Friday, March 17, 2006

TSOBB (The Sound of B.B.)

B.B. King - Philadelphia

At age 80, blues legend B.B. King is finally starting to slow down a little. He announced that this current world tour will be his last, although he plans to continue doing shows in the U.S. Looking over the span of his amazing career, it is clear that he is truly the King of the Blues, both in terms of his talent but also his longevity. From his somewhat ragged and off-time debut "Miss Martha King" in 1949 to his great duet with Bobby Bland on his new album, 80, singing "Funny How Time Slips Away," King has stayed true to the blues but has not feared reaching into other genres. This willingness to experiment found its full flower as the '60s rolled into the '70s and King adapted his style to stay current at a time when younger black audiences were moving away from the blues. The decision to give "The Thrill Is Gone" a minor-key, "soul with strings" arrangement was met with horror by blues purists in 1969, but the song was a mega-smash (#3 R&B and #10 pop) and it quickly became his signature tune. Hits such as "I Like to Live the Love," the Stevie Wonder-penned "To Know You Is To Love You," and the stomping "Never Make a Move Too Soon" (which King recorded with the Crusaders) found B.B. mixing straight-up soul songs into his repertoire, with good effect.

Today's selection followed in this vein and gave B.B. an R&B hit in 1974. Interestingly, although King is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time, "Philadelphia" was one of very few of his instrumentals to be a hit; his strong, gospel-infused singing was a major draw, especially to black audiences. "Philadelphia" is a four-on-the-floor proto-disco romp, featuring a strong bassline, good horn work, and B.B. presenting a mixed bag of riffs and solos, playing very aggressively in many places (there are portions where he sounds more like his contemporary, Albert King, who was known for a very muscular style) but then in others letting "Lucille" do her thing in his more customary way. I nicknamed this tune "TSOBB" because it is influenced by the MFSB smash "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" (better known as the theme to "Soul Train") and adapts the femme chorus ending for its purposes. To steal a line from "TSOP," let's get it on, it's time to get down ... with B.B. King!

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