B. B. KING: LIVE & WELL (1969)
1) Don't Answer The Door; 2) Just A Little Love; 3) My Mood; 4) Sweet Little Angel; 5) Please Accept My Love; 6) I Want You So Bad; 7) Friends; 8) Get Off My Back Woman; 9) Let's Get Down To Business; 10) Why I Sing The Blues.
The title is a bit misleading in the logical department. Only the first half of it is Live — recorded at the Village Gate in NYC — which would presume that only the second half of it is Well; but, in fact, this is a damn fine record all the way through, with B. B.'s studio output finally catching up with the rawness and intensity of his live playing.
Although the playing, singing, and recording quality here are solid throughout, two particular tracks stand out, and, hardly by coincidence, they also bookmark the beginning and the end. As «the king» is announced on stage, he launches into 'Don't Answer The Door' with a lengthy, stunning solo, making great use of volume levels, stops-and-starts, and even prolonged vibratos that is, arguably, his first seriously «experimental» bit of playing captured on record. As good as the rest of the show may be, somehow it never lives up to King pulling all the stops on those first few bars — but then, perhaps, just a little is enough.
On the studio half, the respective opus magnum is, of course, the eight-minute sprawl of 'Why I Sing The Blues', King's first — I think — major social statement, on which he is not so much speaking for himself as basically answering, in poetic form, the question that we most often see answered in sociological form: yep, you guessed it, he is singing the blues because that is simply the most natural thing to sing for the likes of his people. The simplicity of the idea, however, becomes grandeur as B. B. comes up with a suitable arrangement (deep, rumbly, gotta love that monster distorted bass line that the band probably copped from Sly & The Family Stone) and lets it roll for as long as him and «Lucille» can take it.
One more argument, by the way, why longer B. B. King is better B. B. King: most of the other tunes are too short in their genericity to make any sort of lasting impression, but the ones that roll over five minutes are endowed with serious staying power. This rule of thumb does not apply too well to 'Friends', I admit, but that is because 'Friends' is merely an instrumental blues jam with B. B. trading licks with his jazzy counterpart Hugh McCracken, while both are accompanied in the background by Al Kooper's piano playing. Somehow, though, McCracken and Kooper come out wasted on the record — perhaps a little intimidated by the bulk of The King hanging over them to show their best chops? Still a nice document of three greats having it out in public.
As a tiny bonus, some of the jokes on the live part are not bad — e. g., B. B.'s merry "we got a brand new tune for you here tonight, it's so new the band don't know it, you don't know it — and I don't know it... but we're gonna try". Humour — where would true blues be without a sense of one? Thumbs up.