My kind of blues

This article is extracted from the forthcoming Grove Atlantic biography King of the Blues.

B.B. King has released more than fifty real albums in his life, but many casual fans can only name one thing: Live at the Regal from 1965, arguably the greatest live blues album. B.B. was probably the most important blues artist of the post-war era, instrumental in the development of the guitar hero and the rise of Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Billy Gibbons and most of their colleagues. But B.B. itself originated in the single era, and it cut off many of its best bits before the long player caught on. (Many other 1950s greats, from Little Richard to Ruth Brown, are also known for singles rather than albums.)

The whims of B.B.'s album discography frustrate any fan of building a collection. Regal is a good place to start. You could go to one of the excellent single volume B.B. King anthologies from Ace Records in the UK go. But what then? A four-disc box set feels overkill if you don't even have a B.B. King's studio album.

The catalog from B.B. is a mess. Many early discs are slapdash collections from Modern Records, the independent "Race" label that owned most of B.B.'s really important singles in the 1950s and 1960s. King published. As B.B. switched to a major label, ABC-Paramount, he promptly sank into a quagmire of Sinatra-style strings that had been exposed for half a decade. His transition to pop superstar in the Woodstock era inspired a number of glossy albums that are considered his most enduring era. In the decades that followed, B.B. brave a dozen different music genres, from big band to funk to cocktail jazz and country. Most of these trips are forgotten. A few should be remembered.

Here is a list of six underrated B.B. King LPs that every serious fan should own. I've purposely left out a few beautiful but well-known releases, including the star-studded Indianola Mississippi Seeds, the Clapton collaboration Riding with the King, and the parting song One Kind Favor. And I skipped Live at the Regal: if you're a serious fan, you already own it.

My kind of blues, 1960

B.B. called it his favorite album, and My Kind of Blues enjoys mythical status among collectors. Hard facts about the publication are few: B.B. allegedly cut it in a single day, amid a clutter of other recordings, as he prepared to move from the Modern Records imprint of the Bihari brothers to a major label. The Biharis had at least nine previous long players under the name of B.B. released, but My Kind of Blues was one of the first to record a number of songs as an album rather than singles and scraps. Alternately soft and moody, My Kind of Blues pulsates with the relaxed cadence of the last call in a smoky club. B.B. runs a four-piece ensemble, possibly the smallest group he's ever had in a session, and a retreat from the big band stylings of his earlier recordings. Lucille opens the album with thirty seconds of leisurely, unaccompanied solo before B.B. whines: "Oh, baby, you done lost your good thing now." The full band doesn't start until the second minute, and they enter at a slow pace and explore the acoustic space that the long-player era had created.
B. B. King

B. B. King, 1963

Completely forgotten today, the B.B. King a cannon shot blues, by far the strongest collection of songs that B.B. ever recorded for a studio LP. Most of the ten tracks were new and sounded like the product of a single session at the end of B.B.'s decades with Modern Records. The producers have the volume of the microphone from B.B. set so high that the opening notes of the first song "Going Home" crackle in a distorted manner. From then on, B.B. one raw blues rant after the other, which rages over crisp, complicated horn charts by arranger Maxwell Davis. The backing band hardly sounds reserved anymore. The Biharis pulled The Letter "and" You Never Know "as single, both sides carried by BB's passionate baritone and impeccable guitar. BB's powerful lungs burst from the speakers on" Sundown "and" You Shouldn & # 39; t Have Left ". , "Demanded the listener's attention. The energy only fades as the final notes of the closing" Shake Yours "fade away. At this point in his career, BB King could have been singing his shopping list and getting his fans going.
Blues is king

