Riding WIth The King 20th Anniversary: A Look Back

Two guitar legends – Eric Clapton and B.B. King – first jammed together in 1967 in New York City. From that very first meeting, the two wanted to collaborate. Over the intervening years, the friends managed to get in the occasional jam or one-off session. More than 30 years after their first jam, Eric and B.B. finally joined forces at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood to put down an album. The result, Riding with the King, was released in June 2000. Made up of blues classics and contemporary songs, it featured B.B. King originals and a selection of covers from songwriters as diverse as Isaac Hayes and David Porter (“Hold On, I’m Comin’”), Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen (“Come Rain or Come Shine”), Big Bill Broonzy (“Key To The Highway”) and John Hiatt (“Riding with the King”). The album went onto sell more than two million copies and win the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. An expanded 20th Anniversary Edition was released this week.

Shortly after the album first came out, Where’s Eric! spoke with both B.B. King and Joe Sample about the sessions. The interviews, conducted by Tony Edser, were published exclusively in Where’s Eric! Magazine, in an issue that has long been out of print. In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the landmark recording, they are re-published here. This is the first time they have appeared online.

Interviewed at the Barbican Centre, London – 8 July 2000

TE: Can you tell me about the Riding with the King sessions and what it was like in the studio working with Eric, B.B. and all of those guitar players?

JS:  It was very raunchy and raucous! A lot of fun – exactly the way a hell of a blues album should be, right? I looked at the recording as certainly having tremendous possibilities of being a historical event and I believe that it is.

I was bombarded by guitar players (laughs). At one point, it was Eric, B.B., Andy Fairweather Low, Doyle Bramhall and Jimmie Vaughan in the room. I said “Goddamn” –  I was in a swirl of guitar picking.

B.B. and Eric would begin to play an old recording of B.B.’s let’s say and then Eric would start playing and I was sitting there listening, then next thing you know I had joined in, then Nathan East joined in, then Steve Gadd, he joined in, then suddenly the whole band was playing and Eric would say “TURN ON THE TAPE”. The shit was getting ready to explode man, it was like better get it NOW. STOP. Do we have the lyrics, do we have the lyrics, make sure we’ve got the lyrics. Everybody leave the room now, now, there’s no more rehearsal. I know why he was doing that and that’s the wonderful thing about Eric. Eric knows. He’s a very experienced man and if you’re gonna have that one special take it’s gonna more than likely be the first or the second take. You’ll always do a whole bunch of other takes just to make sure that something else may not be lurking around in your soles and your spirits one or two hours later, or even the next day. Most of the time you go back to those original takes.

What I do respect about Eric is that he’s not only a pop star, he also basically is an artist and he understands the value of when artistic things are going down. He is more motivated to involve himself in the artistic side of it than he is necessarily in the production side of “let’s make the proper pop hit”. He felt that very special things were going on when B.B. was singing in there. I couldn’t believe it and I hadn’t seen this in years where they actually pulled the vocal mics right in front of them as they were sitting there playing the guitars. Never seen that in ages. It was really a wonderful experience.

Interviewed at the Hammersmith Apollo, London – 29 June 2000

TE: Riding with the King – it sounds like it was a fun album to make.

B.B.: It was great. A young man, i’ve heard of him (smiling), very talented. In fact, I call him a genius. My friend, Eric Clapton. He’s a fabulous guy. In fact it was his idea to name the CD Riding with the King. I didn’t argue with him because all of the tunes, he picked them anyway. I told him when we got together – you pick the songs and if you come up with one I don’t like, or I figure I can’t do it, then we’ll talk about it. He came up with some that I’d forgotten, some that I even wrote myself – the man’s a genius, he’s something else.

TE: Eric chose some of the songs you had written from quite a long way back.

B.B.: Yeah, a long time, I’d forgotten them.

TE: Did you have to dig out the old records to refresh your memory of the arrangements?

B.B.: Some of them I did, yes. For example, we did a thing called “Days of Old.” I can’t even remember when I wrote it but it had to be in the early 50’s.

TE: Did it swing in those days the way it swings now?

B.B.: No, it sure swings better now. As you go on you have ideas for things and you think they’re good. But as you live longer, you find – it’s sort of like when I heard two people talking and a guy was telling his lady “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and his lady said “yeah, but you can teach him new ways of doing the old ones” (laughs). I think that’s kind of the way it is with me. As I live longer, the things that I did a long time ago I didn’t have the ideas that I have today.

TE: What about selection of some of the other tracks?

