TBT – B.B. King’s “Singin’ the Blues” Is Elegant as Ever
Editor’s note: This week, Throwback Thursday looks at an early masterpiece by a then emerging B.B. King. Fans everywhere are in mourning with the recent loss of this beloved gentleman of the blues, and Singing the Blues is yet another reason we celebrate his music, and his legacy.
During the early 1950s, B.B. King was building quite a reputation as a hard working, brilliant young guitar player. Beginning with “3 O’Clock Blues” in early 1952, King had several charting hits including “Woke Up This Morning,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “Sweet Little Angel,” and many more. By 1956, King was touring the “Chitlin’ circuit,” as well as playing noted venues such as The Apollo Theater in New York. In fact, in 1956 he had booked 342 concerts! All this touring, playing live shows night after night, enabled King to hone his playing and showmanship to a fine edge. His star was certainly on the rise.
Issued in 1957 on the Crown label as CLP-5020, King’s Singin’ the Blues was a showcase of his emerging talent. The album was a compilation of his early chart topping hits, some of which have become blues standards, and others that still make us smile six decades later. The twelve tracks run 35:24, which doesn’t seem like much until we have a listen; only then do we appreciate the goodness that has been packed into that short period.
There are so many aspects of this recording that strike us right away. The echoes here and there of his hero, T-Bone Walker. The poise, and confidence of King’s playing, flowing smoothly like river water running into the sea. There’s the economy of notes, allowing each note to carry more weight, imparting the pauses with an expressive silence. There is the whimsy, and the joy in his playing that is evident to all who listen.
Perhaps the the most striking aspect of Singin’ the Blues is the humble, quiet elegance of King’s guitar lines. Simple, lyrical, joyful blues at its best, performed masterfully by an artist not even yet in his prime. It would be eight more years before Live at the Regal would be issued in 1965, and six years after that until Live in Cook County Jail would be released in 1971.
Singin’ the Blues is a breathtaking album. For those that don’t own it, buy it. For those that do, spend some quality time with this old trusted friend, again. Sit back, smile, and remember.