Like many of you, I was saddened to hear of B.B. King’s ongoing health problems last Friday. On Thursday, the blues legend was briefly admitted to a hospital in Las Vegas, where he lives, for monitoring after his daughter Patty became alarmed by his condition. It is now believed that, in addition to problems related to his Type II diabetes, B.B. suffered a minor heart attack.
I spent a good part of the weekend watching for news updates about B.B. and going back through his 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.
Reportedly, B.B. calls this show one of his best performances, and judging by the video below, it’s easy to see why he might. 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.
In the video below, B.B. gets thing started 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, and think good thoughts about the King.