B.B. King - guitar, vocals; James Toney - organ; Mose Thomas - trumpet; Lee Gatling - tenor sax; Wilbur Freeman - bass; Sonny Freeman - drums
Many cite B.B. King's 1964 album Live At The Regal as being one of the greatest blues recordings of all time. The man himself has disputed this adulation over the years, stating that his abilities improved considerably over the next few years. This December 1967 performance at Winterland goes a long way toward justifying his claims, capturing him in stellar form and near the peak of his considerable powers. B. B. King continues performing to the present day and has by now established himself as a national treasure, but as good as his later work is, it pales in comparison to this 1967 set, when his guitar sound was still raw and biting, his singing more passionate and his fingers more agile. The music of B.B. King heard here is the real deal, played by a leaner and meaner Mississippi bluesman. The soulful voice and distinctive stinging guitar style that made him a legend is in full bloom here.
King wastes no time getting down to business. Following the band warm-up and his introduction to the stage, he immediately delivers a double whammy of two of his signature tunes, the up tempo "Everyday I Have The Blues" followed by the slow burning "How Blue Can You Get." King's enthusiasm for his music is obvious and infectious. Whether he is interjecting stinging phrases between the lines of the verses or cutting loose to solo, you can hear pure emotion in every note.
The shuffling "Waiting On You" is an appealing vocal oriented exercise but then King returns to what he does best on "Sweet Little Angel," delivering another searing slow blues number showcasing his guitar chops. "That's Wrong Li'l Mama" ventures into soulful R & B territory and although incomplete due to a tape change, captures another biting solo. Yet another smoldering blues follows with "All Over Again." Here the organ work of James Toney and the admirably economical contributions of the other band members push King's vocal and guitar work to the fore. Toney's gospel flavoring provides the perfect accompaniment to King's soulful vocal and stinging leads.
On the classic "Rock Me Baby," King and the band establish a nice relaxed groove and invite the audience to participate by clapping along. This is primarily a vocal exercise, although King tosses in a few hot licks near the end. King next digs deep into the slow blues for "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now." On this number, fans of the brilliant British guitarist, Peter Green, will discover just how strong an influence King was on the early sound of Fleetwood Mac. This number is one of the peak performances of this set, featuring King's most searing guitar work.
The final two songs of the set contain King's most impassioned vocals when he's not letting his guitar do the talking. "The Jungle," a blues about escaping one's financial woes, picks the tempo back up and gives the band another chance to cut loose. "Don't Answer The Door," another smoldering blues of jealousy gone overboard, ends the set with the entire group displaying a masterful control of dynamics. As the song burns to a close the musicians shift into a closing vamp that allows King to thank the extremely receptive audience and to turn the stage over to the Electric Flag. King also entices everyone with the prospect of a jam session he and the Flag have planned for later in the evening. The imagination runs wild at the thought of King and Mike Bloomfield jamming together, especially circa 1967! Still, what we have here is B.B. King's outstanding night-opening set, when he was near the peak of his powers, playing the blues with intensity and passion.