The triumvirate of B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan represents perhaps the greatest concertation of guitar talent ever to take to the stage. From the roots of King to the counterculture stylings of Clapton and finally the resurgent boom of Vaughan, the collection represents three generations of guitar’s finest players. Phil Collins even takes up his best guise behind the drumkit.
For an evening celebrating the work of the pioneering musician, King himself assembled esteemed friends and collaborators including Etta James, Chaka Khan, Albert King and more for a night of blues like no other. The most scintillating moment, however, came King invites Clapton and Vaughan to take a little guitar interlude.
Without trying to steal the show – because, frankly, how could they – the duo harmonise their axes like six-string sirens and inject a bristling note of sonic adrenaline into the bombastic performance. They don’t shred or show off, they just bend the 12-bar blues like they’re buttering toast.
In later years, King would even call Stevie Ray Vaughan a modern superstar of the blues along with Robert Cray, and his enthusiasm to be in such venerated musical company is clear from the beaming way that he introduces each contributor. And why wouldn’t he be, if you can introduce the golden pipes of Etta James onto your stage then greatness inevitably follows?
As for Clapton, the pair would later go on to make the Riding With the King record together and King would venture: “But Clapton and I have been friends since we first met back in the ’60s. I’ve always wanted to do something with him, but it’s like, you don’t ask friends to do things all the time—because you’re friends, you know what I mean? But I always wanted to, and when I heard him tell [TV’s] Larry King that he would like to do something with me, man, I was on cloud nine.”
That friendship is evident by just how tight the pair are on stage even in this early impromptu jam. When King wants to wander, Clapton keeps the rhythm and vice versa, all culminating in one of the finest performances of ‘Why I Sing the Blues’ around, and certainly the busiest. While rendition might not get close to answering the question it asks in the style of Lightnin’ Hopkins of old, the level of fun and musicianship in the mix certainly makes up for it.
Sit back and enjoy the beauteous blues jam below.