Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Great B. B. King


B. B. King

The blues legend wrote, recorded, and performed so many classic songs for so long that it’s difficult to choose just one or two (or four or five) for inclusion here …

But onward we must go.

“How Blue Can You Get” (live version, 1970)

He solos for a full two minutes and 45 seconds as the intro — and an incredible solo it is — before just ripping the vocals to shreds too. 

You’re evil when I’m with you baby
And you are jealous when we’re apart
I said you’re evil, you’re so evil when I’m with you baby
And you are jealous when we’re apart
How blue can you get baby
The answer’s right here in my heart

Both his guitar playing and his singing convey tremendous and unmistakable emotional power and range to the listener, which is one major reason why he is one of a kind. 

“You Upset Me Baby” (studio version, single originally from 1954)

A straight-ahead “uptown” blues number. 

Like listening to AM radio late at night in 1954 on some Southern station, since this was before Elvis (and others) popularized “race” music (yes that’s what it was called by Billboard and the radio industry). 

Later in the 1960s the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, and countless other bands, plus individual guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, having immersed themselves in Blues and R&B during their youth, would go on to popularize it for a mass audience and pay homage to it by actually naming their influences and fully crediting the origin of their style of playing. 

B. B. King was very high on all their lists.

None of that happened with the Elvis wave. They just kinda pretended they invented it. Which is unfortunate.

The influence on guys like Clapton from this next tune are obvious.

“Please Love Me” (studio version, single from 1953)

This one is new to me, his version of Leon Russell’s classic “Hummingbird” live from Japan in 1971 — he makes the song his own and the guitar tone here is fabulous.

“Hummingbird” (live version, 1971)

I could go on and on and on — the man recorded an incredible amount of great music, toured year-round for decades, and lived long enough to record albums with accomplished guitarists who claimed him as their hero like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton and John Mayer. 

He was in a class by himself.