Although I've always admired him as perhaps the singularly greatest bluesman of this — or any other — generation, it took me years before I actually witnessed the great BB King in concert.
Once I finally did, about ten years ago at an outdoor concert in the picturesque setting of Washington State's Gorge Amphitheatre overlooking the Columbia River — I couldn't help but feel I'd still missed something. Allow me to explain.
You see, the venerable blues great still looked and sounded as good as ever, despite his obviously advancing age. But he also played most of the show sitting down, which at least for me was a telling point. It made me regret all the more the numerous opportunities I'd had to see him as a much younger, more vital man in his prime.
This was, after all, the man who'd had such a singular influence on most, if not all, of the great British rock guitarists I'd grown up worshiping as a young music fan — from Clapton to Hendrix to Page.
Younger? More vital? Shit, let's be honest here. BB King simply does not age like we mortal men do.
If Robert Johnson once danced with the devil at the crossroads, then BB King must have assuredly drank from the fountain of youth somewhere between New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. Because as it turns out, the man may get older. But he does not age.
And on this DVD, the King of the Blues is also apparently the king of the Montreux Jazz Festival. BB King has played Montreux something like twenty times and, thanks to the folks at Eagle Rock, one of the very best of these performances has been captured for posterity on the new DVD, BB King Live At Montreux 1993. And as is always the case with Eagle Rock's Montreux DVDs, both the picture and sound quality here are top shelf.
One of the things I love about blues concerts like this one is the way they capture the long lost art of old-time rhythm and blues revues. When I saw BB at the Gorge, he may have been seated for the majority of the show. Yet this in no way diminished the pace of the performance, the tightness of his band, or most importantly, the flawlessness of King's playing. Regardless of his age, BB King, like the finest of wines, only grows better with age.
On this DVD, King's crack band — which is more like a small orchestra, really — warms up the crowd, setting up the appearance of the main attraction in the form of the man himself, who comes out about three numbers into the show.
The set here is probably not all too different from the hundreds King plays each year — and has since approximately the dawn of time.
But the key here is the way the band nonetheless remains as tight as a drum. Not a single cue is missed — from the rhythm section all the way down to the razor-sharp horns. This is as tight as tight gets.
Seriously, whatever happened to this kind of shit? Because I for one want it back.
On this DVD, BB King's ever-amazing guitar playing remains the main event, commanding the attention it has so rightfully earned over the years and still deserves.
This is a fairly standard BB King concert, if there even is such a thing. But from "Rock Me Baby" to "Why I Sing The Blues" to Robert Cray's "Playing With my Friends" to the inevitable "The Thrill is Gone," the man quite simply is a walking textbook of blues 101.
Never mind the fact that on this particular performance, King shows himself to be such a consummate pro that it's easy to get the impression that he could do this stuff in his sleep. Hell, truth is he probably could.
The fact still remains that BB King is the King of the Blues, and on this great DVD he is also the king of Montreux, even if only for this one night. And for me at least, it was great to finally see the grand old man do his thing standing up.
This, my friends, is quite simply how it is done.