of tension for residents of L.A.  His skillful jazz licks and well-seasoned vocals easily carried the audience to a place of both respite and pleasure.  Benson and his band opened with songs such as the aptly named “Weekend in LA,” written especially for this live event.  Then in grand style, summoned for the first time, he performed  “On Broadway,” which, after this night, would become his signature song. Next, Benson dug in on the heartfelt “Down Here on The Ground,” which was followed by  the driving “California P.M.”  And finally, to round out half of the album’s set, he sang out in fantastic fashion “The Greatest Love of All,” which he recorded a few months earlier for the Muhammad Ali film, The Greatest.  The late Whitney Houston’s recording of “The Greatest Love of All” became the first of her many signature songs.  The Roxy audience cheered, shouted, and erupted in applause throughout the lively performance while Benson continued to perform the rest of the evening.  His songs’ fed L.A’s appetite for epic and uniquely cultured music.

In the end, Benson performed at The Roxy for three nights.  The L.A. audience embraced his music amid the electric climate of the late seventies.  Certainly, Benson was ready for his proverbial “Hollywood close-up,” which was made possible by his newfound crossover appeal. The Roxy was the perfect venue to bring together the complex and slick L.A. audience.  The live recording of George Benson Weekend in L.A. captured a magical evening that not only demonstrated how a guitar and jazz riffs could bring a crowd to a frenzy but more so, spoke to the issues of the era.   The entire live album, upon a contemporary listen, is infused with the promise of hope and change.  Without question, the 80s kept that promise.  That weekend in L.A. with George Benson was indeed a happening, which we can revisit and experience anytime. The album is a classic. 

George Benson Weekend in L.A. was released three months later in January of 1978. Benson’s weekend effort garnered him the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the song “On Broadway.”  Benson’s album, which turned 40 years old earlier this month is impeccably recorded and is a must listen.

 

*Not to get all sporty here but the Dodgers won the NLCS in a 3-1 victory over the Phillies and went to the World Series to battle the Yankees.  Reggie Jackson with a little help from the rest of the Yankees sent the Dodgers packing 4-2. It’s a good thing they had George Benson Weekend in L.A. to soothe the hurt.

AAMAM: Marvin Gaye’s Smooth 1, 2 Punch! Part 23 of 30

marvin-gayeWith its smooth and relaxed intro, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit “What’s Going On” was a departure from the glossy and neatly orchestrated Motown Sound his audience was so used too.  Gaye had reached a point in his life where he felt the needed to sing about the ills of society, war, poverty, and racism rather than sing dreamy love songs.  His decision to do so was well received in “What’s Going On.”  Gaye self-produced his song combined elements of classical music and R&B to create a unique sonic backdrop for a powerful message addressing the problems of the early ‘70s.

Sit back and take a listen to the masterful recording “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye!

AAMAM is always smooth!

AAMAM: Curtis, Your Future Is So Very Bright! Part 21 of 30

curtis

Curtis Mayfield. (1942-1999)

The year1970 witnessed the released of Curtis Mayfield’s album Curtis. On it Mayfield acutely addressed the social climate of urban America.  Facing forward with the ‘60s in his rearview mirror, Mayfield’s Curtis headed down a highway of new musicality robust in optimism—new found humanity for a people in search of their just rewards for a battle well fought.

Mayfield’s Curtis musically ushered in a bright new future with its uplifting lyrics and music, which could be heard on his single “Move On Up.”  Tom Maginnis, music reviewer for Allmuisic .com, best describes the texture of “Move On Up” as he says,

The optimistic atmosphere can be heard from the very opening joyous horn riff, signaling a kind of feel-good fanfare as the song’s brisk rhythm is quickly sustained by a grooving percussion section of congas, Don Simmons’ rollicking drum kit, and a steady strum of clean electric guitar. Mayfield uses a variety of horn and string riffs as an ingenious call and response device to his silky smooth vocal performance at various points throughout the song’s intricate arrangement of a multitude of instruments. The overall effect is one of a unstoppable wave of positive sound, rolling forward, moving on up, as Mayfield offers words of encouragement, of progress through hard work and perseverance.

