Pierre Bensusan: Creating 'Vividly' After spending the past five years fighting the notes in his head, "the acoustic Jimi Hendrix" recently released his 10th studio album, Vividly. Hear Bensusan, a self-taught guitarist, talk about his life, his playing style and his latest album.
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Pierre Bensusan: Creating 'Vividly'

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Pierre Bensusan: Creating 'Vividly'

Pierre Bensusan: Creating 'Vividly'

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Pierre Bensusan has appeared on NPR several times over the past two decades. So, why invite him back? Well, first, because he has a new album. It's called "Vividly." Quite good. Second, because he's here and he's brought his guitar with him. And Pierre Bensusan has been called the acoustic Jimi Hendrix, so we don't want to pass up the chance to hear him in person.

Pierre Bensusan joins us in Studio 4A. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. PIERRE BENSUSAN (Guitarist): Thank you for having me. It's an honor.

SIMON: I want to remind people of your background. You were born in Algeria -Oran.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Oran, yes.

SIMON: You and your family left when you were four; it was during the Algerian revolution.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Just after, right.

SIMON: Let me add this up together: Spanish-Jewish parents, born in an Arab country, grew up in France. I mean, we overuse the phrase an eclectic mix in music, but you are an eclectic mix to begin with. Do you make use of that in your music?

Mr. BENSUSAN: I make use of that as a person. And so obviously it was going to reflect in the music. But in the music I feel like I'm like a sponge. I had to adapt myself. And I think it's a good sign to feel at home anywhere, to feel that you belong to where you are, at the moment where you are. And that in fact this is the same little planet that we share and that we need to protect and to respect.

SIMON: Now, you taught yourself guitar. Is that the case?

Mr. BENSUSAN: Yeah, I did. Yeah, I did.

SIMON: How did you teach yourself guitar?

Mr. BENSUSAN: I once had a great piano teacher who sort of implementing me a great, great structure for approaching music and tune an instrument. But what really helped me was Bob Dylan. That was my poet, my favorite poet at home, and I heard a lot of his songs and his words, the beauty of his poetry, his music. Everything about him really inspired me; was my first teacher, I think, in guitar.

SIMON: Have you ever met him?

Mr. BENSUSAN: No, I haven't. It's not like I need to meet him. I mean, you know, it's not like you need to meet everybody you like, you love or you are grateful for what they give you, because you sort of know them already. You know what you need to know from them. They're a part of you or your household, you know.

SIMON: You have been known to do some original intriguing things to make your guitar sound different than anyone else's.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Yeah, I like to tune it differently, but it was not something like, you know, like...

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Mr. BENSUSAN: This is a tuning normal of a guitar.

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Me. BENSUSAN: And as I didn't know what to tune my guitar for a long time, I experimented with, you know, I played also a bit of blues, I heard a bit of the music from the great blues players from the delta. And so I started to use alternative tunings and came about with one called D-A-D-G-A-D...

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Mr. BENSUSAN: ...which really talked to me. And so I started to play a lot of Celtic music with that tuning. And from there I decided to only play that tuning and relearn the guitar in that tuning. And, yeah, I can play.

SIMON: What are we going to hear?

Mr. BENSUSAN: A tune which I wrote a long time ago called "Voyage to Ireland" -speaking of Ireland.

SIMON: All right.

(Soundbite of music, "Voyage to Ireland")

SIMON: That's just wonderful.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Thank you.

SIMON: By the way, we're talking with Pierre Bensusan. His new album is "Vividly" and he's on tour here in the United States.

Do you like touring the United States?

Mr. BENSUSAN: I love it. Yeah, I love it. It's very big.

SIMON: Yes, it is.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Oh my God. It's big, big, big. But what I like here is the fact that people seem to be very positive. They open; they don't close. Things are open. They left them open. It's not like they are not seeing the darker side of things but they want the light to shine through. And I think it's good, you know, for European to remember those simple things, you know.

That's why I like to tour here. And I have a good audience. People really respond positively to what I play for them. And that's fantastic.

SIMON: I'm struck by something I read. You told an interviewer a number of years ago where you said most musicians don't spend enough time listening.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Well, that's a statement which came to me because I have the great honor to teach music sometimes to people who are touched by music. But sometimes they are so distracted by other things, such as technique, that they forget to listen. And I could apply this for myself, of course.

SIMON: I mean, you're famous for technique.

Mr. BENSUSAN: I mean, we all...

SIMON: You are the acclaimed master of guitar technique.

Mr. BENSUSAN: ...we all need the technique we need in order to express what we try to express, what we want to express. But after a while you also sometimes need to be first listening before being distracted by the technique. Because if you do listen carefully, your technique seems to hear, to see you listening and be more at peace with yourself and then you start to, in fact, to get what you're looking for because you listen.

And it seems very obvious but I have been surprised to see that it was not that obvious for some people.

SIMON: Pierre, thank you so much.

Mr. BENSUSAN: Thank you.

SIMON: Pierre Bensusan - his new CD is called "Vividly." Is there a song you can play that we can go out on?

Mr. BENSUSAN: Yeah. I can play "Bamboule."

SIMON: Yeah, please.

Mr. BENSUSAN: And not the song but with just the voice of the scat.

(Soundbite of song, "Bamboule")

Mr. BENSUSAN: (Scatting)

SIMON: And if you'd like to learn more about Pierre Bensusan or hear more of his in-studio performance, you can go to our website, NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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