Vinyl Treasures: Sheldon Bennett's "Swingin' Southern Guitar"

This under-the-radar release was on the NRC label, which had a great catalog that included Roy Lanham and the Whipporwills, Jerry Reed, Joe South, and many others.
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This under-the-radar release was on the NRC label, which had a great catalog that included Roy Lanham and the Whipporwills, Jerry Reed, Joe South, and many others. I wish that Mr. Bennett recorded more, because his style is delightful. It’s highly influenced by George Barnes, but he’s his own man, and I can hear the controlled craftsmanship of Chet Atkins mixed with the active, left-hand slurs and trills of Django Reinhardt.

Bennett grew up in Louisiana, and he first took up the violin, moving to the guitar when he was 12 years old. His musical alliances include the extraordinary Curly Chalker in the Ranch Hands, the Hi Flyers, and a brief stint with Bob Wills.

I’ve studied many of Bennett’s phrases, and they are “go to” moves for me, because he nails changes with a Bach-like melodicism. He employs double- stops, right-hand muting, and so on, but what stuck to me like glue was his approach to dominant 7th chords. Applying a dominant 7 b9 tonality via diminished scales and arpeggios to passing dominant 7th chords, he gives listeners the impression of being simultaneously inside and outside—a feel best exemplified on Bennett’s great intro to “Sweet Georgia Brown.” That one instantly pulled me into fandom, and I’ve applied his b9 approach to many genres. “Fingerpuppet” from my record Orange is a good example of this synthesis.

Suppporting Bennett, rhythm guitarist Duvall Adams, bassist Karl Whittington, and drummer Freddie Slack chug away with an inspired spirit that evokes fun and camaraderie, making sure that Swingin’ Southern Guitar lives up to its name. This LP has one of the most smile-inducing covers in history—although you won’t find Bennett’s name anywhere on the cover—and it has been reissued on CD.

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