Classic Album: B.B. King Live at the Regal
by Todd Beebe
The Blues is a music that demands to be heard live. Sure, there are plenty of classic Blues studio albums, and most of these are the templates for many Blues artists to base their live shows around. You just can’t beat checking out a live Blues show, or listening to an album that was recorded in front of loyal Blues lovers waiting to get their fix.
Many albums make a great fight for that top spot on the list, and one that tops that list of “The Greatest Live Albums of All Time” time and again is B.B. King’s “Live At The Regal.” recorded on November 21, 1964 at Chicago’s Regal Theater. The Regal opened it’s doors in 1928, and featured many historical music acts during it’s years including Louis Jordan, James Brown, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and many others.
Released in 1965, “Live At The Regal” has definitely become the album that most people hold up as the defining moment of what is B.B. King. “Regal” opens up with an introduction by the great Disc Jockey Pervis Spann. Kicking off with “Every Day I Have The Blues”, B.B. wastes no time coming out swinging. Literally 30 seconds into the opening track, his trusty Lucille is singing like a bird, with licks that are still influencing guitarists, almost 50 years later.
King has always been a master at speaking to the crowd between tunes. If you’ve seen him before, you know that he projects a laid back vibe. [pullquote]You almost feel that you’re sitting in his living room, letting him show you what the Blues is all about.[/pullquote] On “Regal” he does just that, immediately following the opening track. He explains how he is gonna “go back and pick up some of the real old Blues.” When “Sweet Little Angel” kicks in you can hear the crowd scream with appreciation. This is no coincidence! The master is holding court, and you can most certainly feel that you are about to hear an evening of “schooling.”
With the band continuing the rhythm of “Angel”, B.B. chats to the crowd some more. He asks them to “think about a guy that loses his girl.” The perfect segue into “It’s My Own Fault.” Vocally, King gives it everything here. It’s amazing to hear his “bird like” falsetto highs roll right into menacing growls. With such great Guitar playing going on, it’s easy to forget what a singer King is. But here, he gives us something that we CAN”T forget! Blues vocals at their best!
“How Blue Can You Get?” starts with King asking for a round of applause for his band. An awesome lineup indeed! “Live At The Regal” features Leo Lauchie on Bass, Duke Jethro on Piano, Sonny Freeman on Drums, Kenneth Sands on Trumpet and Bobby Forte & Johnny Board on Tenor Saxophone. This tune features the now classic line, which ends with B.B. singing “I gave you seven children, and now you wanna give ‘em back!” It never gets old listening to this, and hearing the whole place go up for grabs! Indeed a classic night of Live Blues!
“Please Love Me” takes us up and out, and leads to “You Upset Me Baby.” This has become a standard for sure, and even another great King known as Albert put his touch on this one. Once again, B.B. tells us he’s going to take us “way back.” Back we go, with Lucille as the vehicle. Check out the licks starting this one off! Textbook B.B. King at it’s finest. Pure emotion.
“Woke Up This Morning (My Baby’s Gone)” gives us a driving beat that King uses to showcase his powerful voice once again, and then with the crowd in the palm of his hand, takes us right into “You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now.” Lucille once again speaks first here, with a tone to die for.
“Help The Poor” closes the album, leaving the listener with no doubt that we are indeed lucky that this night of Blues was recorded and preserved.
Through the years, “Live At The Regal” has stood the test of time and then some. In 2005 it was added to the Library of Congress’ list of recordings chosen for permanent preservation with the National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone Magazine put it at # 141 on its list of the “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.”
The Regal Theater closed its doors in 1970, but thanks to B.B. King, it will live on forever. Whenever someone wants to really hear how the Blues is supposed to be sang and played, they will inevitably end up listening to “Live At The Regal.” On that November night in ‘64, B.B. King and his band left an undeniable musical fingerprint on the human race. And we can’t ever say “Thank You” enough! “Thank You Mr. King!”