Back in 2015, shortly before his death, I spent a weekend going back through B.B. King's back catalog. It was during one of my visits to YouTube that I found this video of him performing at Sing Sing, New York State’s maximum security prison.
The show took place on Thanksgiving Day 1972 and featured B.B., Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, the Voices of East Harlem vocal ensemble, and comedian Jimmy Walker, who was then a stand-up and had not yet found fame on the TV series Good Times. The concert was caught on film by director David Hoffman and is available on DVD (opens in new tab).
Reportedly, B.B. called this show one of his best performances, and judging by the video above, it’s easy to see why.
In this clip from the documentary, he turns in a stunningly impassioned performance of “How Blue Can You Get,” full of soul, humor, and his fantastic guitar work.
He had originally recorded the song as “Downhearted” for his 1963 album, Blues in My Heart. Soon after he remade it as “How Blue Can You Get,” and it was released as a single in 1964. From then on, it became a staple in his live set.
B.B. gets thing started in the video by warming up the audience while his band sets up. It’s a joy to see him young and vital and clearly having a good time.
“I was told that some of you dudes don’t know anything about blues,” B.B. tells the audience. “I came to swap some with you. I imagine quite a few of you dudes have the blues already,” he says, getting a laugh.
Take a look.
Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player (opens in new tab) magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World (opens in new tab), a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar World, Guitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.
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