The dueling Kings of the blues - B.B. and Albert (and, to be fair, let's mention Freddie). While B.B. King became the public's darling years ago, there are those who believe, rightly, that Albert King was the better guitarist and vocalist. (In 1969, I saw Albert King open for The Who at The Fillmore East, and his set was scorching!) B.B. is a nice guy and a good journeyman blues player (rather like Clapton has become). Albert always took it to the edge, over the top, and back again, and, as the liner notes attest, he was a notoriously cranky dude, his personality not as friendly nor as accessible as B.B.'s, thus, perhaps, explaining the latters public acceptance and the former's lack of same. B. B. became the blues (lite) personified to the American public, content to throw in a two-bar lick between vocals. Albert always tore it up (with attitude) in the old
blues tradition, thus finding his acceptance with the cult of blues purists, the blues lovers. Albert King started recording the blues in 1953.
Stevie Ray Vaughan (Stevie Rave-on !) was born in 1954 in
. One of his idols, guitar-playing older brother Jimmie, inspired Stevie to take up the instrument as a kid. At age 17, SRV left high school and, for better or worse, became a full-time guitar slinger. Another one of his idols (among many, including Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix) was Albert King. Stevie's style, admittedly, was born from copping many an Albert King lick.
The In Session tapes were recorded for television station CHCH in Ontario, Canada in 1983 (the same year that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's first disc, Texas Flood, was released, to monumental acclaim). The In Session session almost didn't come off, because Albert King had no idea who SRV was, and wasn't about to share the stage with some nobody (notoriously cranky, remember)! But after some cajoling and convincing, King finally recalled a skinny little kid he used to allow to sit in with him onstage whenever he'd pass through Austin, TX, on tour, from 1973 (when he and Stevie first met) through the early 80s. Albert finally realized he was doing In Session with that same kid he only remembered so well as "Little Stevie"!
Throughout the disc, the SACD stereo sound quality is immaculate! The "right there in the room with you" presence thing is sweet and crystal clear (though not too polished for the blues). The sound, especially the guitars, fairly leaps out of the speakers! King's sound is a bit right of center and thinner than Vaughan's, who seems to be dead center stage, with a heftier sound. As is noted in the liner notes, this was not a guitar player showdown. This was a mutual respect thing between the king of the blues and the young guitar-slinging soon-to-be king of the blues (and while King definitely holds his own, even in holding back, Stevie wipes the floor with him). In Session is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, "duelling with respect" blues guitar recordings ever made. As is necessary with the blues, the use of dynamics is expertly navigated by Vaughan, King, and King's backing band (who are, by the way, excellent!). Both SRV and King are, as it turns out, fine rhythm guitar/comp players, as well. When one's a'smokin', the other is a'compin'. Add keys, bass and drums, and all is well with the world...at least for 63 minutes and 53 seconds.
There is one more highlight to insert here that takes this set from very good to great (and beyond). Stax/Fantasy, in infinite wisdom, decided to keep the chatter between Vaughan and King in the recording, and each exchange (containing more than a few words) is even given a track #, title, and time! This puts the disc over the top and it now becomes indispensable. We hear, literally and figuratively, Albert King "turning it over" to Stevie (and the new kings of the blues guitar). Coupled with copious liner notes from three authors, this is a perfect package.
In the slow blues "Call it Stormy Monday"s nine minute duration, the two guit-fiddle experts inspire each other to new heights...some of the best blues guitar playing ever recorded. SRV and Double Trouble's (just released) "Pride and Joy" is the sole SRV tune here, and his only lead vocal. This version ranks with the best ever recorded and fairly flows like honey from the speakers. "Blues at
" is 15 minutes of just plain awesome! A slow burn that smolders and catches fire again and again. Don't miss King's rememberances of the original recording done with Hendrix and Janis Joplin those many years ago. At the start of the instrumental "Overall Junction", you'd swear Jimmy Smith was fingerin' the Hammond B3 keys! Fantastic! Combined with two great guitarists and that killer rhythm section, this chooglin' blues will keep you boogyin' til the cows come home! The disc's last cut, "Don't Lie to Me", is nine minutes of smokin' roadhouse blues, and caps things off perfectly, with Stevie exclaiming "I won't!".
This disc has rarely left my player in the last two weeks. The more I hear, the more I wanna hear. With In Session, Stax/Fantasy has put together one of the great live packages of all time. If you love electric guitar, this is a must have. If you love electric blues guitar, this is as necessary as breathing...Buy it! What a wonderful way to remember two great blues players who died before their time.