Long live the King. Four years since the passing of the great B.B. King, his towering influence over the blues world – and beyond – remains undimmed. From the long-standing fans still held spellbound by 1965’s classic Live At The Regal album, to the young guitarists adding a shiver of vibrato to an emotive solo, King’s music will never be forgotten. And this year, the iconic bluesman’s presence is felt stronger than ever, as his spirit imbues a star-studded new album, The Soul Of The King.
The term ‘legend’ doesn’t do justice to B.B. King. The eight-decade story of how a Mississippi cotton-picker rose to the heights of the blues – changing the genre forever with his soul-drenched voice and ‘one-note’ touch – is told by his acclaimed studio catalogue and fabled live shows. Now, as the men who walked alongside him every step of the way for over 35 years, The B.B. King Blues Band writes the next chapter, on an album that salutes King’s classic songs and showcases their own. “It’s important,” nods executive producer Terry Harvey, “to continue what he started.”
Boasting several world-class songwriters in their ranks, The Soul Of The King finds the lineup supplying material that stands alongside their late leader’s catalogue – along with guests that include Joe Louis Walker’s soulful tribute on Regal Blues and Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s masterful solo on opener Irene Irene. Meanwhile, as King’s faithful sidemen, this band of blues lifers have the great man’s music under their fingernails, and made a bracing return to his greatest cuts. There’s a heartfelt turn from Michael Lee on The Thrill Is Gone. Mary Griffin and Taj Mahal combine their vocal and guitar talents on Paying The Cost To Be The Boss – while Kenny Neal lends poignant vocals and licks to Sweet Little Angel. “Our approach was not to stray too far from the original, but still to make it fresh,” says Harvey. “I want the world to remember B.B. and to introduce his music to the youth of today.”
They might have an illustrious history, but The Soul Of The King reminds us that The B.B. King Blues Band are a lineup moving forward, writing a love-letter to their fallen leader while staking their own claim in the modern era. “When we started this album, we wanted to let the world know the B.B. King Band is live and well,” explains Harvey. “And that we are continuing B.B.’s musical legacy…”