Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 17: B.B. King, "Live At The Regal"

Artist: B.B. King
Album: Live At The Regal
Year: 1964 (recorded)/1965 (released)
Label: ABC

Though it is one of the oldest forms of music, there is perhaps no more of a timeless sound than that of the blues. While trends within popular music come and go, the sound of the blues has remained nearly the same since it first gained popularity nearly a century ago. One could argue that the most significant difference between now and then occurred with the birth of "electric blues" in the late 1940's and early 1950's. With this change, the genre was opened to a much larger audience, and it is through this transition that blues music began to influence the early stages of rock music. While there have been many fantastic electric-blues artists, there are few with equal stature, and none with the longevity of the man who may very well be the most important electric-blues player of the past century, B.B. King. With more than six decades in the music business, few artists have seen the musical landscape change as significantly, and B.B. King remains a major concert draw all across the globe. A man who truly pushed the genre forward, it was largely due to King's work that the electric-blues has it's current form, as his usage of note bending and staccato picking have influenced nearly every bluesman that has followed. Due to his many decades of recording, B.B. King has one of the largest recorded catalogs of any artist in history, and it is therefore rather tricky to choose the album that best represents everything that makes him so important. While his early studio recordings show is pioneering style, if one wants to truly understand everything that makes B.B. King such a phenomenal artist, one need look no further then his absolutely sensational 1965 album, Live At The Regal.

While Live At The Regal is widely considered one of the finest blues records ever made, it truth of the matter is, King himself has been quoted many times as saying that he does not feel it is one of his better recordings. This is one of the many cases where an artist may be so connected to a certain phase of his career, or a certain sound or style, that it somewhat blinds him from the reality of how brilliant another album is in reality. Recorded on November 21, 1964 at Chicago's Regal Theater, the crowd present proves to be one of the most high-energy and almost wild crowd, and at times they are so loud with excitement that they bear a striking resemblance to the crowd from The Apollo heard on James Brown's Revolution Of The Mind. Such an involved and boisterous audience is something that is not commonly associated with blues music, but the truth of the matter is, Live At The Regal serves as proof that regardless of the style, the finest musicians will always be able to ignite a crowd. This also helps to show what an amazing stage presence B.B. King had, as he shows what it means to be a complete entertainer, as along with his brilliant singing and guitar, he shows a keen awareness on how to properly introduce songs, and keep the crowds' spirits high. Even on the slower numbers like "Sweet Little Angel," the crowd is screaming away with excitement, and it is truly an amazing insight into the power of blues music when done properly.

Without question, every song on Live At The Regal is all about B.B. King and his amazing sound, yet if one pushes that to the side, one will find one of the finest backing bands ever captured on tape. It is largely within the playing of his backing musicians that one can find the links from the "classic" blues sound to this more modern, electric-blues, and therefore their efforts cannot be ignored. As one of the longer running members of his backing band, pianist Duke Jethro is without question one of the most important aspects of the music of B.B. King. Often playing the parallel to King's sensational guitar riffs, there are truly few blues musicians who have so perfectly utilized the piano as one will find on Live At The Regal. The other major aspect that sets the sound of B.B. King aside from that of a majority of his contemporaries is the fact that he has a horn section on hand. This adds such a rich and full sound to the music, that it almost moves beyond blues, and one can hear a perfect example of the element that the saxophones and trombones add on the rock-blues of "Please Love Me." One of the other long standing members of B.B. King's band is also on this recording in the form of drummer Sonny Freeman. Often bringing lead-in's that almost sound more swing than blues, in many cases, it is Freeman's playing that pushes the songs to the limits of what can be called "blues," and gives each song its own, unique feel.

While his backing band helps to make each song have a personal touch, and create one of the greatest sounds in history, there is no question that the star of every moment of the record is B.B. King. By far one of the greatest guitarists and singers in music history, both his playing and vocals are some of the most instantly recognizable sounds ever recorded. The tone of B.B. King's guitar playing is like that of no other performer, and the guitar he uses is perhaps equally as famous, the legendary "Lucille." Without question one of the most soulful players in history, the influence of his sound can be heard in everyone from Eric Clapton to Keith Richards, and in many ways, one can make the case that every rock musician takes some influence from King's style of playing. Along with his phenomenal guitar playing, B.B. King also possesses one of the most pure and most fantastic blues voices in the history of the genre. On his slower numbers, King's voice almost sounds as if he is crying through every song, and one would truly be hard pressed to find a singer with more honest conviction then one finds in the voice of B.B. King. Yet even on the more upbeat numbers, King's vocals are just as fantastic, pushing the crowd to the point of hysteria as he belts out his brilliant lyrics. This diversity in tempo is absolutely one of the key elements to the music of B.B. King, and Live At The Regal features some of his finest song choices, all of which perfectly emphasize his talent. Featuring what is widely considered as the definitive version of "Black Angel Blues" (played here as "Sweet Little Angel"), as well as an absolutely stunning version of his own "How Blue Can You Get," King shows all of his diversity, as well as his seemingly endless amount of talent.

Easily one of the most iconic figures in the entire history of music, from his guitar playing to his singing to his stage presence, few musicians have the massive level of talent that one finds within the legendary B.B. King. Though he is widely considered the most important figure in modern electric blues, one can always hear the roots of the blues genre within his music, and this is largely due to his upbringing in the Mississippi Delta region. King's ability to mix together this classic sound with the new, more high energy and electric instrumentation is one of the many aspects that makes him so important to the development of many musical genres, and the list of artists who have drawn from his style is truly endless. Pushing beyond what is considered the "blues sound," on his monumental Live At The Regal release, B.B. King infuses the sound and spirit of genres like swing, soul, and there are also clear elements of more "formal" rock and roll within some of the songs. King's ability to intertwine these various styles, and create a sound that is still unquestionably blues-centered is perhaps the aspect that makes him such a music legend. As one of the long-running and most highly respected musicians in music history, simply the name "B.B. King" demands a reverence like few other figures of the past century. With one of the largest recorded catalogs ever, one can easily find everything that makes B.B. King such an unforgettable performer on his absolutely stunning 1965 album, Live At The Regal.

Standout tracks: "Every Day I Have The Blues," "Sweet Little Angel," and "How Blue Can You Get?"

No comments: