Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy by Mark E. Waterbury
In the circles of acoustic solo guitarists, Pierre Bensusan is held in as high a level of esteem as harder rocking peers like Satriani, Van Halen and Vai. A self taught master of the steel string acoustic guitar born in Algeria but raised primarily in Paris, Pierre's talents were discovered in Europe at a fairly young age.After performing across the continent and recording for a fledgling label, his music was soon discovered on the other side of the Atlantic. The love affair with Pierre's unique and astounding guitar wizardry would continue to spread worldwide, eventually landing him on the label owned by one of his peers from the rock world as the twenty-first century launched. Add to that a new project involving three other highly respected guitarists and it is obvious that over three decades after his introduction to the world, Pierre's notoriety and popularity continues to grow.
Pierre Bensusan first picked up a guitar at the age of eleven. Influenced by a plethora of diverse players including Django, Doc Watson, Paco de Luciaand and Ry Cooder, Pierre also drew from non-traditional sources to begin developing his style. "The truth is that I listen to much more symphonic music, jazz, ethnic and choral ensembles than guitar music," Pierre notes. "Most of the time when I feel like listening to guitar I play it myself, it's much more fun." Pierre left school at sixteen to commence a full blown pursuit of music. There was a renaissance of folk music in the City of Lights at the time, and he made a living doing a little teaching while playing in clubs and art centers. Developing a style spawned from a unique DADGAD tuning of his guitar, it didn't take long for others to notice what was brewing, as the founders of a new record label called Cezame saw the seventeen year old Pierre perform at a club. Soon after they offered him a three album deal, which included his debut release "Pres de Paris." Pierre then got involved playing mandolin in the Bill Keith Bluegrass Band and his career picked up steam. "We did a big tour in Switzerland," Pierre recalls. "Bill invited me to play four guitar solos during the concert to create a contrast and he introduced me as a soloist. The result was that I did my first professional solo tour in Switzerland right after "Pres de Paris" was recorded, and several of the promoters were part of the jury of the Montreux Festival." Pierre was invited to perform at the prestigious festival, and "Pres de Paris" won the Grand Prix du Disque. He was invited on stage to receive the award after opening for Gordon Lightfoot and Mimi Farina. Soon after the festival Pierre began playing more extensively in Europe. He recorded two more albums "Pierre Bensusan #2" and "Musiques," and through Bill Keith, all three of his albums wound up in the hands of U.S. label Rounder Records, who decided to license them in North America. "Of course, it was a turning point in my career," Pierre notes. "It all felt so natural, smooth and logical that I was not aware that I had a 'career.' Marketing is not a concept which has driven my efforts. It has always occurred to me that a musician is someone who shares and passes on something to someone else. Playing live is where it is at. The recognition and buzz happen gradually and not over night." Along with the Rounder deal, Joan Baez and Doc Watson's manager, Manny Greenhill added Pierre to their Folklore Productions roster and sent the guitarist on his first U.S. tour in 1979. "Guitar being primarily the first folk, rock and blues instrument in the US, there is obviously a cult around it which is more important there than in Europe. What is important to me is that people should be attracted to good music whatever the instrument is, and a guitarist should focus on playing music instead of on playing guitar."
Firmly entrenched worldwide as a top notch performer and recording artist, Pierre recorded several more albums through the eighties and into the nineties, along with his extensive touring pace and writing some music books as well. Unlike other musicians, Pierre does not feel the need to crank out albums every year or so. "I need plenty of fresh air after releasing a record. It is a bit like going back to life again after being in a tunnel. I need to take the time to assimilate my new experiences and let them grow within. I am not in a rush to put an album out because once it's out, it will be there forever." It was after one of his breaks and just after the turn of the century that Pierre's U.S. assistant Marie Kutch through a string of connections led Pierre to Steve Vai. The rock guitar virtuoso had just launched an acoustic division of his Favored Nations label, and Steve listened to Pierre's new recording entitled "Intuite." "(Steve) wrote the next day to express his enthusiasm and to invite me to join the label. It's difficult to say what it did for my career. Having a label is a great help no matter what. They do a lot of the difficult and demanding work; they are the warriors and ambassadors. Favored Nations has a little plus to offer, Steve's name and aura are so prestigious that it has opened many doors." After the 2001 Favored Nations release of "Intuite," Pierre continued his always hectic touring schedule. Around the time of the release, another noted guitarist Brian Gore approached Pierre about joining a project called International Guitar Night. Also featuring Andrew York and Paulo Bellinati, the later eventually replaced by Brazilian guitarist Guinga, Pierre first toured with IGN in 2002. There was an immediate favorable reaction, but it was not until a couple of years later that the music of IGN found its way to a recording. "It was great and a very positive experience in terms of meeting other musicians and interacting with them, playing in bigger halls and touching a wider audience. The concept is that four guitarists with a certain amount of recognition behind them have more chance of creating an impact than only one, and it really works. I felt that it was a pity that there was no album to testify to the ambiance of the live music, so I approached Steve (Vai) who was very supportive of recording the next collaboration. Thus we have this new album which I produced for Favored Nations."
"An Evening With International Guitar Night" was released in the late summer of 2004, as Pierre was entering the studio to work on a new solo recording for Favored Nations that is tentatively due for release in February of 2005. Among the new aspects to look forward to on the forthcoming album are the first recordings with Pierre using his Ryan and Carmona Signature model guitars, and some vocals by Pierre. He is also leaving the door open for another possible IGN recording, and even though he has a career that continues to evolve and expose more people to his musical talents, Pierre Bensusan's perspective on life and music has always been a guide to his future. "First, I do not look at what I do as being a style but much more an attitude and a manner of conceiving music. I am now serene and persuaded that it will keep evolving until the last minute of my life. I consider all my albums like my children, or a snapshot of where I was at a point of my musical journey. My best work is yet to come. Life is also short and there are many other things I want to do and dedicate my time to; composing, playing, singing, recording and interacting with other musicians, and above all have fun and watch my son grow up."