Friday, May 15, 2015

The Thrill Is Gone-B B King RIP

In this life, I was fortunate enough to live during the right time.  The development of rock and roll, the destruction of rock and roll and the Corporization of rock and music for that matter.  It was like that in country although I wasn't around to see Hank Sr but managed to witness the power of George Jones.   Jazz has its originators as well while John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck are in the great beyond jamming away we still have Sonny Rollins from that era and in country Willie Nelson at age 82 spreading the jams and love as he goes back on the road again.  The blues era of the 40s and 50s became a source point for rock and roll of the 60s to take over.  One cannot express the influences of Elmore James or Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters to name a couple.  John Lee Hooker gave us the boogie.  Louis Jordan was jump blues that influenced Chuck Berry who influenced rock and roll.  But Louis Jordan was instrumental of being a part of a legend who for almost 70 years was bigger than the music itself.  The one we all know as B B (Blues Boy) King.

I knew once  B B went into Hospice two weeks ago that his time on this planet making music was coming to an end and for that past two weeks trying to take write the major influence that B B King on this life and recording career.  In any case the number 1 best overall view of what B B did comes from his 1992 The King Of The Blues, a sprawling four CD set that starts with a song written for his first wife on Bullet Records (Miss Martha King) up to a guitar duet with the late Gary Moore who drank himself to death long before B B closed his eyes for the final time.  While box sets nowadays are nothing more than profit taking,  King Of The Blues still remains an excellent overview of a man who damn near influenced every living and dead guitar players of the world, Hendrix, Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton who turned 70 himself and still remains a guitar legend as well.  It's something to marvel that Clapton called him the best, King ranks high up there with his singular played lead response to his vocal.  And in his prime B B King could shake the building down with that bellow of a vocal too.  But even in playing in a bar band we did our share of B B king songs, basically Rock Me Baby, a 45 that I did buy for 7 dollars from Rock N Bach many years ago, but a single so powerful that I wanted the original.   King was signed to Blarais' Kent label and recorded some of his classic songs, originals of course but with the usual Biaris adding their names to compositions guaranteeing them more money than King himself.   In the box set liner notes, King doesn't bash them at all, thankful that they gave him a recording contract and making records.  While whoever the other songwriters were, Josea, Taub, Ling, the songs were King written.

Going to ABC Records was a much better idea.  At that time ABC Paramount was trying to get a foothold in the radio market and only had a few success with teen idols Paul Anka, George Hamilton IV, Steve and Edie and Woody Woodbury whoever he was.  Two major signings helped ABC become a label to be reckon with, one was Ray Charles, the other B B King, who after signing with ABC stayed on for over 50 years but in various labels, ABC Paramount, ABC, BluesWay, MCA and even Geffen kept him on the roster after Universal bought them all up.  B B  knew the blues quite well and he had some successful ones, his How Blue Can You Get (a Leonard Feather comp but on the 45 credited to Jack Clement) which in essence is the ultimate B B King, starting out brooding on the first verse, a getting a bit more angrier up to the third verse and coda that would be classic BB, the anger and hurt blowing up like a volcano.

I gave you a brand new Ford
But you said, "I want a Cadillac"
I bought you a ten dollar dinner
And you said, "Thanks for the snack"
I let you live in my penthouse
You said, "It was just a shack"
I gave you seven children

Perhaps the best example of vintage BB King live is the Live At The Regal, which originally came out on ABC Paramount. and I don't know what it is about the recording that makes it's a classic.  Perhaps it was Johnny Pate's production and atmospheric recording,  but Pate recording it just right.  While there might be better live recordings out there, it is the emotional playing and more often than not B B's shouting the blues to get his point across, beginning and pleading on Worry Worry, six minutes and twenty seconds of textbook blues.  The fact of the matter that the King Of The Blues box set only draws one song off this album only shows it to be a sampler of that album but Live At The Regal is one of the albums to hear in whole.  

Certainly BB signature song is The Thrill Is Gone, his highest charting single which reached number 15 in late 1969.  By then his manager thought that a move to the radio market would benefit BB better in the long run and while he did get some moderate success (a far cry from the number 97 showing of How Blue Can You Get in 1964)  I did have his 45 of I'm Going Do The Same Thing They Do To Me at one time and it is B B doing more of a soul blues than what would be the more straight R and B of Thrill Is Gone produced by Bill Szymczyk  (can't never spell his name right). Bill thought it needed some strings and he added them later on via Burt De Coteaux  strings arrangement to give it a more varied sound.  I have mixed feelings about the song,  I enjoy the single version better than the 5 and half album cut that seems to drive on and I have issues of the drummer half assing the beat later on but outside of that nitpicking the song remains classic.

