Known to music fans around the world as the “King of the Boogie,” John Lee Hooker endures as one of the true superstars of the blues genre. His work is widely recognized for its impact on modern music – his simple, yet deeply effective songs transcend borders and languages around the globe.
It is so cool to find an album that was cut by professional musicians that sound like they are having a blast and doing what they were born to do, and a perfect example of this is Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King’s Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, a killer disc from their recent return to the venerable Blind Pig Records label!
20 killer tracks from B.B. King's 1950s heyday, including quite a few alternate takes and a few tough-to-locate items ("Bye Bye Baby," "Dark Is the Night," "Jump with You Baby"). Many of the titles are familiar ones – "Woke Up This Morning," "Every Day (I Have the Blues)," "Please Love Me," "Whole Lotta Love" – but often as not, compiler Ray Topping unearthed contrasting versions from the same sessions that shed new, fascinating light on King's studio techniques.
Recorded in 1971, but unreleased in the U.S. until 1999, B.B. King's Live in Japan deserves high marks for exuberance alone. Had Live in Cook County Jail not just jumped into the charts, this live album might have been released long ago. The recording opens with a swelling of enthusiastic cheers, as King launches into an uptempo "Every Day I Have the Blues." There are plenty of other classics here as well, including "How Blue Can You Get?", "Sweet Sixteen," and "The Thrill Is Gone" (which elicits another round of cheering from the opening notes). Live in Japan may not have the long-standing reputation of Cook County Jail or Live at the Regal, but it's an excellent album, with a decidedly different feel from these two classics. King's obvious enthusiasm for his music and for his audience is infectious, and you can hear the sheer joy of it in every note. And, for those who don't really feel that they need additional versions of well-known songs, let it be mentioned that Live in Japan contains King's only live rendition of "Hummingbird," not to mention a couple of unique jams ("Japanese Boogie," "Jamming at Sankei Hall," and "Hikari #88").
Although Live & Well wasn't a landmark album in the sense of Live at the Regal, it was a significant commercial breakthrough for King, as it was the first of his LPs to enter the Top 100. That may have been because recognition from rock stars such as Eric Clapton had finally boosted his exposure to the White pop audience, but it was a worthy recording on its own merits, divided evenly between live and studio material. King's always recorded well as a live act, and it's the concert tracks that shine brightest, although the studio ones (cut with assistance from studio musicians like Al Kooper and Hugh McCracken) aren't bad.
B.B. King is not only a timeless singer and guitarist, he's also a natural-born entertainer, and on Live at the Regal the listener is treated to an exhibition of all three of his talents. Over percolating horn hits and rolling shuffles, King treats an enthusiastic audience (at some points, they shriek after he delivers each line) to a collection of some of his greatest hits. The backing band is razor-sharp, picking up the leader's cues with almost telepathic accuracy. King's voice is rarely in this fine of form, shifting effortlessly between his falsetto and his regular range, hitting the microphone hard for gritty emphasis and backing off in moments of almost intimate tenderness. Nowhere is this more evident than at the climax of "How Blue Can You Get," where the Chicago venue threatens to explode at King's prompting. Of course, the master's guitar is all over this record, and his playing here is among the best in his long career. Displaying a jazz sensibility, King's lines are sophisticated without losing their grit. More than anything else, Live at the Regal is a textbook example of how to set up a live performance.