This is a piece I wrote for Nancy Davis Kho’s blog, Midlife Mixtape a couple of years ago. She asked a few writer friends to weigh in on a record that we love, still in rotation after many years and changing tastes. I was fortunate to see B.B. King several times, and love hearing him play with some other amazing musicians on this album–still in rotation: B.B. King: Deuces Wild (1997)
I just love me some blues. And B.B. King, well past 80 now, is hands down the King of the Blues. So I head straight to the source when that’s what I want to hear. The blues are my go-to music when I’m feeling up, when I’m feeling down, and when I’m not sure how I feel.
What makes this collection of duets so good is how B.B King raises the level of everybody’s performance by doing what he does best. On Deuces Wild, he sings with the likes of Tracy Chapman, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Joe Cocker, and my man Willie Nelson. B.B.’s gravelly voice, his ability to rasp out those soulful or sexy lyrics between guitar licks…yeah, it works for me. I love the doo-wop vibe of “If You Love Me,” and the slow, three-way argument between Chapman, King, and his guitar Lucille on “The Thrill is Gone.” But “Rock Me Baby” with Clapton—the great Slowhand himself—may be the sexiest song yet. This particular cut carries me back to a magical night in my teens: Cream concert, Winterland, 1968. Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce pounding out music you could feel in your chest. Up in the balcony, clouds of pot smoke rising, the full attention of my own Mr. Slowhand….uh huh.
Any song that can do that is worth listening to over and over on a day when life seems predictable and dull.
I can’t remember when Deuces Wild took its spot among the K’s on our CD shelves. We’ve got a few of King’s other recordings, and a lot of blues in general, but this is the first thing I grab when I have a long road trip ahead of me. The beat echoes the sound of my car rolling down Interstate-5 to LA, a trip I have made many times over the years. I rock along with each tune—like my “back ain’t got no bone”—to ward off the boredom of the long drive. I hear something new every time: the wail of a harmonica in the background; the chords of the Hammond B3 organ beefing up the percussion; Mick Jagger and the rest of the Stones blending in on “Paying the Cost to be the Boss.”
But Deuces Wild goes beyond just music to travel by. You can dance to it too. My sons are grown now, but when they lived at home, I’d pull them away from their homework and convince them to dance with me, perhaps to “If You Love Me,” the luscious duet with Van Morrison. Or maybe the plaintive “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” with Mick Hucknall. Or the bouncy honky-tonk version of “There Must be a Better World” with Dr. John. Most of the songs on this album lent themselves to a little waltz through the dining room and around the kitchen, with a twirl and a dip—just not too close to the stove. There may have been some eye-rolling from the boys, but I couldn’t tell for sure from my head-on-the-shoulder perspective.
I’ve always said the best reason to have sons is that you can make them dance with you. I don’t have many chances to do this anymore, though; they’re both married now and live a plane ride away. One of the high points of their weddings was that special mother- and-son-dance I couldn’t wait to do with them. I’m proud to say that my sons got to perfect their dance moves right here in my kitchen. I’ll take credit, acknowledging the assist from B.B. King and friends, for how good they look with their dance partners.
When I listen to Deuces Wild now, I only nod my head and tap my toes; no dips, no twirls, no sons to drag onto the kitchen/dance floor. My husband is a terrific partner in many other ways, but dancing is not his thing. He did, however, introduce me years ago to one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, for which I am grateful. Long live the King.
B.B. King no longer stands up when he performs these days, due to health issues. But he and Lucille are in fine form, as you can see from the video in which he performs “Rock Me Baby,” accompanied by Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Jim Vaughn—who all manage to rock just fine from their chairs, too.
May he rest in peace now.