Blues is king, 1967

This riotous live set is a blatant companion piece to Live at the Regal, which was released two years earlier. Regal is the most famous – but B.B. and his musicians didn't particularly like it. The producers had improved the recording by adding a second ensemble to B.B.'s backing band, the Regal House Band, which resulted in a number of songs that sounded sloppy to the musicians who played them. Literally and figuratively, Blues Is King was everything Live at the Regal wasn't. Regal had B.B. presented with a big band in a big theater that played his greatest hits. Blues Is King took him to a smaller club with a tight quintet, played only one hit, Don & # 39; t Answer the Door, "and nine lesser-known but explosive tracks, including" Night Life "penned by Willie Nelson. Where Celebrating love live at the Regal, Blues Is King simmered in anger and desperation. Blues Is King was a break-up album that recorded the downfall of BB's second marriage. It was almost a concept album, as cathartic as Shoot Out the Lights or a href = ""> Rumors. On the opener" Waitin & # 39; on You "a man sits alone in his house at four in the morning, waiting for a woman who has stayed out too late. With the second song," Gambler & # 39; s Blues ", his lady has disappeared. The third track," Tired of Your Jive ", finds our narrator angry and bitter. On the fifth track" Buzz Me ", he asks his wife to come home.
Quite well

Very well, 1969

This is the album with "The Thrill Is Gone", the signature song by B.B. I'm not putting it on this list because it has been forgotten – it isn't – but because so many listeners are listening to all of B.B.'s studio recordings. Completely Well is B.B.'s crossover-era best studio LP, a series of albums and performances that brought him to millions of white rock and pop fans after nearly two decades on the chitlin scene. Producer Bill Szymczyk modernized B.B.'s sound by bringing it together with a crack band of contemporary musicians in a studio stocked with plenty of wine and weed. The sessions resulted in a series of long, casual jams. The opener “So Excited” is one of the most striking works by B.B. It starts deceptively with a straightforward rock beat before transitioning into a funky, syncopated polyrhythm anchored by a deafening organ riff and confident vocals from BB that just fed the band as it drew energy from them Audience in concert. Page two features a rough reprise of B.B.'s 1955 single "Crying Won & # 39; t Help You". The performance expands into a six minute jam and turns into "You & # 39; re Mean" which burns another ten minutes, between B.B. and second guitarist Hugh McCracken in a musical duel. After a heated exchange, the two guitarists take a break, and spontaneous applause breaks out in the studio. B.B. bursts out laughing. No backing band had pushed him so hard.
Midnight believers

Midnight Believer, 1978

B.B. explored new sounds with each release in the 70s and 80s. He has hit many dead ends. With Midnight Believer, however, he celebrated a timely comeback in which he worked with an established and exciting jazz-pop ensemble, the Crusaders. Joe Sample and lyricist Will Jennings provided a batch of tracks connecting B.B.'s blues to the Crusaders' jazz-funk-pop formula. The opener "When It All Comes Down (I & # 39; ll Still Be Around)" features a catchy tune on a song that is pure pop from the late 70s but rooted in the blues. The excellent backing band leaves a lot of space for Lucille, whose skilful interaction with the sidemen shows why B.B. was so popular with fellow musicians. The title track borders on disco funk, but B.B. keep control. The album flirts with Hall & Oates-Style Soul on "
href = ""> Stop (I Feel Our Love Is Changing) "before heading to the driving boogie-woogie blues inspired by Marvin Gaye notable "Never Make a Move Too Soon," one of the best BB King songs of the 1970s.
There must be a better world here somewhere

There has to be a better world somewhere, 1981

Producer Stewart Levine recruited New Orleans pianist Dr. John to collaborate with Doc Pomus, another unlicensed doctor of swing, to create a series of songs for B.B. to write. The staff wrote a number of songs that were played by Dr. John's barrelhouse piano and purring baritone were imbued with, but not deviated too far from B.B.'s twelve-bar blues. The only problem was with B.B .: When he heard the demo tape for this album, he got into a crisis of confidence. Dr. John's masterly feats left him intimidated and discouraged. Levine helped him overcome his self-doubts. The Better World sessions brought B.B. back to New York to Hit Factory, where he had recorded Completely Well a decade earlier. If this data was excessive, it was mixed up. What emerged after two weeks of nightly bacchanalia was a sweet, smoky homage to the era of Woodstock and weed. B.B. reaches a climax of gospel enthusiasm with "More, More, More". On "The Sacrifice" Drs. John and Pomus deliver a surprisingly accurate narrative of a contested bluesman. B.B.'s melancholy brooding on the theme song will make you cry in your beer.

Daniel de Visé, author of King of the Blues, reads AllMusic every day. His favorite reviewers are Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Heather Phares.


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