B.B. King is an international icon, the founding father of the blues and rock guitar styles. His landmark recordings of the 1950s and 1960s for RPM, Kent and Crown were very influential at the time, and still are. We proudly present 106 tracks from that extraordinary body of work
by John Broven
Ace Records is extremely honoured to be able to present THE VINTAGE YEARS, a momentous 4-CD box set of B.B. King's landmark recordings for the Modern Records group on the RPM, Crown and Kent labels in the 1950s and 1960s. B.B. is a true international icon, unquestionably the founding father of the blues and rock guitar styles. Here, his budding genius is revealed for all to see.
Looking back as the leader of this project, I became drawn more and more to B.B.'s music even though I had been listening to him forever. Most notably I was struck by the purity of his vocals (which have tended to be overshadowed by his peerless guitar work), by his knowledge and adaptation of seemingly the entire history of black recorded music, by his growing musical sophistication, and by those superb Maxwell Davis arrangements that have truly matured with age. At the end of it all, my admiration for this body of B.B.'s work is higher than ever.
The individual CDs here can be summarised as follows:
CD1: The Great B.B. contains many of the big hits readily associated with B.B. that he still plays to this day.
CD2: Memphis Blues'n'Boogie is a look at the rare recordings of the early 1950s engineered by Sam Phillips in Memphis, followed by those directed by Bill Harvey in Houston. Session-by-session, you can see B.B. finding his own style.
CD3: Take A Swing With Me covers the mid-late 1950s when B.B. was touring constantly, and Maxwell Davis became the music director. By this time, the blues market had started to dip, leading B.B. to record in a variety of styles from R&B, rock'n'roll, pop and doo wop to jazz and gospel.
CD4: King Of The Blues is where B.B. establishes his blues mastery as his association with Modern Records draws to an end.
The songs selected form a musical collage of the most creative stage of B.B.'s career, with the accent on listening pleasure. For the record, the 106 tracks include four previously unissued cuts and 25 stereo recordings with almost one-third of the content new to Ace CD. There are no less than 27 chart recordings, including four #1 R&B hits, 17 Top 10 R&B hits, and four Top 100 hits.
In its making, the The Vintage Years was not a rush job. For example, Managing Director Roger Armstrong spent many months analysing the Ace archive of over 2,000 B.B. King tapes to select the best (and correct) masters. Eventually Duncan Cowell at Sound Mastering Ltd did the crucial post-production work. The sound is sparkling. Never before has the original studio 'room' ambience of classic numbers such as 3 O'Clock Blues and Please Love Me been heard with such clarity and zest.
An impressive 74-page book, lavishly printed in full colour, accompanies the box and includes:
Essays by Colin Escott and myself, based on new interviews with B.B. King, Joe Bihari (of Modern Records) and Sam Phillips (of Sun Records).
A detailed track analysis by Colin Escott.
A user-friendly B.B. King discography by Peter Gibbon and myself.
A note on the exhaustive tape research process by Roger Armstrong.
Details of B.B.'s tours in the late 1950s, including an area map and contemporary photos of the venues that he graced.
Many previously unseen photos and illustrations.
In effect, the book records a fascinating but vanishing era when B.B. was strictly a star among his own people, mainly playing the arduous chitlin' circuit. At the time the white American and overseas markets were nothing but mirages over distant horizons for him (and his contemporaries). Now, as Sam Phillips observes, B.B.'s audience is worldwide.
Credit for the book editing process goes to Ace's Carol Fawcett, who worked closely with staffer Chris Popham. The impressive box cover idea comes from Philip Lloyd-Smee. Encouragingly, there has been a terrific level of co-operation from B.B. King and his manager Floyd Lieberman-.-those legendary record men Joe Bihari and Sam Phillips-.-award-winning author Colin Escott-.-and many fellow collectors and researchers including Dick Shurman, Dave Sax, Victor Pearlin, Miriam Linna and Chris Bentley. And we must not forget Ray Topping and Ted Carroll, whose pioneering B.B. King releases on Ace paved the way for this box set.
As for myself, it has been a privilege to be embroiled in a work that fills an essential gap in the recorded history of the King Of The Blues. The Vintage Years reminds us just how great B.B. was - and still is. As co-writer Colin Escott notes, This is music of passion and brilliant economy. In terms of ongoing influence, these could very well be the most important post-War blues recordings. Prepare for the shock of the old.
What The Critics Say....
It's no wonder that B.B. himself took time out to give his blessing to this genuinely exhilarating package, which firmly raises the benchmark for the presentation of artist retrospectives in any genre.
It's time to stand up and lead the applause for a...job done splendidly well.
(Keith Briggs, Blues & Rhythm)
It's not only an object lesson in what a box set should be, but also a fitting tribute to an undisputed king of the blues
(Peter Kane, Q)
An epic journey, mapped in vivid detail (Tony Russell, Mojo)