B.B. King & Eric Clapton
Riding With The King (Deluxe Edition)
You know those reviews that accompany retro/reissue/archival releases, all breathless with excitement…lost classic this, forget all about it that, underrated at the time…finally revealed as a true classic…
Yeah…this is not one of those…
For some weird reason this is a “deluxe edition” of Riding With The King, a lazy-ass collaboration between Neckbeard Clapton and one of his heroes, Riley B. King. Neckbeard was in full Armani Bluesman mode here, the only way he could be any more of a coaster would be if you parked your drink on his flat head eh! And since it’s the 20th Anniversary we get this new version with two extra songs pinned to the end. A lazy-ass reissue of a lazy-ass album then.
To be fair, the idea wasn’t stupid. They were friendly. And Clapton had learned most of what he knew from B.B. And the time was probably right for a bit of extra B.B. love – he was touring in his relentless way, riding on the bus all around the USA. Clapton was between projects and not sure if he was going to go and fake interest in the blues again or do another soundtrack or some more misguided techno mish-mash – or a bit of bullshit pop balladry. I guess Riding With The King got Clapton towards his Robert Johnson records but you realise, listening to this, what a blues-tourist he has been. Parading it around as the ideal but really only situating himself in it after other attempts to be anything else fail or run dry.
When Riding With The King was released it bored me to tears and I broke up with Clapton. He had been almost untouchable in my life for the decade leading up to the release of this album – which is to say it was the 1990s that I absorbed all of his music. So not just the middling records from the 80s and 90s but the powerhouse stuff from the 60s on through. He was no longer being called God by anyone really, but I could see why he had been such a name. Sure, I’d go on to learn about his racist speech and listen to so many bad records that had his name attached but it was Riding With The King that bugged me most. It just sounded so plastic – and so unnecessary. You have The King and you surround him with four other guitarists and three keyboardists and a slick rhythm section that can move through almost any genre without leaving the faintest trace of grease. Fuck that. Imagine if someone had had the stones to put B.B. King with the Hi Records rhythm section and Clapton and maybe someone like Johnnie Johnson only. Or even Reese Wynans. Or, hey, fuck that, imagine putting him with the actual Stones. Daryl Jones and Charlie and Keef and Ronnie would have brought better hints of grit. Mick would have blown in the background and strutted about the studio clapping his hands quickly and mincing hard.
Instead Clapton sets his solo button to ‘copy’ and the rest of him is on snooze-time.
King got the lion’s share of the vocals. Only fair. He was the fucking lion. And there are moments that are fine enough on revisiting – like When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer which falls away in the bore-fest closing solo but really does feature a decent vocal. The acoustic Worried Life Blues is, I guess, nice enough.
But I had actually forgotten how utterly embarrassing so much of this is – the plodding take on Hold On I’m Coming makes you feel like they’re singing it from one of those staircase chairlifts as you wait at the door, Key To The Highway is so safe and boring and the opening title track is enough to make you blame all monthly Blues Jam nights on this very record. Like this was suddenly the bible.
White people boasting that they have a blues record in their collection. One with a real live blues musician being carried around on the heads of the hacks beneath.
At the end of this album – and it’s a long, excruciating drive when you’re riding with the King and Eric is driving – we get an extremely tepid Rollin’ and Tumblin’ which EC did far better during his Unplugged a decade ahead of this. And Let Me Love You. Which, again, features a decent vocal from King – but so what. There are better versions and better songs in the catalogue.
These days it’s almost comical to think that Clapton meant anything to me at all. And it’s still sad to think that B.B had to agree to things like this, tantamount to elder abuse really.
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