This excellent compilation presents the very beginning of the Riley "B.B." King story as documented on phonograph records made between the years 1949 and 1952. Born in Mississippi, influenced by his uncle Bukka White as well as by Lowell Fulson, Wynonie Harris, and Ivory Joe Hunter, King cut his first four sides in 1949 for the Bullet label in Memphis, TN. Backed by trumpet, trombone, two saxes, and a rhythm section containing both Phineas Newborns Jr. and Sr., "Blues Boy" King sang his own kind of blues in a high and spirited voice. Moving over to the RPM label, King made a series of recordings in 1950 and 1951 that began to define his style, putting him on the map, as it were, and on the road to popularity. There seems to have been an amiable fire lit under the band during the session of January 8, 1951. "My Baby's Gone" moves like a New Orleans rhumba. "Questionnaire Blues" deals with the troublesome topic of conscription, a subject also handled by J.B. Lenoir, Titus Turner, and Sunnyland Slim during those Korean War years. Solomon Hardy's screaming tenor sax introduction jacks up "B.B. Blues" to a high level of emotional intensity from the get-go. It was always King's heart that spoke so directly to the people. The New Orleans-inspired authentic rock & roll energy is wonderfully exciting but King's heartfelt emotional honesty, so beautifully expressed on the slow and powerfully delivered "She's a Mean Woman," fills in the rest of the picture and makes his music uncommonly relevant to the listener. By September of 1951, B.B. King had steadily developed into a performer of stunning depth and immediacy. Note the presence of a pianist Ike Turner with alto saxophonist Hank Crawford on this session, and the legendary Johnny Ace at the piano on two sides dating from 1952. Here are some of the men who changed the very course of popular music midway through the 20th century, and these records are exactly how they went about it.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf