KING OF THE BLUES was the sixth of B. B. King's twelve Crown LPs, and if there were no other reason to be cheerful, we should congratulate the Bihari brothers for resisting the world's most obvious title for so long. But while it may be obvious, as a description King Of The Blues is no hype-.-rather, it's an accurate assessment of the man, his music and his status, both in the early 60s and now.
There's not a wasted note on this CD. (Well, hardly any-.-in honesty, it may take more than one play of the concluding Worried Life Blues, with its 1970 organ and girl group overdubs, to convince some listeners.) From the first bars of I've Got A Right To Love My Baby, King of the Blues defines the revolution that Riley B King wrought in the blues. You can identify precursors: the elegant logic of Lonnie Johnson, the fluid rhythms of Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker and the gospel passion of the Fairfield Four's Sam McCrary are all in the mix, but it took B. B. King to fuse these and other influences in the crucible of his incandescently passionate singing and playing, turning them into a new blues alloy: strong, flexible and beautifully polished. He couldn't have done it alone, though, not the least of the pleasures to be had from King Of The Blues is listening, in Ace's exemplary sound restoration, to Maxwell Davis' punchy, economical horn charts and the impeccable rhythmic foundation supplied by Lloyd Glenn, Marshall York and Sonny Freeman.
Most of the ten bonus tracks come from singles that were released after King moved to ABC, and it's frustrating that we don't know who most of the musicians were-.-who played the stuttering, squalling tenor sax on Tell Me Baby, for instance? That remake of a Big Maceo song is one of several tracks that testify to King's deep knowledge of the blues heritage-.-Going Down Slow and Sonny Boy Williamson's When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer (aka Million Years Blues) are others. And of course by the early 60s King was himself as much an idol and an icon as any of his precursors, and was exploring his own history with classy remakes of Whole Lot Of Lovin' and 3 O'Clock Blues. King of the blues? You'd better believe it.