B.B. King’s 5 Greatest Live Performances
The recordings that prove the blues legend was one of the greatest live performers in history
The essential B.B. KingÂ experience was always in concert. For much of his career, King played more than 300 shows a year, and though these performances adhered to a certain road-tested formula, every night offered some distinctive variation. Each of these five recordings ”” the best of many commercially available ”” presents a different aspect of what made a B.B. King show something special.
‘Live at the Regal’ (1965)
King had already been an R&B star for a dozen years by the time of his first live album, recorded in 1964 in Chicago ”” and that meant that he could appeal to his audience’s nostalgia. Between songs, he keeps telling the crowd that now he’s going to “go back.” His singing is as mighty and fluid as it ever was here, flickering between sweet and rough and radiant tones without a hint of effort. The rock fans who were just starting to get into blues ate it up. Live at the Regal became King’s first charting LP and inspired the blues-rock scene that was forming in the United Kingdom.
‘Live in Cook County Jail’ (1971)
If you want to hear everything a B.B. King guitar performance can be, you may as well start here. After whipping through his customary show-opener, “Every Day I Have the Blues,” with breakneck impatience, King lays into “How Blue Can You Get?” As befits the show’s jailhouse setting, King’s guitar is occasionally at its most abrasive. To begin “3 O’Clock Blues,” he cuts off his conversational patter with a sharp, percussive, violent chord. And he turns in a definitive live version of “The Thrill Is Gone” that’s both searing and soaring.