George Benson Talks Tribute Album To Chuck Berry & Fats Domino: "The Songs are Still Ripe"

George Benson

Photo: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns


George Benson Talks Tribute Album To Chuck Berry & Fats Domino: "The Songs are Still Ripe"

The guitar great discusses his latest project honoring two of rock ‘n roll’s founding fathers by digging into their deep cuts

GRAMMYs/Apr 24, 2019 - 04:10 am

When Provogue Records asked GRAMMY winner George Benson to record a covers album of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, he enthusiastically jumped into what could have been a tired set of oldies -- and recorded a fresh romp through the origins of rock ‘n roll.

Not that the singer, songwriter and guitarist hadn’t tackled standards before. His body of work is filled with renditions of the Beatles, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, and dozens more; his last album, 2013’s Inspiration, paid tribute to Nat King Cole.

Berry and Domino are a heady pair to pay tribute to, but Benson’s masterful touch makes it look like a breeze. Their outsized personalities made them early rock icons -- and much like Benson himself, they transcended musical lines of race, color and genre. And to him, the songs still have “poetic value” in 2019.

“They’re talking about the basics of life,” Benson says with a hint of awe. “Things that people come in contact with every day. And they put those lyrics together in a genius way.”

Berry and Domino are Rock ‘n Roll 101 at this point -- but as he dug deep, Benson found plenty of surprises. Producer Kevin Shirley suggested Berry’s “Havana Moon”; Benson had never previously heard the song. “It sounded very strange to me,” he admitted. “Like something Harry Belafonte would sing.” He let out an irresistible laugh. “But every woman who heard that song loved it!”

His covers of Domino, too, display an affection for the foundations of rock. When the record company asked him to tackle his “Walking to New Orleans,” his ears pricked up; he knew that would be the title.

“It gives them a little hint of what they’re going to be listening to,” he says. “It’s going to have a blues tint.” If you want a fun, breezy crash-course on how that blues sound shaped early rock, Walking to New Orleans is your trusty guide.

Here Benson talks more about about his musical roots, the challenges of covering Berry and Domino and how he balances his music career with being a family man of faith.

What made you want to honor Chuck Berry and Fats Domino in 2019?

The record company are the ones who inspired this record. They’re the ones who made the request for me to do this music. I thought it was strange at first, but after a while, I said, “You know, what a great idea!”

Because these were two icons who crossed over in a day when that was almost impossible. They crossed over in a big way, because they were two very, very strong personalities and their music was highly unique.

These two composers and musicians already had their hands on the vibe. Just to bring that forward is already a big reason why the record is successful so far. I think that’s the main thing. That people think you meant to play this record. You lose that vibe, I think you’ve lost them.

The lyrics to the songs were ripe for the time, and they’re still ripe. Because they’re talking about the basics of life. Things that people come in contact with every day. Their trials and tribulations. And in a genius way, they put those lyrics together. These guys were poets, you know? The stories have a poetic value, and they translate and communicate very well.

What inspired you to cut this music in Nashville?

In Nashville, they wouldn’t question what you were doing. You wouldn’t have to make up things like you would in L.A. They know me too well. They know what I can do. And they would want to be on something different in L.A. In Nashville, they never ask one question, except “What are we playing next? What key is it in?” That’s about it.

There’s a crackly energy between you and the players. Were you trying to let your hair down and play some rock ‘n roll this time?

No, that was another decision on the record company’s part. They had heard me in that context. I couldn’t until it came back to me, because I used to play a lot of that type of music way back in the day, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

We had to play a little bit of everything and listen to a little bit of everything, because that was what was on the radio and on the jukebox. I kind of filed that into a bag that I had gone through. I thought that was the end of it!

Do you remember the first time you heard Fats and Chuck? Did you ever come in contact with those guys?

Only once. I came into contact with Chuck Berry at a music store in L.A. I was doing a video interview and he was in there buying some strings or guitar picks or something like that. I went over and I said, “Mr. Berry, my name is George Benson.”  He turned around and shook my hand. “Yeah. Hi.” And then he went right back to what he was doing.

I had to quickly think of something to say. I asked, “Mr. Berry, in my show, I do the duck walk. Do you mind that I do the duck walk in my show?” And he turned around very quickly and said, “Can you?” And then he went right back to buying his guitar picks and his strings. That was the end of that.

Fats Domino, I had the offer to join his band many years ago. I think I was about 16, 17 years old, maybe. One of the guys who was working with him saw me playing somewhere and said, “Man, how’d you like to go on the road?” I never liked that idea, because I never saw anyone on the road who had anything. They all looked like they were tattered and broken-down.

So I said, “No, I never thought about going on the road.” And then he said, “Well, how would you like to gig with Fats Domino?” And I said, “Wow, that’s too heavy for me. I’m not that good a player. No, I couldn’t.” So I didn’t take the gig.

You picked some deeper Chuck Berry cuts, like “Nadine” and “Havana Moon.” Were you trying to honor his more lyrical side?

That might have been the conscious choice by the producer and the record company executive. I think they made a good choice of tunes. I had never heard “Havana Moon” before. It sounded very strange to me. Like a song that maybe Harry Belafonte would do. I didn’t think it particularly meant that much, but every woman who heard that song loved it. So they made good choices!

The title track is a poignant version of Fats’ “Walking to New Orleans.” What struck you about that song?

They had a name for the album. I can’t remember what it was. But when it came around to me, I said, “No, the obvious to me is Walking to New Orleans.” It gives them a little hint about what they’re going to be listening to. It’s going to have a blues tint to it and some very basic ideas. I thought that worked better. And they loved the idea. So that’s what we named it.

You’re a family man and a longtime member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Is music still a big part of your daily life in both respects?

Keeping the balance was, is, difficult. Trying to get to the meetings when I was home. We put in our time every month. In forty years, I missed maybe one or two months, because I was out on the road. But yeah, music in my house every day. I practice almost every day, because it’s been the best way for me to keep abreast of things.

I learn something from every project. But music moves around a lot. You can’t depend on something you did 40 years ago. You’ve gotta keep coming up with something. They’ve already got those albums on their shelves. To try to keep new ideas going forward has been the challenge. We’ve been very successful at that.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/


Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards


Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour


Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images


Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.


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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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