Encounters of a King: B.B. Rides Solo and with Eric Clapton
Warm and welcoming, B.B. King greets visitors with a wide grin and a firm handshake. He may be 73 years old and on the last steep bend of a long and prosperous musical career, but you'd never know it. King looks as lively and energetic as the solos that squiggle, quiver and leap through his myriad albums. And he's more prolific than most artists half his age.
Hot on the heels of last year's vivacious Louis Jordan tribute, Let the Good Times Roll, King has recorded not one, but two new albums of grace, skill and wit. The first, Making Love is Good For You, sees B.B. returning to the spicy, spirited flavors of his 1998 album B.B. on the Bayou. And the second, Riding with the King, is an album blues and rock fans will foam at the mouth for -- a long awaited collaboration with Eric Clapton. It's a record that celebrates King's illustrious career, cementing King's legendary status and definitively demonstrating the influence he's had on Clapton, one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.
The 12 song disc features two newly written cuts, five blues classics and five numbers handpicked by Clapton, that span King's nearly 50 year legacy. Not only does Riding With the King stand out as a showcase of top-notch talent, it resonates with the warmth and mutual admiration of two players who love what they do and adore each other's music.
And while King may act like he doesn't know much music theory or care a great deal about chord progressions, he's far more knowledgeable than you might expect (see accompanying video guitar lesson for proof). Guitar.com recently sat down with the King to talk about Making Love, acoustic performances and the thrill of working with one of his heroes.
Guitar.com: Let's talk a little bit about your latest solo album, Making Love is Good For You.
B.B. King: I think it is. (Laughs).
Guitar.com: Um, yeah, but?
King: (Laughs) I caught you off guard.
Guitar.com: Uh, maybe a little. Anyway, it's nice to hear you going back to a traditional blues sound after last year's jazz-based Louis Jordan tribute record Let the Good Times Roll. What were you trying to do with the new record?
King: Well, we had a lot of good luck with B.B. on the Bayou, and this was sort of a follow up to it, but we tried to add some different flavor to the second one. And for some reason I thought "Makin' Love is Good for You" was a good tune. I still think so. So we called the record that. I wasn't sure whether everyone could accept it at the moment, but it seemed like they're going for it pretty well. Usually when we play now, at the end of the concert ["Makin' Love is Good for You"] is sort of a going away song for me, and people seem to really get into it because it's kind of uptempo and the lyrics are not bad. It's not vulgar lyrics as far as I'm concerned. I think that the lyrics are fine, and it tells a story.
Guitar.com: And then your fans go home and make love?
King: If they desire. Now, we're not planting anything in anybody's head. But I don't think we have to. (Laughs) But I really think it's a good tune. That's about it.
Guitar.com: Seeing that you're such a distinguished veteran of the music community, was anyone surprised by your choice of album title?
King: Nobody's told me that yet. I spoke to my management about it and he thought it was very nice to use that title. But we got some other good songs. "Making Love" is just one of my favorites. But I also like "Since I Fell For You," "Got to Leave This Woman." A whole lot of tunes that I think are good.
Guitar.com: Is it fun to be playing straight-out blues again after the jazzy departure with the Louis Jordan record?
King: I never got out of it. And on the one with Eric Clapton, one thing we do is "I'm Gonna Love you Come Rain or Shine." Well, God, I've never done anything like that. So, hey, I try everything.
Guitar.com: Let's talk about Riding With The King, your collaboration with Clapton. When did you two first meet?
King: Back in 1967, and I believe it was at a place called Café A Go-Go here in New York City. I think it was his first time in the U.S., and there was a whole lot of things going on that night. It was sort of like a jam session. We got together with Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat and Tears. We had Jimi Hendrix and quite a few other people there, and we had a good time. That was my first meeting with Eric.
Guitar.com: Have you been in touch over the years?
King: From time to time. He's done a lot of things that have helped me in many ways. I remember the first video I did. He was touring over here, and he came and sat in with us on it. And he's done several other things for me. He's been a good friend.
Guitar.com: Was the record a long time in the making?
King: Yeah. We've thought about it for a long time and candidly discussed it for a long, long time. In fact, after we did a tune on the Deuces Wild CD where he and I did "Rock Me Baby," and that turned out really good. So we thought it was a good idea. I kept my hopes up over the years. I didn't want to pressure him or nothing, but every once and a while I'd talk to him about it and finally it happened.
Guitar.com: When was that?
King: In early '99 we thought we would really do it, and so we did. We finished it up before 2000 and it's good.
Guitar.com: It must have been an exciting project to work on.
King: It was. As Jerry Lewis says, it was a love project. We had a lot of fun doing it.
Guitar.com: Any good stories from the sessions?
King: Not really. Eric is one of the nicest people I know and one of the most talented. In fact, in my opinion he's number one as a rock 'n' roll guitarist and he plays blues better than most of us. He can play anything he wants. It was just a fun thing all the way through. He's kind of an old business person. And I'm not as serious at all. I was always making jokes. But we got along great.
Guitar.com: Were there obstacles along the way -- times when it seemed like it might not get made?
King: It never came to that. But sometimes when two big companies like ours, MCA and Warner Bros., have to get together on things, sometimes it's a little slow going. But they finally got it together. They wouldn't be so big if they didn't know how to take care of business.
Guitar.com: You play in a traditional blues style -- one that Clapton, himself has emulated. But he tends to take the blues in a more rocking direction. How did your two styles mesh on Riding With the King?
King: Well, when we first decided to do it I told him that I would follow his lead on it. Naturally we had an agreement that if anything came about that I didn't like, I would not only tell him, we just wouldn't do it. But we never did get to that. Never. Because everything he suggested was great. He came up with tunes, man, that I'd forgotten about. Even my old tunes, I couldn't remember some of them. But he knew about them. On everything he suggested, we talked about it and went into it and I was very pleased to do it with him. We never had any disagreement on any song whatsoever.
Guitar.com: There are two acoustic tracks on the record, "Key to the Highway" and "Worried Life Blues." That's certainly a departure for you.
King: Well, Eric suggested that we do an unplugged thing. I wasn't too happy about it at first (laughs). But when we sat down and started to do it, I was tickled to death. I enjoyed it very much. So that was a change. And once we got into it, it was really fun because I hadn't done that in years. In fact, only once in my career have I done an unplugged tune. It was many years ago with Alexis Korner. We did something called "Alexis Boogie" on the album Live in London. And that's the only time I ever did acoustic guitar on the record.
Guitar.com: In the past you've spoken about the blues dying out amongst a younger audience? Do you see this album with Eric as something that will take blues into the next generation?
King: Did I say that? I said the blues was dying as we knew it. It's already gone to that other level and it's still climbing I believe. But it's dying out as we have known it because there are so many young minds today that don't think as the older person did when I was coming up. So naturally their ideas are much different. In fact, I even hear the progressions that started 10 or 12 years ago. A lot of the young people started to play, and they started using progressions that I never thought of. Some of them I still don't use, but some I accept and will use. And that in itself has changed things somewhat. And then young people [like Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd] are so talented, they got their own time. The future of the blues is theirs.