cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
Album cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

“Brilliant bluesman who inspired a generation of guitarists." - (Rolling Stone - 2015) .. .. .. "As long as people have problems, the blues can never die." - (B.B. King in Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music - 1988) .. .. .. "B.B.King is a man whose work demands that any and all music lovers have at least a copy of his music in their collection." - (This review)

This is album retro-review number 176 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

From time to time there comes along an artist who is not just prolific, and let’s face it quantity is no measure of quality, but when the music is of the highest quality as well, choosing an album is not just hard, it’s almost impossible.

So I pull from the Crate to represent the “Cream” – the artist, more than the album.

The person I am talking about is none other than the legendary B.B. King and this, a vinyl album is titled – The Best Of.

Released by MCA records in 1973, it has the identifying code of 1612-1.

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
Vinyl label – [CLICK to enlarge]
The album only has nine tracks, five on the first side and four on the other side. The album was released by Festival as the first in a series and at the time of its release, there were 10 volumes in total.

 

There is absolutely no doubt that he was King by name and, “King” by nature!

He was born in the area that many believe gave birth to American blues – Mississippi. Born on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi and was named Riley B. King.

He would grow to be undisputedly one of the best-known blues performers, an important consolidator of blues styles, and a primary model for rock guitarists across many generations.

It might also be that he became one of the most loved blues artists ever.

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
A true King to the end! – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

He became known as “B.B” King when became a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1940’s. It was in this job he was dubbed “the Beale Street Blues Boy.”

That nickname was shortened to “B.B.”

The other important naming “fact” in regard to B.B King was his guitar, which he named – “Lucille“!

So, how did that name come about?

According to the biography.com website, “(1949), ….the year that King made his first recording was also the same year that he named his beloved guitar. King attended a dance in Twist, Arkansas, that had a barrel lit with kerosene in the middle of the dance floor, used to keep the crowd warm late at night.

While there, a fight broke out and the barrel was knocked over, causing a fire to spread throughout the venue. Everyone evacuated, including King, but he rushed back inside to retrieve his prized guitar.

Luckily, he managed to escape with his guitar as the building collapsed around him.

King later learned that the fight erupted because of a woman who worked at the venue named Lucille. From then on, King named his guitar “Lucille” to remind himself never to do anything so foolish again.”

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
1960 – In the studio with “Lucille” – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

It is utterly impossible to overstate how important his contribution to that style of music we call, the Blues.

From the time he made his first recording in 1949 through to his last recording in 2012, he was the “man”.

In that time he released 48 studio albums, 13 live albums, a plethora of compilations (in fact it is hard to get an exact count), and, 86 singles.

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
1948 – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Between 1971 and 2009 he was been nominated a staggering 21 times for a Grammy, and he won it an outstanding 15 times!

His list of other awards is almost ridiculously long and includes two honorary doctorates in music over a 30 year period. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame [1980] and inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame the following year and, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom [awarded by President George Bush in 2006].

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
Happily receiving his well deserved award – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Sadly and in what was an enormous loss to the music world, B.B. King passed away 2015.

In fact on May 1, 2015, after two hospitalisations caused by complications from high blood pressure and diabetes, King announced on his website that he was in hospice care at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

He died in his sleep on May 14, 2015 at age 89.

Despite two of his daughters claiming he was deliberately poisoned, the autopsy said otherwise.

B.B. King’s physician and the coroner in Las Vegas reported the 89-year-old blues legend died of a series of small strokes attributable to his longstanding battle with type 2 diabetes.

In regard to this album, it is considered as one of the best compilations of his work up to its release in 1973.

This was a time when he had already produced so many brilliant and timeless pieces of music, some of which appear on this album.

In some ways it covers an insanely short period of time of his lengthy career, but what it does do, is to cover a very important and critical point in his career. This was when he moved into producing for the mass music market, a move that proved successful without an iota of loss of his blues greatness.

Track Listing:

Side 1
1. Hummingbird
2. Cook County Jail Introduction
3. How Blue Can You Get
4. Caldonia
5. Sweet Sixteen

Side 2
1. Ain’t Nobody Home
2. Why I Sing The Blues
3. The Thrill Is Gone
4. Nobody Loves Me But My Mother

 

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
Rear album cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Track 1 Side 1Hummingbird.

