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Cream of The Crate: Album # 176 - B. B. King: The Best Of


  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 176 - B. B. King: The Best Of

    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)

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    This is album review number One hundred and seventy six in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    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. 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 it's release, there were 10 volumes in total.

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    There is absolutely no doubt that he was King by name and, "King" by nature! Born in the area that many believe gave birth to American blues - Mississippi. He was in fact 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.

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    A true King to the end!

    He became known as "B.B" King when became a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1940's, where he was dubbed "the Beale Street Blues Boy." That nickname was shortened to "B.B." The other important part of B.B King was his guitar, which he named - "Lucille"! So, how did that name come about?

    According to the 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."

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    1960 - In the studio with "lucille"

    It is utterly impossible to overstate his importance to, and 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.

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

    His list of other awards is almost ridiculously long and includes two honorary doctorates in music over a 30 year period, 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].

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    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 hospitalizations 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, 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 when he moved into producing for the mass 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

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    Rear album cover

    Track 1 Side 1 - Hummingbird. 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 has in the background which gives the track 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.

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    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.


    Track 3 - How 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, and when we recognise that really it is a just a simple 12-bar blues 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 . . . and 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 sasy 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)

    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, but, 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, but of course we don't know who it was, or how much was deleted - but doesn't it make you curious?


    The final track 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. 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 - stripped back to guitars, bass, drums 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 not limited to but including Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan and James Taylor, Van Morrison, Simon & Garfunkel - oh the list goes on and on and I for one will remember him for his great guitar work with the Monkees, which not only made them sound good, but helped shape them into passable musicians.

    Track 3 -
    The 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.

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    Receiving the Grammy for The Thrill Is Gone

    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 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, and that 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? 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.

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    When we discuss the legends of music it is almost a nonsense to talk about the "best", and 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 some 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 and is available in both vinyl and CD formats.

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    VIDEOS - That repository of all things 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

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed by me, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed by me, just click here

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    Past album Reviews - Numbers 151 onward:

    Number 151 - The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

    Number 152 - The Animals: The Animals

    Number 153 - Omar Khorshid: Live in Australia 1981

    Number 154 - Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)

    Number 155 - Billy Thorpe: Tangier

    Number 156 - Aretha Franklin: The Best Of

    Number 157 - Big Bill Broonzy: Big Bill Blues [His 23 Greatest Songs]

    Number 158 - The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go

    Number 159 - The Band: Stage Fright

    Number 160 - Ray Brown & The Whispers: Hits and More 1965 - 1968

    Number 161 - Guitar Junior: The Crawl

    Number 162 - Jimi Hendrix: Radio One

    Number 163 - Memphis Minnie: Queen Of The Blues

    Number 164 - Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

    Number 165 - The Loved Ones: Magic Box

    Number 166 - Various Artists: On The Road Again [An Anthology Of Chicago Blues 1947 - 1954]

    Number 167 - Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits

    Number 168 - David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust

    Number 169 - Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication

    Number 170 - Chain: Two Of A Kind

    Number 171 - Bob Marley and The Wailers - Legend

    Number 172 - Coco Taylor: What It takes

    Number 173 - Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium

    Number 174 - Various Artists: The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival

    Number 175 - Noeleen Batley: Little Treasure
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