The great blues legend, B.B. King, born Riley B. King, passed away late Thursday night in Las Vegas, NV. King was 89 years young. His death has been one of the top news stories trending on social media as well as national media broadcasts. There have been video tributes from the likes of Eric Clapton to hit social media and I’m confident that Clapton’s will certainly not be the last. B.B. King was and is the “King of the Blues” to most and his blues music took him all over the world for over 50 years, including Newport’s Blues and Jazz Festivals.
My favorite album, like many adoring BB King fans, is “B.B. King, Live at the Regal.” I say album because it was produced as an LP in 1965. I originally purchased it sometime in the 1990’s as a CD but picked up the album later on in life. The recording took place in late 1964 at the once famed Regal Theater in Chicago. The Regal Theater was almost as famous as its musical inhabitants in the 1950’s, 1960’s, until its close in the 1970’s. Greats such as Davis, Fitzgerald, Gillespie, and Ellington graced the stage of the Regal Theater along with B.B. King. “Live at the Regal” is in the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress. It is one of the best blues albums I have ever experienced. Here is what I mean by experienced.
The songs on the album are a blues anthology of old blues, Chicago style blues, Delta blues, upbeat, ballads, soulful to the max. The songs have that blues rhythm that I love. B.B. King’s voice is just pitch perfect in each tune – soft at times, yelling out when needed, pouring his heart out vocally on stage. Tight, precise percussion section. Smooth, driven bass. Piano filling in just the right note to perk you up during the song. Horns supplying that energy that make you want to stand up and clap. And, of course, B.B. King’s signature guitar play with those punctuating singular notes and attention grabbing solos.
I sometimes sit and listen to this album with my eyes shut and wonder what it was like in that Regal Theater in 1964. If you listen closer, to the crowd, you will feel the real magic in the experience of this album. Women are literally screaming in the crowd. Whether B.B. King is playing a solo or singing a lyric to a song, the women scream like crazy. Screaming like they are so turned on by the music that it is overwhelming them. I picture a smoke filled room packed tightly with men and women dressed up like they just came from a wedding. No jeans, no T-shirts, no sneakers. Men in 3 piece suits and smart shoes buffed and clean. Women dressed to impress their man, and of course, B.B. King should he sneak a peek into the crowd their way. Whiskey glasses, half full-half drunk, used as percussion instruments on worn, wooden tables that were on the verge of collapsing by the end of B.B. King’s show. The noise in the theater is deafening, you have to scream at your date to get his/her attention. The dance floor is congested but no one is pushing, shoving, bothering any one. Everyone is there to experience the “King of the Blues” and his soulful messages are being heard loud and clear. The experience of the album for me goes way deeper than just listening to “Sweet Little Angel” or “Worry, Worry.”
As a writer and fan of blues music, I will end by saying that B.B. King introduced me to blues music. I’ve listened to it for nearly 30 years and will certainly continue to do so. RIP B.B. King, the King of the Blues.