Prince’s ‘Strollin” Gives George Benson a Warm Musical Hug
Prince inhabits the guise of a good friend on the George Benson-esque "Strollin'," paying tribute to someone with whom he shared a studio and the stage, a signature guitar, many personal moments and his newfound faith. In fact, he got to be so close with Benson that Prince did something he rarely – if ever – did: Take part in a public display of affection.
"I wasn't used to seeing people just walk up to Prince, grab him and hug him, but George would do that," Paisley Park studio director Tom Tucker told the Star-Tribune in 2016. "Prince was a big fan."
Frankly, the rest of "Strollin'" couldn't feel less like a Benson song – not with Prince's winking references to stolen moments and nudie magazines – but the sense of warm musical camaraderie remains obvious. And, the feeling was clearly mutual.
Benson recorded 1996's That's Alright at Paisley Park, right around the time he gave Prince an autographed Ibanez signature-series guitar which immediately became a part of his late-'90s touring set up. Benson then became an early proponent in Prince's religious shift toward the Jehovah's Witnesses.
"We were friends. I recorded at his studio, and I gave him a guitar, which he used on the road for about 10 years," Benson told the Daily Record in 2016. "He loved the instrument and took it everywhere with him. I even did a jam session with him in London at one of the ballrooms after he played Wembley Arena. ... Plus, he was one of my brothers in my religion so we both had an understanding of what we wanted to see happen for mankind, and the vision of mankind that we had in our minds."
Benson's song "P. Park," co-written by Prince pianist Ricky Peterson, is an obvious tip of the hat to his musical surroundings. Benson admits that he'd never seen anything like it.
"I've been to a great many great recording studios but that place, when you went through the front door of Paisley Park, you were engulfed in music," Benson told the Daily Record. "The music grabbed you and you were inside the music. He used the right word when he called it a 'park,' because it was like being in a menagerie of some kind. You felt like you were outdoors. Because of the way it was designed, you didn’t feel like you were inside a place except for the music and an environment."
Prince didn't appear on That's Alright, but other members of his musical circle did – including drummer Michael Bland, who is also on "Strollin'." Still, Prince was there, drinking it all in.
"One night he was telling me [that Benson] had shown him a thing or two on the guitar he'd never seen," former art director Steve Parks says in Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait. "It is George Benson," Prince mused, somewhat starstruck. Then, Parks states the obvious: "It was very hard to show Prince anything new."
Originally released on 1991's Diamonds and Pearls, "Strollin'" later became a b-side for "Sexy M.F.," which also appeared to have been inspired – at least in part – by Benson. (It shares some rhythmic similarities with "Shadow Dancers," the opening song from Benson's 1964 studio debut The New Boss Guitar.) A few months after the arrival of That's Alright, Prince thanked George Benson specifically in the liner notes to his 1996 triple album Emancipation.