What a track to kick this album off with!

From the moment the guitar, drums and piano kick in we know we are in for something great, and we are not disappointed.

Firstly we need to establish that it is not the track Hummingbird written by Don Robertson and so wonderfully recorded by Les Paul. This Hummingbird was written by Leon Russell and in fact Russell plays piano on this version and conducts and extended band that is topped up with a fine array of strings and brass.

What is unusual about this version is the fact that it does have a full backing band with strings. This results in a very polished feel. Full respect to the excellent backing chorus.

As the track comes toward its conclusion the power and intensity of it builds and builds.

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
1969 – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

It was released in 1969 as a single and made a respectable #25 on the R&B Charts However, as good as this track is, there is better to come.

Hummingbird

Track 3How Blue Can You Get appears on a multitude of B.B. King albums from 1962 through to 2012 – showing the popularity of it.

As a single it reached #23 in the R&B charts in 1963. With a number of versions to chose from, the version used on this album is from the triumphant Live at Cook County Jail album (1971).

What a great version it is as well. We recognise that really it is a just a simple 12-bar blues but it proves conclusively and reminds us, that today in times of great complexity and overproduction, a simple basic blues track can be so damn effective when played by a “Blues Master”.

It really was part of B.B’s on-going repertoire and I never tire of listening to it.

B.B King plays the part of the narrator who has been done bad by his woman, recognising that in fact this state of affairs has been going on from day one. He lists the many things that he has given the woman in an attempt to find some kind of happiness, only to be met with continual rejection and assertions that it’s not enough.

He starts with a new car, but nah! not good enough, and on the offers and rejections go!

His complaints about her complaints take on an almost comical edge in the end – hey, she even wants to give back the kids he had with her. In the end, what we have is a man who sums up the woes that represent that ongoing love/hate relationship between men and women.

Very much an out and out sassy track, I love the last two lines, “Our love is nothing but the blues, baby, how blue can you get?”

Hallelujah brother!

I’ve been down hearted baby
Ever since the day we met
I said I’ve been down hearted baby
Ever since the day we met
Our love is nothing but the blues, woman
Baby, how blue can you get?

You’re evil when I’m with you, baby
And you’re jealous when we’re apart
I said You’re evil when I’m with you, baby
And you’re jealous when we’re apart
How blue can you get baby
The answer is right here in my heart

I gave you a brand new Ford
But you said: “I want a Cadillac”
I bought you a ten dollar dinner
And you said: “thanks for the snack”
I let you live in my pent house
You said it just a shack
I gave you seven children
And now you wanna give them back

I said I’ve been down hearted baby
Ever since the day we met
Our love is nothing but the blues
Baby, how blue can you get?

I have also included an introduction by B.B. when he recorded at the Cook County Jail (which is actually listed as track 2 with the music piece as track 3)

How Blue Can You Get

Track 4 is Caldonia.

Written and recorded initially by the great Louis Jordan, it’s one of those classic “jump” tracks that has been covered by many artists, and generally all are good covers.

I don’t think this version by B.B. King is as good as Louis Jordan’s, but then I don’t think the versions by Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Memphis Slim, The Band – in fact any of the covers are as good as the original.

Yet true to his genius, B.B. King sure puts his stamp on this version.

We find it has Bobby Keys on sax, Gary Wright on organ and Klaus Voorman on bass. What makes it interesting is, that in addition to some fine playing, all of which makes for a rousing blues version of this track, it is interesting for what we don’t hear!

It appears as though an unnamed artist requested that part of the track be deleted, and so this is a shortened version of the original recording.

Obviously one of the “standard” backing/studio muso’s would not have that clout, so the person certainly had the name and push to get what he wanted. Of course we don’t know who it was, or how much was deleted – but doesn’t it make you curious?

Oh, if you listen closely it is obvious that King was having a ball, with the odd chuckle throughout the track.

Caldonia

The final track on side 1 is a wonderful version of Sweet Sixteen.

Turning the album over track 1 on side one is Ain’t Nobody Home.

A dynamically and well crafted blues track that is a favourite among his many fans. Yet despite it being well crafted it isn’t among my favourites on this album.