It's no secret that BB played alongside some of the finest rock and rollers at that time.  Leon Russell who wrote Hummingbird plays on B B's version too. Carole King plays piano on Chains And Things. And of course, U2 was there with BB on the 1988 When Love Comes To Town, one of the best things about Rattle And Hum.  But top forty was never that nice to BB, only his 1974 I Like To Live The Love only got inside the top thirty at number 28 and the aforementioned Rock Me Baby released after BB moved over to ABC did give Kent Records a number 34 chart rating, not bad for a song you never hear on the Oldies station.  BB would record with the Crusaders in the late 70s and early 80s as well.  But if Eric Clapton needed a album of blues standards to record with, he'd look up BB on the album Ridin With The King, or if MCA Universal needed a quick buck, record BB with some stars on the Duets album and 80.

The duets albums and Riding With The King are like a fun jam to hear but B B was still able to make his own albums and good albums as well.  King paid tribute to Louis Jordan with Let The Good Times Roll, which if would have been made in 1969 or even 1979 would have classic but by 1999 he was beginning to wind down.  Jordan's classics still rule but King sounds like he's having fun here.  The two albums that I did buy in the 90s.  There Is One More Time is updated B B King and the songs are quite good, the Doc Pomus 8 minute title track and I'm Moving On.  But I also liked a lot was his 2000 self produced Makin Love Is Good For You, with lead off track I Got To Leave This Woman one of his better tracks and of course covering Willie Dixon, Don't Go No Further.   The final B B King album that I bought that wasn't a duets LP was 2008's One Kind Favor, produced with John Henry Burnett (T Bone) in tow.  This is B B's tribute to the blues artists and songs that made BB King what he is today, from T Bone Walker to Howlin Wolf, from Blind Lemon Jefferson to The Mississippi Shrieks but also Lonnie Johnson which King closes the record with Tomorrow Night, which BB says is one of his favorite songs ever.  With that, One Kind Favor is the final BB King album of new music and B B would stick to playing live shows and living inside of his bus till the end when his body finally gave out and BB would leave this world Thursday Night at around 9 40 in Vegas.

Which means Lucille will play no more, his trusted guitars (all of them were named Lucille) forever silent.  My BB King memory isn't mine but my mom said that his bus and entourage was in town after a show at the Paramount and he had a grand niece working there and he stopped to pay her a visit.  My mom said he was a nice friendly guy.

Everybody dies, the question is when and where.  When you lose a legend like BB King you take stock in what he did to change the face of music and no doubt had there been no BB King Jimi Hendrix might be sounding a bit different.  In this day and age of throwaway music,  there's a reminder that when a legend like B B King passes, you discover that his music did matter and that it did change music for the better.  It's pointless to say that there'll be nobody like them ever again, the music industry refuses to do that.  To have BB stayed on at Universal for so many years that even they would never dare of dropping him from the roster. 

You can't replace BB, he was that good.

Some B B King  Albums Reviewed;

The Fabulous B B King (Flair/Virgin 1991)

The early beginnings of a legend.  He has his T Bone Walker licks down quite nice but I don't care much for that Freddie King howl that hasn't aged that well (Three O' Clock Blues, Sweet Little Angel). Thankfully B B King found his own voice but these vintage RPM sides recorded in Memphis years ago showed he was on to something, even if he was copying Elmore James note for note on Please Love Me or the rumba cha cha cha on Woke Up This Morning.  Ten Long Years would done later by Buddy Guy and the majority of songs would be reworked for Live At The Regal to better effect but everybody's gotta start somewhere.
Grade B+

BB King Live At The Regal (ABC Paramount 1965)

The live album that define B B King for the ages.  He always had a great band backing him up and on that late 1964 date at The Regal, this is Memphis meeting Chicago head on and these songs BB had in his playlist he knew by heart, to tell stories, sing, pleads and bellows his way into becoming a much loved icon.  This does rank in the top 10, maybe even top 5 live albums of all time, all the way down to Johnny Pate's production and recording.  While best ofs took Sweet Little Angel song and put on best of, you have to hear the rest of the medley for it all to make sense, from John Lee Hooker's It's My Own Fault and ending in the classic version of How Blue Can You Get, to which the crowd response is damn near orgasmic.  The version of Please Love Me is unbelievably fast and almost at punk speed, even BB can hardly keep up with the music, a far cry from Elmore inspired studio version.   Equally as powerful, the six minute Worry Worry to which BB finally puts away that Freddie King yelp into a bellow that I'm surprised he didn't blow out the speakers trying to get his point across.  Leading into a minute and half of Woke Up This Morning. For textbook blues playing, it's easy to see why Live At The Regal is definitive live blues and perhaps the best live album BB King ever made.
Grade A

Back In The Alley (BluesWay 1973)

BB King made great albums and singles, the problem was ABC would compile poorly made Best of's (the first Best of BB King was ruined by a smartass edit of Nobody Loves Me But My Mother), and at the time Back In The Alley stole key moments off Live At The Regal.  And you get the story of Lucille but then again if you have the King Of The Blues boxset, all of the songs here are on that album too.  In 1973 this would have been a very good best of BB King, probably a classic had Thrill Is Gone was on that.
Grade B+

There Is Always One More Time (MCA 1991)

