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BB Back

BB King

Midnight Believer ABC ABCL5246
Hammersmith Odeon London

The sharp-eyed among you might have noticed, a few months back, my reference to the One True God during my review of a pair of Ibanez guitars. The One True God in question is of course Mr BB King (the 'Mr' is New York Obligatory). It was my good fortune to live near Chicago when I was a stripling, so I took the opportunity to get involved with The Blues, man, while I was still in knickerbockers, and I've stayed converted. Down Home or Big City, I'll take it. I eat it for breakfast.

So it was a particular pleasure for me to score the grand double in one week: the Hammersmith Odeon concert and the new LP by Himself. And the editors of SI, in their wisdom, requested a double review. So here goes.

First, the concert. Hammersmith, Saturday evening, October 14th. Now I have to preface this with an explanation: I had been at the Odeon the previous night viewing Hawklord with extreme distaste - an untogether band and a drunken audience. So how pleasant it was to swim in the good vibes (pardon '67 banter) put out by the Saturday audience. Sure, they were noisy. They were enjoying themselves and the music. They gave the support band (singer/harpist Johnny Mars and his band No Mystery) a shit-hot ovation which was well-deserved. My empathies went out to Mars' lead guitarist who was not only supporting BB but (whether he knew it or not) playing to Clapton. That night was probably the gig of their lives.

And then the King. Course, in true Big Apple fashion his band came on and did a couple of swifties first, tight-as-a-rat's-ass instrumentals including I Just Can't Leave Your Love Alone. The whole thing: saxes, trumpet, guitar, drums, bass, keyboards - and not a fog machine in sight! Personally I find crossover jazz/funk/rock/blues somewhat dentist's waiting-room, but this was delightful stuff, and a lot of drummers could learn from the cymbal action demonstrated there.

Then BB floated on - and I say floated. He's no little fellow and he had put on a pound or so since I'd last seen him, but he came on like a feather. Now you know how lead guitarists have to piss about and tune up and put down a few music store licks before they get it? Not BB. He picked up Lucille XV (a black one) and proceeded to pull down perfect notes from zero. How he gets that sound is a Mystery - warm, clear, emotional with gimmickry - but Clapton clapped and I sighed with not inconsiderable envy.

I won't even bother to mention the titles he went through. He did a medley of old hits, he sang about a certain woman whose head is hard, he demonstrated with voice and guitar precisely how blues and gospel diverged, and he laid up a store of mid-song sermons complete with snare-shot accompanied gestures.

Throughout, his voice was powerful, his guitar was articulate, and his band was well-oiled and rolling like the proverbial Big Wheel.

An hour spent in his dressing-room afterward listening to him natter about blues history was no hard task, and even the lady I was with who hated blues was thoroughly converted. The man is a pro of a third of a century's standing, and acts it.

Onward: the album. It is not a blues album; it is a blues approach to soul, ballad, jazz, etc. There is not a single 12-bar thereon. Tough luck, all fanatics. Suffice it to say that The Crusaders had a lot to do with it. All the songs are written by either Joe Sample and Will Jennings or Stix Hooper and Will Jennings. Joe Sample plays keyboards, Stix Hooper obviously plays drums.

I find the album erratic. Side Two does nothing for me, especially as it includes a 'party' piece (Atmosphere by Sal of Martoni's??) too near in chordal progression to I Just Can't Leave Your Love Alone on Side One. But Side One is the star side. If you have to have disco music, forget yer Boney M and play When It All Comes Dozen. Little Milton fans will be intrigued by Midnight Believer. I Just Can't Leave and so forth has had some chart success and is bound to be indicative of new King directions. But the last tune on the side, Hold On — which BB performed superbly live — is a cinch for the soul/funk scene and it is a beautiful song. Emotional without being maudlin, it is for me the culmination of the New York blues/soul fusion and could even be seen as an anthem of the late Seventies in the same way that Good Vibrations or Day In The Life was an anthem of earlier days. Consciously and unconsciously, it reflects the ennui of nighthawk life without being strenuously commercial.

By the time this is printed another King will have performed at the HO — Albert King. It will be very interesting to compare the two (sadly, the third King, Freddy, recently died; we might have had a 1978 clean sweep): Albert, always the more 'raw' of the two and yet heavily soul, and BB, incredibly polished and tasteful and now looking to jazz as well as soul. What a pleasant world it is.

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A Clear Oasis

Sound International - Copyright: Link House Publications


Sound International - Dec 1978

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Sound Reports & Views

Music Review by Dave Blake

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