'Riding With The King' 20th Anniversary Edition: Blues icons Eric Clapton and BB King unveil 2 new bonus tracks
It's a delight to revisit the exploits of these blues-rock legends and the two previously-unreleased bonus tracks are the cherry on top of this groovy reissued masterpiece
Come June 26, millions of fans of soulful blues guitar vibes will be in for a treat, since that's when the 20th Anniversary Edition of 'Riding With The King' releases. This comes courtesy of Reprise Records, who first recorded the legendary 2000 collaboration between BB King and Eric Clapton, both considered guitar legends in their own right.
King and Clapton, two names synonymous with the electric guitar and blues virtuosity, met for the first time in 1967, forging a friendship that would culminate over 30 years later with the widely-acclaimed album 'Riding With The King' (2000). A full-length studio recording of blues classics and contemporary songs, the multi-platinum-selling album would go on to win the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, while selling over 2 million copies in the US alone.
This 20th Anniversary reissue features remasters of all existing tracks by Bob Ludwig, along with two additional tracks produced and mixed by Simon Climie, who produced the original album with Clapton. The album features an all-star line-up of musicians, including Andy Fairweather Low, Steve Gadd, Nathan East, Joe Sample, Doyle Bramhall II, Susannah, Wendy Melvoin and Jim Keltner.
Celebrated producer and arranger Arif Martin contributed string arrangements and orchestration to two tracks. The 14-track collection is available in all formats, including a 180-gram black double vinyl package. A limited-edition 180-gram blue vinyl double LP set will also be made available exclusively on Eric Clapton's official online store and at indie retailers. The vinyl was mastered by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Los Angeles.
This 20th Anniversary reissue of 'Riding With The King' is definitely a blues collector's item, featuring four BB King originals along with a selection of covers from writers as diverse as Isaac Hayes and David Porter ('Hold On I'm Coming'), Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen ('Come Rain Or Come Shine') and William Broonzy adn Charles Seger ('Key To The Highway') apart from John Hiatt, the multiple Grammy Award winner, who wrote the titular song of the album.
The opening track 'Riding With The King' (written by John Hiatt in 1983), kicks off the record. While a rock environment is more Clapton's forte, King does have fun on this upbeat song. This iconic title track has since gone on to become a classic with fans of both guitarists and is a great start to the groovy album. 'Ten Long Years' switches the mood back into blues territory and sees both guitarists opening up on the fretboard. A revisiting of a composition featured over the years by King, the album version is a restructured take and is a great listen for guitar lovers.
Contrary to expectation, the track that follows next is an acoustic number — 'Key To The Highway' — a Big Bill Broonzy standard from the '30s. While Clapton had recorded the song previously with the Derek & the Dominos 'Layla' album in November 1970, this version has Clapton and BB King playing the acoustic guitar, which is a rarity for BB King. A hidden gem, this number is an example of two maestros conversing through the guitar in its most stripped-down form.
'Marry You', a funk-rock track follows and is a return to Clapton’s rock forte. Originally by Doyle Bramhall II, the track sees the accompanying band play a greater role with the inclusion of a horn section and backup singers. The number is peppy and sees some great accompaniment by the outstanding ensemble. The guitar playing, however, is a big shift from the previous songs, a tribute to both guitarists' versatility.
'Three O’clock Blues' is the next track and is a remake of King’s first-ever national R&B hit back from 1950. A classic-style slow blues number, Clapton starts the proceedings and is joined by King whose voice sounds absolutely fantastic. The guitar solos are standouts as both blues titans lean into their instruments.
'Help The Poor', originally by Charles Singleton and featured on BB King's 'Live at the Regal' album, follows next and is a refreshing take on an old classic. The marked difference in the groove brings a NOLA blues vibe to it. 'I Wanna Be' by Charlie Sexton and Brahmall is next, and this version is sublime with both King and Clapton bringing their A-game on the six-strings.
Up next is the other acoustic surprise of the album, namely 'Worried Life Blues', a treasured song by Big Maceo Merriweather and Sam Hopkins. As was the case with 'Key To The Highway', hearing two electric guitar icons on the acoustic guitar is a strange treat. The playing is lush and is exactly what you'd expect from two generational blues talents blessed with magnificent feel.
'Days Of Old' rolls in next and features a raucous upbeat shuffle, with King wailing triumphantly. A regular feature in his live setups, this release and the next track 'When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer' were both written by King along with collaborator Jules Taub. The arrangements bring both songs back to life and are enjoyable through to the very last second.
'Hold On, I'm Coming', an old soul number by Isaac Hayes and David Porter is up next. King and Clapton thrive in the Memphis soul vibe and display some phenomenal musicianship. The band is stellar and really jams out on this one, making this rendition an all-time classic. The recorded version of the 2000 album ends with 'Come Rain Or Come Sunshine', an old standard penned by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, previously made famous by Ray Charles. The ballad rounds off the album well and the string section sounds phenomenal at the end.
Then we come to the shiny new treats. 'Rolling And Tumbling' is the first of the two unreleased bonus tracks and is a new take on a classic blues standard. Clapton and King trade verses as the guitars slide and sing merrily in this spectacle of a track. Standards are staple fare for most blues musicians, as it is where they really define their vibe and sound. For artistes of King and Clapton's stature, this newly-heard rendition immediately becomes a go-to for aspiring blues guitarists.
'Let Me Love You', a take on Willie Dixon’s original wraps up the album and this version is lit up by King's throaty, soul-soaked voice as he serenades his "baby". King's voice resonates like a preacher as he sings the words of a lovelorn man reaching out to his lover. Both Clapton and King dole out delicious solos, Clapton shining with jangly, bright guitars and King illuminating the song with his fine honey-drenched tone. The uplifting yet subtle string section and measured piano accompaniment maintain the focus on King’s superlative and emotive voice. The end of the song retains a snippet of King’s voice in the studio, asking to hear his take once again.
Even at this stage in his life, one can hear King’s humility as he quickly admits to having made "a couple of mistakes." It's the mark of a man whose legacy will remain untouchable and will cement his legacy as one of the greatest blues guitarists ever. And let's not forget ol' Slowhand either, whose days with the Yardbirds, Derek and the Dominos, and Cream eventually led to the now-immortal graffiti slogan being scrawled all over London: "Clapton is god."