B.B. King - guitar, vocals; Milton Hopkins - guitar; Ron Levi - piano; Wilbur Freeman - bass; Sonny Freeman - drums; Joseph Burton - trombone; John Browney - trumpet; Earl Turpenton - alto sax; Louis Hubert - tenor sax
These two Fillmore East sets by the great American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter B.B. King capture him at the peak of popularity. The previous year, his remake of the Roy Hawkins' tune "The Thrill Is Gone" raced up both the pop and R&B charts, gaining King more fans and media attention than he'd experienced at any other time in his career. For the first time, he was experiencing mainstream success, and he sounds passionate and full of conviction.
Fans of his Live at Cook County Jail album will find these shows just as remarkable, if not more so. King always delivered well-rehearsed, utterly professional shows, and these are no exception, though here he sounds more relaxed and spontaneous. King's obvious enthusiasm for his music shines through every solo with sheer joy. His brilliant, inspired guitar playing defies easy categorization. Whether soulful, rocking, contemplative, or down and dirty, his guitar style and tone exudes authority with every note.
The late show begins with King's band warming up on an instrumental with a style somewhere between R&B and contemporary jazz. At the end they announce B. B. King, who takes command of the stage and again leads the group through a double whammy of straight blues. First up is King's trademark "Everyday I Have the Blues," which segues into "How Blue Can You Get." Levi's infectious piano playing, the hot horn arrangements -to say nothing of King's powerful guitar playing and impassioned vocals - all add up to a great performance, already equaling the best moments of the earlier show.
The first of this set's instrumentals kicks things into high gear. This swinging rocker features frenetic piano and smoking guitar throughout. "A Whole Lotta Lovin'" is another up-tempo number with King and the group rocking out full tilt. The style's reminiscent of Johnny Winters, but with a refinement and tension control that is pure B.B. They then slows things down and delivers a searing, slow blues number showcasing his delicious guitar tone and vocals. Next up is a cover of Leon Russell's "Hummingbird." While the piece is enjoyable as an ensemble performance, King's vocals seem to lack the usual conviction.
Another hot instrumental jam gets things cooking again before the band begin vamping while King introduces the musicians. The band segues into another powerhouse version of "Sweet Sixteen," here played in its entirety. With hardly a second to catch their breath, the group launches into another, wild instrumental featuring Hopkins' wah-wah guitar. The piece slows down and morphs into "The Thrill Is Gone." It's another fantastic version with King in great form, peeling off delicious solos and singing with utter conviction. Another short jam follows, featuring Hopkins on wah-wah guitar and the horn section letting loose as King exits the stage.
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