The 2015 passing of B.B. King has—over time—inspired a host of casual blues fans to dig deep into their record collections—or into the depths of their iTunes (or Apple Music) libraries—to take a quick refresher course on exactly what made King so special, so rare.
Oddly enough, I had actually started revisited his expansive catalog only a month before he died. Which then led me to look for seldom-seen clips of King and his beloved Gibson guitar, Lucille, in action—hopefully with my favorite guitarist of all time, Stevie Ray Vaughan, along for the ride.
Luckily, there’s a handful of King-and-Vaughan clips available on YouTube. My favorite of them all, however, is this pro-shot video from April 22, 1988, when Vaughan, King and fellow blues legend Albert Collins performed “Texas Flood” aboard the S.S. President as part of the 1988 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
While I usually think of King as “the guitarist who says more with one note than most guitarists say with 20,” he seems to have abandoned that philosophy in this clip in favor of some B.B. King-style shredding. Maybe he was inspired by the two fleet-fingered Texans on stage with him.
What we hear (and see) is actually a very exciting, fluid and extended solo by King, who kicks things off with one of the Albert King-style bends so strongly associated with SRV’s studio and live versions of the Larry Davis composition. Up next is a solo by Vaughan, who is his usual impressive self, followed by a tasteful solo by Collins, who was known as “the master of the Telecaster” and “the Ice Man.”
It’s fun to go from the tones of King’s Gibson Lucille model to Vaughan’s Strat to Collin’s extra-pointy Tele. There’s a lot of great guitar playing in this video, and it’s great to see all the smiling faces and beautiful gear. But it’s also a sad reminder that some of the greatest blues players of modern times are gone forever.
Vaughan died August 27, 1990, just before turning 36. Collins died November 24, 1993, at 60. King died May 14, 2015, at 89.