B.B. King rallied together some of his favorite musical friends and colleagues for this grand celebration of his 80th birthday back in 2005, appropriately titled ‘B.B. King & Friends: 80’. This record has no shortage of talent. Among the all-star guests are Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, Elton John, and Roger Daltrey, just to name a handful. Of course, in the spirit of celebration and out of tribute to the legendary King of the Blues, there exists an irresistible sense of fun on this record. It’s also an indisputable fact that King and his friends showed up to play on this record; they all sound sharp and calculating, the play doesn’t sound forced.
The opening track on the record is “Early in the Morning”, a cover originally recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson I, performed by King and visionary Irishman, Van Morrison. With this track, Morrison sounds about as relaxed and carefree as he has since the early days of his solo career or even as far back as his time in his garage rock band, Them. It’s quite pleasurable to hear King and Morrison, two giants in their own respects, coming together for such an effortless musical mingling. For King’s re-recording of his most timeless, popular track, “The Thrill is Gone”, he brings aboard Eric Clapton (the two of them had already recorded a full-length record together five years prior). King and Clapton play through this track about as competently as could be and hearing the two of them playing guitar together is something that should be held as a peak of musical divinity. One of the other highlights of the record is the closing track, King’s cover of “Rock This House”, written by Jimmy Rogers. King brings along Elton John for the ride this time around. King and John go quite the distance in proving that King still had the capabilities to rock at a high velocity on this track. His guitar attack on this track also proves that he maintained his chops on the instrument into the latter years of his life and career. John has long been the king of these sort of high-velocity piano-rockers and King doesn’t feel out of place.
Scoring this record is a bit of an odd task. On one hand, this record is pretty damn fun. It’s nice to hear so much talent come together and mingle together with the general sense of ease that it does here. On the other hand, as cool as it is to hear King and Clapton together on “The Thrill is Gone”, this re-recording in the name of mere celebration doesn’t match the feeling of King’s original recording. Herein lies this record’s complex. Sure, it’s cool to hear some of these tracks, but they simply don’t match the heart and soul that their original recordings captured. You can’t create a flawless record on celebration alone, there’s got to be more going on than that. Even with that said, take this back to an earlier point, in which we already learned that all of the performances on this record are well-calculated, competent, and appropriate. There isn’t a whole lot on this record that is unlikable, except for maybe a couple of missteps throughout the record’s duration. The important thing surrounding this record is that King appeared to have the time of his life in its recording and that alone is worth something.