Track 2 is Why I Sing The Blues, which is a better track for my ears.

It’s stripped back to guitars, bass, drums and, it features Hugh McCracken sharing the guitar work with King.

You might remember McCracken, he was located in New York and certainly worked with the best including Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan and James Taylor, Van Morrison, Simon & Garfunkel – oh the list goes on and on.

I for one will remember him for his great guitar work on some of the Monkees tracks, which not only made them sound good, but helped shape them into passable musicians.

Track 3The Thrill Is Gone, is undoubtedly the highlight of this album.

This is the track that sets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. A simply superb piece co-written by Roy Hawkins, it is no wonder it became a major hit for B.B. King.

In 1970 it reached number 3 in the Billboard top selling soul tracks, and number 15 in the Billboard Hot 100.

The track earned him a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1970 and a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1998.

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
Receiving the Grammy for The Thrill Is Gone – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

King’s version of the song was also placed at number 183 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Certainly there is an argument that B.B. is at his best when it is basically just him and Lucille, but when it comes to the big production sound version of B.B. King, there are few if any tracks better than this.

The Thrill Is Gone

The final track is what can be described as a quirky track.

Nobody Loves me But My Mother is a very short track, coming in at around 1:26 mins plus ending.

What do I mean by all this?

It is simply just B.B. on tac piano returning to the most basic of blues. I love this track because it does remind us that the great man really sing the delta style of blues.

But wait! Just as we begin to groove on B.B. and his blues, it becomes apparent that this was a piece he was just having fun with.

Certainly engineer Zee Muffco, decided he would also have some fun with it. He captures B’B’s closing words and converts them into a weird, gradually slowed-down, echotised electronic blur that settles into a creepy locked-end groove.

This is probably the closest thing to an electronic B.B. King track yet, at the same time is starts out as a beautiful but very basic piece of blues.

Weird certainly can be wonderful!

Nobody Loves Me But My Mother

So what can I possibly add?

cream of the crate: album review # 176 – b. b. king: the best of
2012 – [CLICK to enlarge]
The man has released, compilations included, hundreds of albums. He is remembered fondly as one of the all time best and his legacy is sure to keep growing as the years after his passing move on.

When we discuss the legends of music it is almost a nonsense to talk about the “best”.

Now while this album is labeled The Best of B.B. King, and certainly contains a good selection of top music recorded by him up until the album was released in 1973, really there are other remarkable albums to choose from.

What it does do, to recap, is to provide the listener with a good selection of some of his best recorded pieces during the important changeover he was going through as we crossed from the 1960’s to the 1970’s.

B.B.King is a man whose work demands that any and all music lovers have at least a copy of his music in their collection regardless of the format.

Lovers of blues will undoubtedly have many copies of his albums.

The album The Best of B.B.King is available on Ebay for as little as $6 – $8.00 on CD. Surprisingly there are a number of vinyl versions available on Discogs from $10.00 plus postage.


VIDEOS:

That repository of all things music video, Youtube, have come through again. Here are the three tracks on this album that I haven’t discussed in any detail.

 

Sweet Sixteen – 1970

 

Ain’t Nobody Home – Live in Africa 1974

 

Why I Sing The Blues – live in Africa 1974


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.

#151.  The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World

#152.  The Animals – The Animals

#153. Omah Khorshid & His Group  – Live In Australia 1981

#154. Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe

#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier

#156. Aretha Franklin – The Best Of

#157. Big Bill Broonzy – Big Bill’s Blues

#158. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go 

#159. The Band – Stage Fright

#160. Ray Brown and the Whispers – Hits and More 1965 – 1968

#161. Guitar Junior – The Crawl

#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One

#163. Memphis Minnie – Queen of the Blues

#164. Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)

#165. The Loved Ones – Magic Box

#166. Various Artists – On The Road Again [ An Anthology of Chicago Blues 1947 – 1954]

#167. Janis Joplin – Greatest Hits 

#168. David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust [The Motion Picture]

#169. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

#170.  Chain – Two Of A Kind

#171. Bob Marley – Legend

#172. Koko Taylor – What It Takes

#173. Stevie Wonder – Original Musiquarium

#174. Various Artists – The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival

#175. Noeleen Batley – Little Treasure