July 24, 2021

Five albums to discover BB King

With seven decades of music behind him and a storied legacy, BB King is known as the King of the blues. Choosing only five of his most emblematic works has been a challenge for our Doctor Soul, Luis Lapuente.

Selection and text: LUIS LAPUENTE.

1.Live at The Regal (ABC, 1964)

In the early 1960s, ABC officials enlisted arranger Johnny Pate, a jazz-trained bassist and producer, who made history in the 1960s with his work for Wes Montgomery and The Impressions at the service of BB King. However, King’s productions did not change in substance, as the guitarist was used to adorning his songs with winds and stylistic ornaments borrowed from jazz. Pate did realize immediately, however, that it was urgent to present King to his audience in his natural environment, that of the concert before a black audience, and produced what many consider to be still the best live show in blues history, the legendary Live at The Regal (1964), recorded in a famous South Chicago theater integrated into the chitlin ‘circuit. “We knew that the first song was always“ Every day I have the blues ”, it was our signature and then we were already improvising according to BB’s tastes,” one of the members of King’s orchestra recalled in a recent documentary. And so it was: that recording was an incandescent milestone, an epiphany for dozens of young white guitarists throughout history, guys like Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Alexis Korner, Elvin Bishop, Carlos Santana or Joe Bonamassa who found the secret there from the philosopher’s stone of the blues.

2. Blues on top of the bread (ABC, 1968)

In the last years of the Prodigious Decade, those responsible for the ABC label created the subsidiary Bluesway expressly for BB King, and focused their recordings on a wide spectrum of fans, greater than the usual consumer of classic blues, taking advantage of its pull among fans of the soul and rock. They were his golden years, the most fertile and of enormous commercial impact, with extraordinary albums such as Blues on top of the blues Y Lucille (1968), Live & well Y Completely well (1969), Indianola Mississippi seeds (1970) and Live in Cook County Jail (1971). The first of them is probably worth highlighting above all of them, very close to the soul blues of the great Bobby Bland, who would later sign two splendid live shows with King. Highlights include the catchy horn arrangements by Johnny Pate and a major repertoire classic by BB King, “Paying the costs to be the Boss.” To taste in command with the one immediately after Completely well, where the original version of the historical “The thrill is gone” appeared.

3. B.B. King in London (ABC, 1971)

In 1971, BB King went to London to perform and took the opportunity to record this wonderful album at Abbey Road Studios, a rarity unfairly undervalued and forgotten by purists, where he felt at ease supported by illustrious white disciples and admirers such as Mac Rebennac, Steve Marriot, Klaus Voorman, Peter Green, Jim Gordon, Rick Wright, Jim Keltner, Gary Wright, Ringo Starr or the great Alexis Korner, with whom he performed a beautiful instrumental duet (“Alexis boogie”), playing acoustic guitar for the first time since his younger years. In addition, here you can enjoy one of the best versions of the classic “Caledonia” that he has ever recorded, as well as tremendous soul downloads signed by Clay Hammond (“Part-time love”) and Jerry Ragovoy (“Ain’t nobody home”). . Soon after, King would record one of his best live shows (Live in Cook County Jail, 1971) and, already at the Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia, the album To know you is to love you (1973) on a more soulful vibe, with sound engineer Joe Tarsia and soul and funk musicians such as Dave Crawford, Earl Young, Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris, Vincent Montana Jr., Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson and Stevie Wonder himself , one of whose songs gave the title to the LP.

4. One kind favor (Geffen, 2008)

The old blues always return and the great patriarch of the genre, the one who had kept its essences from a very young age, decided to say goodbye to his faithful with this marvelous album, the last of his career, produced by the great T-Bone Burnett and supported by friends. like Jim Keltner and Dr. John. BB King left his comfort zone on this gritty and dark record like a gloomy daguerreotype of Deep America and was finally able to close the circle he opened many years ago in the cotton fields of Mississippi, paying homage to his heroes of youth Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson in soulful southern blues like “Tomorrow night” or in harrowing and foreboding pieces like “See that my grave is kept clean.” Six years later he appeared in public for the last time, at the House of Blues in Chicago. As we collected in number 20 of Cuadernos Efe Eme, in the very complete article “The life and work of the blues giant: BB King”, that night his band warmed up the atmosphere and when he came out on stage he sat down and suddenly stayed with staring blankly, he caught Lucille, unhooked her, and placed her ropes down on a stool, not sure what to do. He had forgotten everything. It was his old friend and conductor of his orchestra, James Boogaloo Bolden, who realized what was happening: he helped him put Lucille in her box, took her arm, they both greeted the audience, and took him backstage. There, King told him: «BoogalooYou’ve been with me for many years, you know me well and you’ve never heard me say this: ‘I’m finished, it’s the end’ ».

5. King of the blues (MCA, 1992)

In 1992, the company MCA, heir to ABC, published a succulent anthology of four CDs entitled King of the blues, a box full of classics from all its stages and some rarities, essential to understand in a formidable panoramic the immortal legacy of the legendary guitarist, from his last and numerous collaborations with artists of other genres to his first memorable version of the Lowell Fulson classic “Three o’clok blues” and other canonical songs from their early years on the Bihari brothers’ label, many of them signed in partnership with them, a common practice then in blues and rythm and blues, later revealed by the King himself: “If you look at the credits of my first songs, like” Sweet little angel “,” Three o’clock blues “and” Ten long years “, you will see my last name next to names like Joe Josea, Jules Taub or Sam Ling. There were no such types, they were pseudonyms of the Bihari that allowed them to claim half of the copyright for themselves. A chest that perfectly explains why BB King was always a prince of elegance and conciseness: many musicians call BB Box to a specific section of the neck of the guitar, as a tribute to that glorious way of playing of the King of blues. Generally, the BB Box It ranks from the 10th to the 12th fret, depending on the key of the song, because that’s where King played most of the guitar chords.

Bonus track: The thrill is gone, with Sid Seidenberg and Bill Szymczyk

The relationship between King and Seidenberg, unchanging over dozens of years, is unusual in a business as complicated and volatile as popular music. “We are the same age,” BB said in his autobiography, “and we also have some of the same health problems with our knees and legs. When we first met in 1967, he told me that he would give me a dollar if I asked him for it and that he would expect me to pay it back if I borrowed it. He is a transparent and honest guy, we are made of the same pasta and maybe that is why we are such good friends. He is my best friend and there is no better manager for an artist than his best friend.

It was Seidenberg who prompted him to record the classic “The Thrill is Gone” in 1970, a vintage blues by Roy Hawkins completely revamped by the production of Bill Szymczyk and the arrangements by Bert de Coteaux, which succeeded in bringing a lush layer to the fore. of violins, adding emotional intensity to King’s guitar phrasing and the story itself.

This formidable secret is revealed in all its splendor when the notes of, for example, “Three o’clock blues” or “The thrill is gone” are sounded: the incredible economy of means, the accuracy of the chords, nothing is left over or over. , it almost seems that the fingers lazily fly over the strings of his guitar, no matter how intimate or frenzied his blues seem, they always appear with the same elegance, the same lack of imposture, the same natural subtlety, the same conciseness, as if In these songs it is not important to display sadness or hopelessness, as if above the deafening shouting of other artists who strive to make their anger and helplessness clear, there prevails an intangible feeling of moral integrity and spiritual delicacy, a frugal sense of classicism, a special ecumenical beat that transcends blues and all black music, sublimating them in a universal creation.

Previous installment: Five albums to discover Jack White.