With that being said, have a listen!

You have a bright future with AAMAM!

AAMAM: Donny Hathaway, Immutable Sadness and Freedom! Part 10 of 30

DonnyHathawayMusic has the power to rectify the internal struggles of the mind. Its various rhythms, beats, and chord progressions speak to the soul in a remarkable way. Among many things, it soothes and brings about feelings of hope. The song “Someday We’ll All Be Free” is just such a song. The song was written with love and care by song writer Edward Howard to encourage good friend and troubled soul maestro Donny Hathaway in his sadness that was seemingly immutable.

Hathaway recorded the song and upon listening to the final play back cried out uncontrollably in joy. It is what he needed to hear. For a brief moment Hathaway was moved beyond his sadness to great joy and hope. This is the power of music.

However, for Hathaway, he needed a continual stream of encouragement to keep him barred from his sadness. “Someday We’ll All Be Free” although powerful in its message, was one of the last songs he recorded. Hathaway’s sadness thrived in silence and consumed him in 1979.

Moreover, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” became the mighty, but quiet anthem to the later days Civil Rights movement and the Black Power struggle with its overwhelming message of hope in the midst of the battle for equality.

Enjoy AAMAM!

AAMAM: Don’t Miss This Train or You’ll Be Sorry. Part 9 of 30

The+OJaysPeople all over the world

Join hands

Start a love train, love train. . .

The lyrics to the O’Jays’ song “Love Train” can certainly be counted among the most uplifting lyrics ever written. The song encourages an unbridled love for the fellow man around the world. “Love Train” literally takes the listener on trip around the world to embrace and hold the hand of every nationality.

Released in December 1972 and written by the formidable writing team of Gamble and Huff, “Love Train” stripped away race, culture, ethnicity, and even in some respect class–essentially sending the message that nothing else matters but love in an era of increasing global social and political tension and lingering war. Similar to the images made in the “Hilltop” Coke commercial and song “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” the O’Jays song created a sense of hope. In early 1973, “Love Train” ascended to the top of urban and pop charts making it a crossover success.

“Love Train,” today, if piped to the masses every hour would serve every community around the globe well in terms of loving your fellow man.

Love and Happy AAMAM!

AAMAM: You Go Girl! Part 8 of 30

chaka khanCo authored by Lerniece Charles

In 1978, Chaka Khan, in route to going solo from the hit band Rufus recorded and released “I’m Every Woman” written by the perpetual hit making team Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson. The song was Khan’s first break out song as a solo artist. “I’m Every Woman”’s R&B and disco back beat supported lyrics that empowered women who were, at the time, increasingly entering the workforce and controlling their own destiny.

The song had a tremendous effect on the way it made women feel. For instance my wife loves this song and says it made her feel empowered—she felt like she “could do anything” when she heard it. Today she says she is especially fond of the lyrics:

“I aint braggin’ ‘cause I’m the one

You just ask me ooh and it shall be done

And don’t bother to compare ‘cause I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Yeah!

You go girl! Happy AAMAM!

AAMAM: The Revolution Will Put You In The Driver’s Seat! Part 5 of 30

gill scottPoet, writer, musician, singer, and activist Gil Scott-Heron really knocked the ball out the park with his re-recording* of the proto-rap/spoken word/song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” on his Pieces Of A Man album in 1971, which features Ron Carter on electric bass, Hubert Laws on flute, and Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdy on drums.  Scott-Heron and his band created an infectious funk grove that resonated with young urban adults.  The proto rap/spoken word/song famously made many pop culture references from TV shows to commercials of the day.  Scott-Heron song addressed American complacency and consumerism as a distraction and from the political corruption that plagued the era. The proto rap/spoken word/song urged its urban listener to pay attention what’s really going on! Tune in and get involved!

* [“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was first recorded in 1970 on Gil Scott-Heron’s first album Small Talk At 125th And Lennox, where he was accompanied only by Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders on congas and bongos]

Happy AAMAM!