B.B. King – Singin’ The Blues – Crown Records (1957)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2011) CLP 5020 180-gram audiophile mono vinyl ****1/2:
(B.B. King – guitar, vocals; Red Callender – bass; Maxwell Davis – tenor saxophone; Jewel L. Grant – alto saxophone; Billy Hadnot – bass; Ralph Hamilton – bass; Lorenzo holden – alto saxophone’ Willard Mc Daniel – piano; Jack McVea – tenor saxophone; Bumps Meyers – tenor saxophone; Jake “Vernon” Porter – trumpet; Jesse Price – drums; Jesse Sailes – drums; Maurice Simon – tenor saxophone; Floyd Turnham – alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Charles Waller – tenor saxophone)
It is difficult to fathom the breadth of B.B. King’s legacy. Widely considered to be one of the most influential guitarists of all time, he is the embodiment of the blues connection to modern music. In the forties, he began his recording career with none other than future Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. His legend is steeped in historical and anecdotal contexts. (As a dance hall was burning, King rushed back into the blaze to rescue his beloved guitar, which he then named Lucille after the woman who inspired the incident.). During the 1950s he became a fixture on the R&B circuit with a succession of hits including “Everyday I Have The Blues”, “Sweet Little Angel” “3 O’clock Blues”, You Know I Love You” and “Woke Up This Morning”.
King became a legitimate crossover success with the release of “The Thrill Is Gone” (off his 1969 album, Completely Well. The single charted on both the pop and R&B charts. That year he opened for the Rolling Stones, and everyone became familiar with King. He was an icon to the rock and roll establishment, recording with U2 (Rattle and Hum) and Eric Clapton (Riding With The King). He has recorded and performed with the finest of jazz, blues, folk and world musicians. Not surprisingly, he was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame (1980) and The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (1987). At eighty-six years of age…he still performs!
Singin’ The Blues, originally released (on Crown records) in 1957 is a compilation of King’s early rhythm and blues career. More than a retrospective, it is a glimpse into the golden age of this unique hybrid genre. The opening track, “Please Love Me” introduces the jagged guitar and high pitched vocals that define blues. The relation to jump music is evident on “You Upset Me Baby”. Reminiscent of Louis Jordan or Ray Charles, the musical flow swings, and is augmented by a saucy tenor saxophone run. King’s signature fluid string-bending solos established a template for most guitar players over the next twenty years. There are plenty of horns on the arrangements. “Woke Up This Morning” has a latin or calypso groove. The horn chorus could be from a piece by Ellington or Basie.
There are slower vamps like “3 O’clock Blues” which manifests a mournful New Orleans vibe. The sole cover, Memphis Slim’s “Everyday I Have The Blues,” is gritty with a barrelhouse piano and nasty guitar licks. This is jukebox music…concise and dynamic. “Blind Love” is indicative of the urban context of the music. Again King delivers a blistering solo. It is easy to see the emergence of an important musical figure.
As with many blues artists, there is a mysterious, shared writing credit (Most likely, this is attributable to label executives angling for royalties). Pure Pleasure Records has maintained the grainy tone of the original mono recordings. But King’s passionate singing and vibrato-laced guitar work is preserved. Singin’ The Blues is more than an album…it is an historical document!
Side One: Please Love Me; You Upset Me Baby; Every Day I Have The Blues; Bad Luck; 3 O’Clock Blues; Blind Love
Side Two: Woke Up This Morning; You Know I Love You; Sweet Little Angel; Ten Long Years; Did You Ever Love A Woman; Crying Won’t Help You
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of this late jazz icon.