B.B. King Live
I was fortunate enough that I grew up in a time when the appreciation of music was still considered a necessary component of a child’s education. Back in Brooklyn during that time we had to learn to play a musical instrument. After a full kid in the back day of testing to determine which instrument was best suited to us the instructor shouted;" you, the tall kid in the back, grab the bass violin." This simple determination changed my appreciation for music for the rest of my life. It was common for small groups top break off from orchestral practice each geared towards some genre of music. There was rock, jazz and blue but the all needed a bass player so I was exposed to a myriad of musical styling and through that became a fan of an eclectic selection of musicians. Naturally enough I developed favorites in each category but there was always a special place held in my heart for rhythm and blue. Of all the blues musicians I have enjoyed over the years one stands out literally as the king of them all; B.B. King. Later on some liked minded friends and I would take the subway under the river to Manhattan and visit some of the little blues clubs and coffee houses there. On as couple of miraculous occasions we were blessed to witness performances by this legendary mast of the Blues Guitar. Watching him performed was like nothing I have ever seen, then or since. Sitting there in the darken room I was transfixed by this man before me. He picked up his equally famous guitar, Lucille, like a man would his first born infant; with care, reverence and love. As he caressed it the wooden instrument sang angelically transposing the audience into a world of sheer emotional involvement. As he played the universe collapsed to Mr. King, yourself and Lucille. For the duration of the performance you listened as Me. King took you on an emotional journey that sparked the humanity within you. Recently I came as close as possible to reliving that experience while watching the Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of ‘B.B. King Live’. That disc transformed by player into a time machine bringing me back to that Greenwich Village club. While nothing could possibly recreate the personal charisma exuded by the man this Blu-ray came mighty close.
A few years back the journal of record for popular music, ‘The Rolling Stone’, listed the top one hundred guitarists of all time. B.B. King ranked third but it must be noted that of that illustrious trio Me. King was the only one living making him the de facto best guitarist on the planet. While the master Bluesman is regrettably showing signs of his eighty five years he can still out perform guitarists of any age. Now, he is relegated to sitting on stage cradling his beloved Gibson guitar. The well worn instrument shows a few signs of its own journey thanks to the 1080p high definition video. I’d rather watch Me, King under these conditions than any popular act around today. This Blu-ray released by Image entertainment as part of the WTTW's Soundstage series. The one admittedly sad aspect to this recording is that it does lack some of the shine of other discs. Still less than the best of B.B. King is still a far sight better than a lesser performer and as mentioned for anyone having sat in a live performance of the great a certain halo effect will pervade the experience glossing over some of the regrettable shortcomings. The backup musicians are solid enough performers probably at the higher end of those earning livings doing studio work. This is not intended to deride these musicians; after all the man ranked just above Me. King, the late Duane Allman, began his climb to his position as a legendary musician. In this instance the musicians support Me. King in this performance did well help in some respects to support the Bluesman nicely.
This performance featured a few guest musicians representing an odd choice to join a Bluesman of such notable statue. First to join Me. King is Terrence Howard. He is best known for his acting prowess most recently for his starring role on the one season television series ‘Law & Order: Los Angles’. His biography notes Howard is a self taught musician and while a good performer is obviously plays a dream gig out of his league on stage with Me. King. The two men from vastly different generations managed to spark an interesting chemistry while performing. Their guitar licks flow around each other weaving a fascinating performance that included 'I Need You So' and 'I Got Some Help I Don't Need’. Howard, while not as talented as Mr. King musically sets up the performance easily letting Me. King bring it home in his unique style.
A professional guitar player is also on hand as a guest star; Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. While better in a technical regard than Howard Sambora’s presentation was missing the wide eye playing with a legend feel exhibited by Howard. Sambora knows his way around a blues rift but Howard came across with more genuine heart and when you come down to it this is the foundation of the Blues. Another odd placement is Beyoncé's little sister Solange. She is obviously also a fan but once again is using one of the greats in the winter of his career to establish her own credibility. I do suppose this is more difficult for her crafting her own career in the deep shadow of her pop idol sister.