WHEN THE BEATLES first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, more people than just teenagers went out of their minds with joy. Guitar dealers and manufacturers knew a gold mine when they saw one and, sure enough, guitars began selling to school kids faster than savings bonds. Almost everyone wanted to play guitar like the Beatles, except those who wanted to play drums like the Beatles.
Today, that initial boom is over, but several professional guitarists have recently released albums that show there is more to the instrument than Beatlemaniacs might ever have considered.
GEORGE BENSON: Weekend in L.A. (Warner Brothers, 2 WB-3139): Those who remember George Benson only as a fluid jazz guitarist might not be too keen on his current incarnation as another Lou Rawls. But Benson can still play with the best and he really can sing, as he deonstrates in this two-record live set recorded last October in Los Angeles's Roxy Theater.
The classic "On Broadway" (a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil/Leiber-Stoller composition) is vocally smooth and supple and Benson ups the tempo to show off his own hypnotic guitar runs and his talented supporting band. Rhythm guitarist Phil Upchurch and percussionist Ralph MacDonald are especially solid with Jorge Dalto (acoustic keyboards), Ronnie Foster (electric keyboards), Stanley Banks (bass), and Harvey Mason (drums) easily rolling with the flow. In fact, all the players except Banks have at least one album of their own and their collective experience blends into the full Benson sound. Benson himself alternates between vocals and instrumentals with the confidence of a man equally at home with both. Weekend in L.A. shows that George Benson hasn't sold out so much as developed into a versatile all-round entertainer.
LARRY CORYELL/STEVE KHAN: Two for the Road (Arista, AB 4156). This album chronicles the two jazz players' dual tour in 1975-'76, before the release of Khan's own album (Tightrope, Columbia/Tappan Zee JC 34857) and work with Billy Cobham's CBS All-Stars, and after Coryell's experiments with his Eleventh House.
The lure of this record is the unaccompanied acoustic interplay between the musicians on compositions by Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, Steve Swallow, and the duo themselves. Coryell has often been accused of playing too much rock, but Two for the Road is pure jazz and well-improvised jazz at that. Khan is not as technically quick as Coryell, but he is equally tuneful and his leads more subtle. The melodies here are less structured than most you may have heared lately from either and the results are quite moving.
DAVID SPINOZZA: Spinozza (A&M; SP-4677): David Spinozza is one of those session players whose name is known only to those who faithfully read record jackets or who remember a touring act's backup players. Spinozza has played on innumerable albums and toured often, most recently appearing at the Cellar Door with vibraphonist/synthesizer whiz Mike Mainieri. On Spinozza, the session superstar leads his own group (sometimes including Mainieri) through nine tunes that highlight his own instrumental prowess.
Spinozz's work is far more successful than many others of its type because Spinozza has a real sense of composition; his songs don't sound like back-ground music in search of a melody. Like George Benson, Spinozza sings, but not enough to alter the album's jazz focus and well enough to get away with the attempts. Spinozza knows the best studio players available and his own debut features Michael and Randy Brecker, David Sanborn, Jon Faddis, and Rick Marotta among others.