B.B. King - guitar, vocals; Milton Hopkins - guitar; James Toney - organ, piano; Big Joe Turner - bass; Calep Emphrey - drums; Walter King - tenor sax; Eddie Rowe - trumpet; Cato Walker - alto sax
On June 20, 21, and 22, 1978, the Bottom Line hosted six memorable performances billed as "An Evening with B.B. King." The legendary blues man delivered memorable performances all three nights before intimate audiences that included many celebrities and musicians. Johnny and Edgar Winter turned up on the second night, jazz guitarist George Benson on the final night (all of whom were invited to jam with King), and even Jacqueline Onnassis was spotted in the audience. The King Biscuit Flower Hour was on hand to record the last two nights of the run and subsequently released highlights as The King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents B.B. King Live! Up until now, the remainder of the recordings had not seen the light of day. Here for the first time are the complete early show recordings from the final night of this legendary run.
The recording begins just as King's band begins the instrumental jam that always accompanies King's introduction to the stage. Things immediately get cooking with "Caldonia," one of King's signature songs featuring a great horn arrangement courtesy of Eddie Rowe, Walter King, and Cato Walker. With the band and King's vocal chops warmed up, they next ease into a smoldering take on "Sweet Little Angel." King's vocal is wonderfully expressive here and one can hear the audience responding to every line.
A quick tape stock change occurred right after "Sweet Little Angel." When the recording resumes, the group is just beginning a blazing slow blues. Similar in feel to "I Need Your Love So Bad," this instrumental allows both King and Hopkins to both flex their guitar chops, which they do with great style and flare. This is followed by an expansive take on "Why I Sing The Blues," featuring more biting leads from King and exemplary organ work from Toney. This also showcases the rhythm section, which get solo spots during the second vocal break. Big Joe Turner takes a very impressive solo after which King and the band develop many quick biting phrases with quick starts and stops, accentuating the drum fills from Emphrey.
"I Got Some Outside Help I Don't Really Need" returns to the slow blues that King excels at, featuring plenty of that stinging overdriven guitar tone that he pioneered. King has obvious enthusiasm for his music and here he interjects his sense of humor into the lyric. The horn section and Toney's B-3 embellishments provide the soulful backing that bring out the best in his vocals. The dynamics swing greatly between soft, nearly spoken-word verses that are accented by the horn section, and heavy, hard-hitting blues choruses. This precedes "Just Can't Leave Your Love Alone," one of the most driving tracks from King's 1978 album, Midnight Believer. The strident and celebratory New Orleans flavored arrangement belies the woeful lyrics lamenting lost love. Another great track from that album follows with the funk-flavored "Never Make Your Move To Soon." When King solos, you can hear the sheer joy of it in every note. Whether he sounds soulful, rocking, contemplative, or down and dirty, his guitar style and tone exudes authority.
This all leads up to a moment everyone was no doubt waiting for—King's incredible remake of the Dale Hawkins' tune, "The Thrill Is Gone," which raced up both the pop and R&B charts years earlier, gaining him many more fans and more media attention than at any other time in his career. King was always a great interpreter of other writers' material and this number is a prime example. Regardless of the fact that he'd performed this countless times before, King's vocal is passionate and he peels off highly expressive solos with utter conviction.
The set concludes with two shorter numbers, the first fueled by King's superb guitar playing and expressive vocal. "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother" is a prototype slow blues that features great biting leads, before easing into a vamp that King uses to thank the audience. This segues directly into a high-energy "Got My Mojo Working," fueled by the organ and horn section. Here King engages the audience in a call and response session, working them into a final frenzy before leaving the stage as the band wraps it up, to a standing ovation.