B.B. KING Live At The Regal (ABC, 1964)
“Ladies and gentlemen, how about a nice warm round of applause to welcome the world’s greatest blues singer, the king of the blues; B.B. King.”
And so begins one of the best blues albums ever made, captured just as blues music was designed to be enjoyed; live and loud.
Live At The Regal was recorded on November 21, 1964 at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. Electric blues was born in Chicago in the 1940s and the city remained the spiritual home of the genre as it infiltrated the musical mainstream during the British blues boom of the 1960s, so where better for the King of that particular style of music to capture his definitive live performance on record?
The thought of the 89-year-old veteran being booed by audience members during a recent show in the States is heart breaking, but it’s hardly surprising he’s not the virtuoso master of ceremonies he once was – he’s 89 years old for chrissakes! The 39-year-old B.B. King heard on Live At The Regal however, is a live performer at the peak of his powers, conducting every second of the show with absolute authority and command, and it’s this B.B. King that will be cherished and remembered for as long as recorded music exists.
Using his guitar named Lucille as his vessel, B.B. King communicated R&B music in its purest form to an international audience hungry for something relatable and real. His unique brand of blues combined the grit of hard rocking electric blues with a jazz sensibility and subtlety for nuance, and his sophisticated style of string bends and left hand vibrato influenced practically every great guitarist to ever pick up a six string.
And then there’s the voice; powerful and tender in equal measures, and capable of effectively communicating a huge range of human emotions. There’s the full spectrum of African-American music on display throughout the record too, from the swing-influenced Please Love Me to the jumping, jiving, wailing rhumba of Woke Up This Morning. Throw in R&B classics like King’s theme song Everyday I Have The Blues and the slow blues of Sweet Little Angel (which was included in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”) and you’re left with a seminal collection of compositions.
B.B. King was a true artiste in every sense of the word, and the introductions and skits around the songs performed put him even further ahead his contemporaries. The story which he breaks into during Worry, Worry for example, is a master class in audience interaction and a text book example of a live performance carried out by an entertainer at the head of his field. The finesse and precision with which he delivered electric blues would be built upon by the likes of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, but no one before or since has made the electric guitar sing quite like B.B. King’s beloved Lucille.