Saturday, April 30, 2016

Live at the Regal - B. B. King

Live at the Regal
B. B. King
ABC-Paramount Records ABCS-509

Most of the world is paying tribute to Prince, but I'm just getting around to my tribute to B. B. King who died last May.  I actually started this post several weeks ago, but then I got sick and didn't feel like listening to music much less blogging.  My introduction to the blues mostly came second hand from English rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Yardbirds who imitated American bluesmen.  King was the first genuine blues performer I remember seeing, I saw him when I was a kid in the early 1970s on Flip Wilson's television show.  The first real blues album I ever bought was King's "Live in Cook County Jail" which I picked up as a teenager.  I have to admit that at first I wasn't all that impressed, I preferred the flashiness and showboating of the English guitar heroes.  As I grew older and more musically sophisticated I came to appreciate King's economical and controlled playing style a lot more.  I realized it was better to emphasize feeling like King than to show off technical prowess by playing a gazillion notes as fast you can like Alvin Lee.  This is my favorite B. B. King album, an opinion that is hardly unique.  The album is widely acknowledged as a classic record.  It was recorded at the Regal Theatre in Chicago in 1964 in front of a loudly appreciative audience.  King and his band were in top form as they ran through his back catalog delivering definitive versions of some of his best known songs.  The record opens with "Every Day I Have the Blues" which was a hit single for King in 1955.  It is a swinging, fast-paced performance that is my favorite version of this oft-covered song.  I love it when King's voice soars in the final chorus"Sweet Little Angel" was a 1956 single derived from the old blues song "Black Angel Blues."  King introduces it as a "real oldie."  His vocal is full of gusto.  He was justly celebrated for his guitar work, but his ability as a blues singer was also outstanding.  He shows off his range and power with a very emotional performance that elicits screams from the ladies in the crowd.  "It's My Own Fault" is a cover of a John Lee Hooker song released as a b-side in 1960.  It is a slow, smoldering blues with another spectacular vocal from King backed up by a wailing guitar solo.  "How Blue Can You Get" was a 1964 single for King.  King shows just how blue he could get with a volcanic vocal and some inspired guitar work in the intro.  "Please Love Me" was a 1953 hit single written by King.  It is a smoking hot song that gets me bopping and features a high-tempo yet impressively fluid solo from King.  Side two opens with King's 1954 hit "You Upset Me Baby."  It is a jumping track that opens with an exciting guitar run before King tears into the vocal.  He lets his sax player take the solo which really cooks.  "Worry Worry" was originally the b-side of a 1950 single that was re-released as an a-side in 1959.  It is another slow blues that begins with a long fiery guitar intro from King that rouses the crowd.  When King finally breaks into his passionate vocal the crowd starts screaming and I would have too if I had been there.  It is a stunning performance on every level, the highlight of the album.  I don't think the blues gets any better than this.  "Woke Up This Mornin'" was written by King and was a hit single in 1953.  It sounds like filler practically after the previous titanic track, but it is full of energy and fine singing from King.  "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" was originally a b-side in 1960.  It opens with a typically graceful and dynamic guitar solo from King before he gets down with another steamy vocal that he punctuates with short bursts from his guitar.  His horn section gives the song extra oomph as it moves towards its conclusion.  "Help the Poor" was a 1964 single for King.  It is more rhythm and blues than straight blues and gets into a nice groove to close the album.  This is truly a classic album, ten heartfelt tracks of superb singing and playing that showcase King's brilliance.  As a vocalist/guitarist, King was as a virtuoso without parallel.  I'm sure going to miss him.  Recommended to people who believe that the blues need to be sung as well as they are played.