The Thrill Is Gone hit number fifteen in the Billboard Pop Charts in 1970, which is the year I turned thirteen. B. B. King turned forty-five that year, an age I have (in my mind, fairly recently) seen come and gone. 1970 was also the year that B. B. was invited to tour with the Rolling Stones, the first of many British musicians to pay tribute to this man who inspired so many of them.
B. B. King – The Ultimate Collection, an album being released in honor of his upcoming eightieth birthday, celebrates this blues giant in style, presenting twenty-one songs recorded throughout his long career.
Because B. B. is forever partnered, in the public mind at least, with his guitar Lucille, it’s easy to forget what a truly gifted singer he is. Listening to the early singles, originally released on Modern Records’ RPM label, you can’t help but be spellbound by B. B.’s voice. The guitar playing, while stunning, takes a back seat to the emotional roller coaster of his vocals. Small wonder that Three O’Clock Blues and You Upset Me Baby reached Number One on Billboard’s R&B charts.
Perhaps being blessed with two voices, his singing and his guitar, accounts for B. B. King’s uncanny gift of understatement. While most of the guitarist he inspired will try to dazzle you with some flash of speed or burst of distortion, Lucille, in B. B.’s hands, will be more eloquent with a single bended note or a short, but perfectly timed phrase. The two live tracks here, Every Day I Have The Blues and Sweet Little Angel, both recorded at Chicago’s Regal Theater in 1964, showcase King making the blues a living vital creation, and doing it with both ease and style.
The trouble with any compilation such as this is that there is truly too much material to choose from. While one fan will thrill to How Blue Can You Get? (in and of itself reason enough to buy this CD), another will moan the absence of Caledonia and still another will wonder why the mid-eighties and most of the nineties have little representation.
Read the liner notes carefully and chances are you’ll see some familiar faces. Names such as Doctor John, Stevie Wonder, Andy Fairweather Low, U2 and Eric Clapton pop up, but so do people such as Carole King, Joe Sample, and seventies session stalwarts, Russ Kunkel and Klaus Voorman.
But read very carefully and you’ll find more interesting things that seem to comment on all of our lives and times. Jules Bihari, one of the owners of Modern Records, gets a number of song credits. This practice was, and it’s sad to say “of course,” all to common for owners trying get a bigger share of the pie. Anyone who thinks the music business has changed much, for the better or the worse, doesn’t know much about history.
And think about this: B. B. King’s only album to go platinum was his collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With The King. That would have been in the year 2000, a fitting seventy-fifth birthday present.
Still, B. B. King – The Ultimate Collection is an excellent CD, whether you’re a long-time B. B King fan or you’ve only recently been introduced to his music. And, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go to my record store and get more of his recordings from when he was younger than me!