George Benson on backlash to genre experiments: “If you go left, they’ll say, ‘You should have gone right’”

“I like to challenge myself.”

George Benson

Image: John Keeble / Getty

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Jazz guitarist George Benson has opened up on the backlash he has faced when experimenting with different genres.

The guitarist has tried out pop, rock, R&B, disco, blues and Latin music over his expansive career. His 1976 track Breezin’, hit number one on Billboard’s Top 200, for which he also won two Grammy awards. Benson has also even worked with virtual alt pop group Gorillaz.

In a new interview with Guitar World, Benson said, “Anytime somebody says, ‘What’s George doing playing this kind of music?’ I want to say, ‘Well, why shouldn’t I?’ I like to challenge myself.”

When later asked if he received criticism from his early jazz fans for working on pop records, Benson replied: “Always. But one thing I understand about this world, if you go left, they’ll say, ‘You should have gone right,’ and vice-versa. That’s common stuff, and it happened to a lot of my friends.

“It broke Wes Montgomery’s heart when he went home to play in Indianapolis. He was a star by then, and he was playing at a local arena downtown. Every time he played a pop tune, his older fans would boo. Then he would play the jazz tunes and they would go crazy. He was caught in the middle of all of that. I understand how that works,” he reflected.

Benson also commented on the new album he’s been working on, which he described as “something really special”. Though he hasn’t given much detail away, he did reveal that he had been listening to Nat King Cole amongst many other artists to inspire his new record in an interview with The Guardian last year.

Speaking of his most recently streamed song, he said, “​​I’m working on a new record, so I’ve been listening to a lot of things but it was Nat King Cole, Unforgettable. Like Sinatra, he always had the best of everything on his recordings, starting with the best songs.”

You can view all of his upcoming tour dates at GeorgeBenson.com.

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