Although I'm not familiar with his tenure with the Crusaders in the late 70s, BB had Joe Sample write most of the songs on this very good 1991 effort to which he calls it his best album ever.  Of course he had been saying that up till One Kind Favor, but the urban blues and soul that Sample writes (along with Will Jennings who did work with Steve Winwood) does fit BB quite well.  Doc Pomus wrote the title track shortly before he passed away which this record a bittersweet feel.  I still enjoy the uptempo tracks and the ones that BB bellows away (I'm Moving On, Mean And Evil) and the jamming that ends Roll Roll Roll is vintage King with a decent backing band, which is lead by Joe Sample and powered by Jim Keltner's drum work.  Really I don't think King has ever made a bad album, at least not the ones that I have heard. Despite the title track going on a bit too long, this is yet another very good album.
Grade B+

Making Love Is Good For You (MCA 2000)

B B in later years continue to put out good to great albums. 1999's Let The Good Times Roll was a fine Louis Jordan tribute album but it's too bad that ABC or MCA didn't compile the songs when BB was in his prime.  Making Love, shows BB self producing and singing his trademark blues.  In his late 70s, King can still sing them and lead off track I Got To Leave This Woman shows he can still shout with the best.  He can also cover the choice of covers and he chooses Since I Fell For You and I Know, both early 60 soul hits updated, takes on Willie Dixon via the Doors (and Muddy) Don't Go No Further and I'm In The Wrong Business which BB wonders if he should retire his guitar, to which thankfully he didn't. The title track is a bit goofy but nitpicking aside and 15 years after the fact, Making Love Is Good For You is a very good BB King album.
Grade B+

Riding With The King (Reprise 2001)

Eric Clapton may have gotten a bit too laid back for his own good but in the 2000's Clapton actually started coming alive with better albums starting with this generous 12 song 61 minute of blues rock and roll.  Of course it's BB giving Eric a swift kick in the pants to get the inspiration going although the title track should have been better,  but I like it of course.  It's awfully nice to let Eric give top billing to BB, kinda like a student giving the teacher credit where credit's due.  After all, BB was one of the main influence of guitar players.  It's awfully nice to hear BB play acoustic lead and give Lucille a bit of time off on Key To The Highway, and I think I like this version of Help The Poor more than the studio and Regal version.  The Doyle Bramhall 2 written songs Marry You and I Wanna Be, the former rocks, the latter not so much, the lyrics are a bit tripe.  The musicianship tends to be a bit more polished, pro tools and BB together is sacrilegious, in fact the roughness of BB's originals give the songs more attitude.   For a later day blues collaboration, it still holds up over time.  And I'll take Eric's BB tribute album over the Robert Johnson tribute album Clapton did a couple years later.
Grade B+   

One Kind Favor (Geffen 2008)

His final studio album and perhaps BB was beginning to see that things were winding down, so he goes back to pay tribute to the influences that wasn't Louis Jordan and picking Blind Lemon Jefferson's See That My Grave Is Kept Clean to lead off is a big indication that this may be his last.  While most of his band has gone on to other things, he managed to get Dr. John to help out, as well as Jim Keltner, drummer to just about anybody and everybody.  Influences range from Howlin Wolf (Sitting On Top Of The World, How Many More Years) The Mississippi Shrieks (World Gone Wrong, Sitting On Top Of The World (again), T Bone Walker (Waiting For Your Call, Get These Blues Off Me) and last but not least Lonnie Johnson which BB covers three songs and ends things with Tomorrow Night, according to rumor BB's favorite all time song.  Even at age 82 B B could still play Lucille with authority.  With that album, BB would stick to playing live until he could do it no more.
Grade A-

King Of The Blues (MCA 1993)

Box sets nowadays tend to be a money grab but in all fairness a box set could define a recording career of a legend and even though BB made another 20 years of music, this original box set of his career from 1949 to 1992 covers just about the highlights and collective singles of the blues masters and this box set makes the valid argument that BB could do rock and soul just as well.  MCA picks just the right amount of Modern and RPM singles, adds the 1949 Miss Martha King Bullet 78, plus a obscure Chess records outtake (he recorded for Chess briefly but somehow the connection wasn't right) and then moved over to ABC Paramount for what would be a 50 plus year tenure at that label and various Corporations that bought that label.  The first three CD are vintage BB, the fourth, begins the polished victory lap that includes that song he did with U2 (When Love Comes To Town).  The cream of the crop is Thrill Is Gone but also I'm Going To Do The Same Thing They Do To Me, the rock meet up of Hummingbird, with an over the top ending unlike BB and courtesy of Leon Russell but also the long version of To Know You Is To Love You, done in Philadelphia with part of the famed MFSB band (Drummer Earl Young providing the beat!).  Universal revised this set with an update in 2012 which features everything up to One Kind Favor but for me, the original four CD set of King Of The Blues is the one to get.  This is the legend of everything B B King stands for and he could do just about everything.  One of the few box sets that got it right the first time.
Grade A

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