Steve Benbow was one of the most sought-after guitar accompanists of the early years of the modern British folk revival, and also a fine singer. He made over 25 albums, and accompanied singers such as folk revival founders Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd.
Benbow was an inspiration to younger players. Davy Graham, whose guitar style affected those of Eric Clapton and Paul Simon, credits him as a primary influence: Benbow introduced him to Moroccan music he had heard while in the forces. Graham told the Guardian: "What he taught me was that you should never get stuck in one mode or style."
Benbow was never aligned to any of the sub-genres of the folk revival. Neither a traditionalist nor a promoter of leftwing causes, primarily he was an entertainer, performing a range of music from blues to jazz to popular English and Irish folk songs. Striving for an easy-listening appeal, his repertoire became less suited to the increasingly sophisticated folk-music enthusiasts and he found it difficult to regain that audience.
Nevertheless, Benbow made his mark on a wider audience through radio and television, starting with the radio programme Guitar Club in 1957. His skill as a guitarist led to a Scottish television series, Plectrum, where he demonstrated his style to aspiring young musicians. In the early 60s he presented Have Guitar Will Travel on Radio Luxembourg, the only folk singer to have his own show. In 1963 he co-starred in a London stage show, Spike Milligan Meets Steve Benbow, at the old Lyric Theatre, which led to a television series the following year, Muses with Milligan. He also fronted the television series Barndance and for a while presented BBC radio's Housewives' Choice. George Martin produced a series of novelty singles for him and he wrote a regular column in Melody Maker.
Benbow recorded two solo albums before forming the Steve Benbow Folk Four, including Jimmie MacGregor, who later teamed up with Robin Hall to perform regularly on Cliff Michelmore's television programme Tonight.
In 1960 Benbow appeared with others including Shirley Collins and Bob Copper on a trio of albums produced by Peter Kennedy of the English Folk Dance and Song Society for HMV: A Jug of Punch, Rocket Along and A Pinch of Salt. This led to the HMV releases of two of Steve's best-known albums: Steve Benbow Sings Admiral Benbow in 1962, and I Travel the World in 1963. He continued to record during the 60s, but rarely on labels that adequately promoted the albums. After several more albums in the early 70s — one of them with his long-standing friend Denny Wright, who had been Lonnie Donegan's guitarist — Benbow largely retired.
He never lost his passion for music, and from 1988 played twice a week at the Brewery Tap in Brentford. A new recording, Don't Monkey With My Gun, was released in 2003, but he was reluctant to travel away from home to perform because of his large collection of animals, including goats, chickens and a donkey. For several years he suffered from heart problems, which in 2005 prevented him sharing a London Concert with Davy Graham.
Stephen Benbow died after a heart attack, at the age of 74, on November 17, 2006.