When B.B. King went into Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording And Sound Services sometime in July of 1950, he was another relatively unknown blues singer and guitarist. He had already cut two 78s for Bullet Records that did not register. So maybe it was not surprising that the name on the label of the first acetate was Bee Bee King. Almost a year later he cut for the last time at MR&SS, as the Bihari brothers went into dispute with Phillips. The final session of 1951 was cut (on new fangled tape) at the YMCA in Memphis, and ironically produced his first hit record, 3 O'Clock Blues.
That is just an outline of what is on this double CD. It documents the early years of what was to become the longest running career in the blues. With the distinct advantage of having the original acetates we have been able to piece together the original sessions. A vast amount of research has been carried out to produce the nearest thing to a definitive understanding of these sessions and this is very much part of the package.
But it is the audio that is the big surprise. Going back to the original 16 acetates where possible, our engineers at SML have pulled out a sound that has probably never been heard before. Sure at times you have to put up with some swish and some crackle, but the reward is that you are sucked into the original room in which the recordings were made. The sheer openness and presence of the sound is remarkable, and detail and even instrumentation can be heard with a clarity unmatched in previous issues. Of the Phillips' recordings all but five sides are drawn from the original discs.
Don't be put off by the repeat takes either as each one has a life of its own, with changes in breaks, phrasing and even lyrics.
There are eight takes that have never been issued before in any form and many that haven't seen the light of day since they came out in the 1970s. Finally the band is hot and the young Blues Boy is in top form, starting were he continued with a broad understanding of the blues and all of its vagaries. An education for the mind and body.
By Roger Armstrong