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(Credit: Heinrich Klaffs)

Music

B.B. King's favourite album by The Rolling Stones

Veteran blues musician B.B. King died in 2015, aged 89. Known for his wild solos, the guitarist’s shadow hung over Irish rockers Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore, as well as English blues outfits The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones. 

Contented with his place in life, King spent his final years as a mentor to aspiring musicians, hoping to create their own sound. When he was asked by The Guardian to name an album that broke down “prejudices”, the 82-year-old nominated The Rolling Stones record Beggars Banquet

“The Stones were superstars,” he exclaimed. “I supported them on tour in 1969 and to be able to do something with them was a godsend for me. It probably didn’t mean much to them, but it meant a lot to me. Keith was always playing something and looking at me as if to say, ‘You can’t play this!’ I loved working with them and I’d work with them tomorrow if they’d let me. The Stones opened a lot of eyes – white and black – because many people didn’t know about the blues. I wanted them to think of it as music in the same way as I wanted them to think of us as people.” 

Beggars Banquet proved something of a game-changer for The Rolling Stones. Luxuriating in a confidence that had grown over the 1960s, Mick Jagger was singing freely, while rhythm guitarist Keith Richards was now recording many of the solos himself, as Brian Jones was becoming increasingly more unreliable to work with. From the piano-heavy ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ to the folk textures of ‘Prodigal Son’, the album is played breezily, never a note wasted or misplaced. 

The album also boasts ‘Street Fighting Man’, a frenzied rock number that saw the band tackling more songs of a more politically oriented nature. Written amidst the changing American landscape, the song also offered Jagger his chance to salute France, which was to become a second home to the vocalist. 

King’s influence emerges on the grizzly-sounding ‘Parachute Woman’ a blues number par excellence. Richly produced, and written against one of Charlie Watts’ steeliest drum patterns, the song also holds one of Jagger’s most committed vocals. As if proving themselves worthy of the genre, The Stones invited blues savant Mick Taylor into the fold to replace Jones in 1969. 

With Taylor firmly positioned as the band’s lead guitar player, The Rolling Stones charged into the 1970s, bolstered by a series of urgently written riffs, and a singer who was eager to explore the extent of his limbs. From 1970 onwards, the stage acted as a dance hall for Jagger, who purred, prowled and pirouetted across the floor, buoyed by the promise of sex, scandal and sophistication. 

And with Taylor, the band were driven to more intricate, even progressive, heights, and the band’s most successful album of the decade, Sticky Fingers, exhibited a versatility that was comparable to The Beatles very own work. Rather than ape them as they did with Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Rolling Stones wisely chose a different path to The Fab Four with an outlet that was more grounded, more rock centred and more reverent of the blues. Beggars Banquet sounded completely different to the confluent of influences that made up The White Album, although, to the band’s embarrassment, the cover of Beggars Banquet bore a striking resemblance to The Beatles double album. 

That didn’t matter to King, who applauded the band’s eagerness to explore a genre that was very close to his heart. And much like The Rolling Stones, King enjoyed a creative second wind in the late 1980s. Bono invited him to sing on U2′s rollicking ‘When Love Comes To Town’, which was an undisputed highlight on the band’s unfocused Rattle and Hum album. It helped open King up to a newer, younger audience who were moving away from the electric guitar, for the synthesiser and electronic drum.

Richards commemorated King during a Twitter interview in 2015. “He was one of the true gentlemen and I shall miss him a lot,” Richards wrote. “I always had a great time with him when our paths crossed.” He elaborated as only he could, “Well, what can you say now? At least we have his records. And farewell, B.B.”