Why BB King was King of The Blues
The Blues is a music that demands to be heard live. And BB King was a master of the live show.
“Live At The Regal” – shows why this legend was called the King of The Blues.
Heralded as one of the greatest live blues albums ever recorded, this set catches the singer-guitarist as his star was in ascent. Recorded on November 21, 1964, at The Regal, Chicago's answer to Harlem's Apollo Theatre. King's performance is visceral. He sings so hard that gravel flies even in his clearest high notes. And his trademark single-note guitar lines are sharp and steely, matching his voice with trembling vigour.
Released in 1965, “Live At The Regal” has definitely become the album that most people hold up as the defining moment of what is B.B. King. B.B. King was not only a timeless singer and guitarist, he's also a natural-born entertainer, and on Live at the Regal the listener is treated to an exhibition of all three of his talents. Over percolating horn hits and rolling shuffles, King treats an enthusiastic audience to a collection of some of his greatest hits. The backing band is razor-sharp, picking up the leader's cues with almost telepathic accuracy. King's voice is rarely in this fine of form, shifting effortlessly between his falsetto and his regular range, hitting the microphone hard for gritty emphasis and backing off in moments of almost intimate tenderness. Nowhere is this more evident than at the climax of "How Blue Can You Get," where the Chicago venue threatens to explode at King's prompting.
“Regal” kicks off with “Every Day I Have The Blues”, B.B. wastes no time coming out swinging. Literally 30 seconds into the opening track, his trusty Lucille is singing like a bird, with licks that are still influencing guitarists, almost 50 years later.
King has always been a master at speaking to the crowd between tunes. If you’ve seen him before, you know that he projects a laid back vibe. You almost feel that you’re sitting in his living room, letting him show you what the Blues is all about.
On “Regal” he does just that, immediately following the opening track. He explains how he is gonna “go back and pick up some of the real old Blues.” When “Sweet Little Angel” kicks in you can hear the crowd scream with appreciation. This is no coincidence! The master is holding court, and you can most certainly feel that you are about to hear an evening of “schooling.”
With the band continuing the rhythm of “Angel”, B.B. chats to the crowd some more. He asks them to “think about a guy that loses his girl.” The perfect segue into “It’s My Own Fault.” Vocally, King gives it everything here. It’s amazing to hear his “bird like” falsetto highs roll right into menacing growls. With such great Guitar playing going on, it’s easy to forget what a singer King is. But here, he gives us something that we CAN”T forget! Blues vocals at their best!
“How Blue Can You Get?” starts with King asking for a round of applause for his band. An awesome lineup indeed! “Live At The Regal” features Leo Lauchie on Bass, Duke Jethro on Piano, Sonny Freeman on Drums, Kenneth Sands on Trumpet and Bobby Forte & Johnny Board on Tenor Saxophone. This tune features the now classic line, which ends with B.B. singing “I gave you seven children, and now you wanna give ‘em back!” It never gets old listening to this, and hearing the whole place go up for grabs! Indeed a classic night of Live Blues!
“Please Love Me” takes us up and out, and leads to “You Upset Me Baby.” Once again, B.B. tells us he’s going to take us “way back.” Back we go, with Lucille as the vehicle. Check out the licks starting this one off! Textbook B.B. King at it’s finest. Pure emotion.
“Woke Up This Morning (My Baby’s Gone)” gives us a driving beat that King uses to showcase his powerful voice once again, and then with the crowd in the palm of his hand, takes us right into “You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now.” Lucille once again speaks first here, with a tone to die for.
“Help The Poor” closes the album, leaving the listener with no doubt that we are indeed lucky that this night of Blues was recorded and preserved.
Through the years, “Live At The Regal” has stood the test of time and then some. If ever anyone wants to really hear how the Blues is supposed to be sang and played, they should listen to “Live At The Regal.”
On that November night in ‘64, B.B. King and his band left an undeniable musical fingerprint on the human race. We are humbled by the magic that was woven by him for audiences around the world.
And we can’t ever say “Thank You” enough! “Thank You Mr. King!”