TBT – B.B. King’s “Live At The Regal” Is Still Hard To Beat
Editor’s Note: Today’s review is part of our new weekly series, “Throwback Thursday.” Each Thursday, Chicago Blues will review a past classic album or milestone performance, as well as examining the influence of events in blues history. We hope our fans enjoy these journeys through the blues.
November 21st, 1964, was a cold day. In fact, the cold was downright bone-chilling outside the Regal Theater in Chicago. There was to be a bright spot that day though. B.B. King, formerly known as the Beale Street Blues Boy, was about to make history. Just short of his 39th birthday, King was already a legend within the African American and blues communities. (He would not become “known” to mainstream white music listeners until 1965, when Mike Bloomfield said he had learned to play by learning and copying King’s licks.)
Early on King learned and borrowed from the music of greats such as T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, and of course, his cousin, Bukka White. After seeing T-Bone Walker perform, he was determined to get an electric guitar. By the time he had recorded Live At The Regal, King had plenty of gigging under his belt, playing an average of 250 , or more nights a year, including having toured the entire “Chitlin’ circuit.”
Originally issued in 1965 on the MCA label, the 10 tracks on Live At The Regal clock in at about 35 minutes. Not long at all, and yet, those 35 minutes still reverberate today. Personnel this date were B.B. King – guitar and vocals, Leo Lauchie – bass, Duke Jethro – piano, Sonny Freeman- drums, and Bobby Forte, Johnny Board on tenor sax. The recording was really well done by Johnny Pate. The sound quality and mix on this album is exceptional for a live album.
The album opens with the hard swinging “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and from the very first note of his guitar, King’s phrasing is lyrical, his tone warm, and almost vocal. The solo here is a lofty walk in the clouds as the band swings the rhythm. Next is “Sweet Little Angel,” which had previously been played as early as 1930 by Lucille Bogan. Tampa Red performed a version called “Black Angel Blues” in 1934, and none other than Robert Nighthawk had also performed a version, again as “Black Angel Blues” in 1949. In 1956 B.B. King himself had recorded the song. The vibrato King elicits from Lucille here is incredible. As King and the band begin the first passage of “It’s My Own Fault Baby,” the crowd shows their appreciation. Later on, many other artists would record this song, including Johnny Winter. “How Blue can You Get?” follows, and then comes the rollicking version of “Please Love Me,” with its driving tempo, and sparkling guitar. “You Upset Me Baby” shows off some fine comping by King, and the band really has an opportunity to shine, and they make the most of it too.
On “Worry, Worry,” the sophistication and subtlety of King’s playing, with his note-bending, the impeccable vibrato, and wonderful phrasing are readily apparent. When players talk about King being a “monster” or a “beast,” this performance is a great example of why they say that. The rumba flavored “Woke Up This Morning” follows, and the band really drives this one. “You Done Lost Your Good Thing” is a slow blues with gorgeous guitar voicing, backing horns, and a fine vocal from King. The band does a good turn on “Help The Poor” to close the album.
Although this album is held in high regard by the majority of blues fans around the world, King has never been especially enamored of it. The influence Live At The Regal has had on subsequent generations of players is profound. It has been cited by numerous musicians of the rock, jazz, and blues genres as one of the best albums to learn from. John Mayer, Mark Knopfler, and Eric Clapton among others, have even used it to warm up before performances. The album is also regarded as a touchstone in the history of live recording, noted for the quality, clarity, and accuracy in capturing the performance. As of 2005, Live At The Regal is included for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. It is listed at number 141 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All time.
Undoubtedly, Live At The Regal will continue to influence musicians for generations to come.