This is not a new record. I get that. Riding with the King is a collaborative effort from B.B.King and Eric Clapton released back in 2000; however, it’s such an excellent introduction to two amazing guitarists (and of course more than that, since these are Bluesmen) – that it remains a firm favourite of mine. Part of this record’s appeal is its whirlwind, dip-your-toe in the Mississippi intro to the blues. The result might be more mainstream and polished than some blues aficionados would prefer but at the same time this renders it much more accessible to a non-blues audience. And I think this is absolutely intentional. New listeners – and particularly young guitarists – will hopefully want to explore further after hearing a record like this (if only to de-mystify those hot riffs!) and that’s the way to fall in love with the blues. Keep going backwards to enrich your knowledge base and by then you are hooked, my friends...
Eric Clapton was in his mid fifties when Riding with the King was recorded and B.B.King was well over seventy. Both are both hugely emotive and respectful to one another in the liner notes – very much a sense of awe on Clapton’s part; indeed, the cover art says it all, with B.B. in the back of a convertible whilst a grinning, Damned-Glad-I-Even-Got-to-be-Chauffeur Clapton takes the wheel. Fans will find it fairly simple to differentiate between Clapton’s chunkier Strat sound and the piercing lightning-fast improv coming outatcha from King’s Gibson, ‘Lucille’ – but even if you can’t hear the difference right away, you will be able to tell that it’s working.
There are lots of noteworthy players on this record including Jimmie Vaughan on Help the Poor, the very capable Doyle Bramhall II who also composed both I Wanna Be and Marry You and the incendiary Joe Sample who keeps the honky-tonk in the piano on ‘full.’
Days of Old is a jumping blues tune with rockabilly undertones. There is some amazing soloing going down here and some sassy, driving vocal work from the female back up singers too. This is real tear-the-house-down stuff and may inspire the listener to try out some finger wagging, jitterbug leaping of their own, especially with that insistent drum beat happening!
Maybe move the furniture first …
When My Heart Beats like a Hammer is a superb, tortured true blues song and B.B. sings it just the way you’d think. This is a slow, late at night kind of blues number which reminds me of Three Hours Past Midnight both in flavour and tempo. (And I do love that Three Hours Past Midnight especially the Colin James version!) Listen up for B.B. explaining how ‘he didn’t mean no harm’ directly before that wrenching guitar translation echoes his every word. Sweeeeet.
Riding With the King is the catchy, title track kicking the record off and it is stellar in every way. The asides from B.B. are especially wonderful, particularly his classic"I stepped out of Mississippi when I was ten years old with a suit cut sharp as a razor and a heart made of gold. I had a gi-tar hanging just about waist high, and I'm gonna play this thing until the day I die.” Could he be cooler? I think not.
Hold On I’m Comin’ is an Isaac Hayes composition that is given a full blues injection and is only the better for it. You’ll find this version really struts and sashays between the speakers – and Clapton’s guitar playing is out of control! B.B. imprints the lyrics and makes them deeply sexy. Yes, I’ve heard the other versions of this tune but for me, this one is the best.
Big Bill Broonzy’s Key to the Highway is an acoustic peach on this record and sounds fresh and new. Both B.B. and Eric Clapton have recorded this same song at other times which is not profound I know but it’s interesting that it’s included once more on this album. And of course it is fabulous. (Clapton’s Rainbow Concert – Live and King’s B.B.King – Live featured the previous recordings in case you like to know such things).
Summary: This is still a great album and the perfect one for friends who want to 'sample' some blues. There are others (and we'll get there!) but Clapton and King are a pretty hot combo to be going on with ...
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