BB King: Live At The Regal
1965 (Recorded Nov. 21, 1964 at the Regal Theater (Chicago)
ABC-Paramount ABCS-509 LP: MCAD-11646 CD
Every Day I Have The Blues (2:38)
Sweet Little Angel (4:12)
It’s My Own Fault (3:29)
How Blue Can You Get? (3:44)
Please Love Me (3:01)
You Upset Me Baby (2:22)
Worry Worry (6:24)
Woke Up This Mornin’ (1:45)
You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now (4:16)
Help The Poor (2:58)
BB King: guitar, vocals
Bobby Forte, John Board: tenor saxophone
Duke Jethro: piano
Leo Lauchie: bass
Sonny Freeman: drums
Like my previous reviews of Coleman Hawkins (The Hawk Relaxes) and the Oscar Peterson Trio (Night Train), I want to introduce you all to albums that are not only brilliant, but ones that many of you may not have heard before, considering the diversity in age, nationality, and musical tastes amongst my readership (which I deeply appreciate, thank you!). So if you are not familiar with classic albums in the genre of blues music, then you are in for a treat, as Live At The Regal by B.B. King is a treasure for long time fans and newcomers alike.
Riley King, dubbed “Blues Boy” as a young musician, eventually came to be known to the world as blues vocalist/guitarist B.B. King, an iconic American blues master. Known for his minimalistic solos and ebullient, gospel tinged shout-style singing, King (1925 – 2015) was almost inarguably the most uplifting musician one could listen to or hear live. One could never walk away from King’s music depressed, as his personality, music, and overall message was always the cure for whatever woes you have previously, and you always feel as if things are (or will be better) after even a single song. Thus, you could call King a kind of soul doctor, and the prescription was always amazing blues music.
I will never forget the first time I heard B.B. My brother bought me a copy of one of his compilation collections (on tape, this was the late 80s after all). I put it in the car stereo, pressed play, and from that first song on, that tape was my driving music until the tape wore out and I bought copy after copy from that point on. There was something almost mystical about The Thrill Is Gone or Let The Good Times Roll. Like the music of RUSH between the years 1978 – 1987, or songs like The Working Hour and Standing On The Corner of the Third World by Tears For Fears, B.B.’s songs seemed to be almost divinely designed for my spiritual and musical education, and Live At The Regal always felt like it was designed as a reward for choosing the blues in the first place.
The first real noteworthy aspect of the album is the crowd, reacting to the entire show like one would expect of an act like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, screaming and shouting. But in this case, lie all the classic blues performances, the crowd’s reaction is participatory, shouting reactions and responses to B.B.’s lyrics, something which has been lost in modern music which is based on passive spectacle: one sits back and is “blown away” by lights and dancing and giant video screens typical of stadium performances. Nothing wrong with this of course, but the interactive, engaged club/theater blues experience specialized in this “communal concertizing”, and it is almost strange in 2017 to hear a 1965 crowd “conversing” with B.B. and his band.
But this is one of the enduring charms of Live At The Regal. Like traditional Kabuki audiences calling out the names of past (legendary) actors as glowing comparisons to the actors they are witnessing in the moment, calling out words and phrases of exultation at moments of musical/emotional excellence in traditional Arabian musical performances, or the cries of “Hao!” (Man: “Good!” “Yes!”) during particularly excellent Peking Opera performances, the crowd at the Regal Theater wasted no opportunity to let B.B. and his band know they were really doing things right that evening. And as time and the music has proven, they were not wrong in their assessment. It is considered by many (myself included) to be the one of the greatest blues albums, and ranks highly on any serious list of the greatest albums of all time, even being included for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry in the USA’s Library of Congress.
Though the entire performance is just over 30 minutes (including announcements and between-song banter), Live At The Regal is worth every penny, and a stellar example of how a performance of any length should be lead by any band or bandleader. Right from the start, B.B. rips into a sweet toned solo before smoothly belting out Every Day I Have The Blues, as saxophonists Bobby Forte and John Board play rollicking horn lines in the background. Though King opens the show in great form, what really sets the flavour and feeling of the show is drummer Sonny Freeman’s beat (a shuffle with a syncopated 2/4 feeling instead of the usual triplet feeling common to such beats). Another gem is the classic How Blue Can You Get? (a version of which was partially sampled by electronic artists Primitive Radio Gods for their hit Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand). Once again, King sings with his wonderful signature sweetness mixed with brash shouting, while Freeman lays down a swinging ballad beat, switching from hi hat to ride cymbals to add a slight jazz flavor to the proceedings, keeping a great swinging feel going as B.B. moves to the energetic backbeat shuffle Please Love Me.
From start to finish Live At The Regal is like a hot bath before a great meal/evening with your lover. It is just really really really damn great!