B.B.: My only claim to the CD is just sitting in on it (grins).

TE: I wouldn’t say that myself (laughs). I think the two of you were really pushing each other.

B.B.: We had a good time (laughs). The way Eric plays, it really touches me, so when we’re playing together it’s good chemistry. He’ll look at me some time when we’re playing, we get into something, we don’t say anything we just get into it and I’m hitting them hard and he’s hitting them hard. Then he’ll look at me and smile and we really get into it.

TE: So even on the arangements, Eric had a pretty clear idea of how he wanted the songs to sound?

B.B.: When we first went in the studio, we talked. He would tell me ideas that he had. We discussed them. If there was anything I didn’t like about them, we’d talk about that. But luckily we were like two peas in a pod. He’d say “B.B., you remember so and so?” – I’d say, “No! Bring it up and let’s listen to it.”  And it always worked because he had such good ideas about them. Sometimes I had to go home and get some of the old records so we could both could go through them. That Sam & Dave tune, “Hold On” – I had no idea how we would do that but he did. Only one did I talk to him about – the old standard “Come Rain or Come Shine.” I had doubts about that but he said “but B, I can hear you singing it.”  I said “I can’t!” (laughs). But sure enough, we sat down and started to work on the ideas he had and then I heard it, listened to it and thought “not too bad – let’s do it”. Other than that, it was just right on.

TE: Were there other songs you recorded that didn’t make it on to the album?

B.B.: We wanted to do as many as we could, but Eric felt the ones we had, the way it was, we shouldn’t put that on. Only one other song was recorded but, to tell you the truth, I don’t feel that we lost anything. I think it’s good just as is.

TE: One of the nice things about the album for me was that it also reunited you with Joe Sample.

B.B.: Yeah, Joe has been a friend for a long time. Not only a friend, a producer. With the Crusaders, he produced one or two albums for me so it’s always good to work with him.

TE: I would say that working with the Crusaders introduced you to a whole new audience?

B.B.: Yes. You know, when I sit back and think about it, my management has had great ideas all along. To me, it reminds me of a great big pyramid. So we started like this, at the bottom and then it went on and on and now with Riding with the King, we’ve made it up there, to the top.

TE: Had you heard of Doyle Bramhall much before recording with him on this album?

B.B.: Not much, no. I also could never get his name right until nearly the end. I called him Darryl (laughs). Funny thing is he’d look at me and smile as if to say “I might as well let him go ahead”. So when I finally got his name right, he’d look at me strange again – “hey, I’m Darryl to you” (laughs). No, he’s a great writer and a great player too. He’s one of those real talented young men that is not flamboyant with it.

TE: I was pleased they managed to find a photo of you and Eric, from the first time you played together, for the album sleeve.

B.B.: If I tell you the truth, you won’t believe me. I don’t remember it. But I do remember meeting Eric back in the 60’s. He said we met at the Café au Go Go. I won’t dispute it. But I know we also met at another place. Janis Joplin and I were playing – we used to have jam sessions every night when we got off stage at a place down in the Village. I remember one night there we had a great jam session – we had Al Kooper, Jimi Hendrix, Eric and myself and some others. One of the reasons I remember it so well is because it was a good session. Jimi Hendrix had his tape recorder with him, so he promised me a tape of that session. The jam session went off well so I told Jimi I want a copy of that. He said all right, then he went and died on me. I didn’t get my copy (laughs). So whenever I see him again, if I see him again, he’ll have to give me my copy. [end]

To celebrate the  album’s 20th anniversary, Riding with the King has been remastered by Bob Ludwig. Two previously unreleased tracks, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “Let Me Love You,” have been added as bonus tracks. Both were recorded during the original sessions and produced and mixed especially for this release by Simon Climie, who produced the original album with Eric Clapton.

Riding with the King also features an all-star line-up of musicians: Andy Fairweather Low, Steve Gadd, Nathan East, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Sample, Doyle Bramhall II, Susannah and Wendy Melvoin, Jim Keltner, Tim Carmon, and Paul Waller. The celebrated producer and arranger, Arif Martin, contributed string arrangements and orchestration to “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Let Me Love You.” The album was engineered by Alan Douglas.

The 20th Anniversary Edition of Riding with the King is out now on Vinyl, CD, Digital and Streaming Services. A Limited Edition Blue Vinyl is available only from the Eric Clapton Store and independent record stores.

Riding with the King 20th Anniversary Edition Track List:
01.    Riding with the King
02.    Ten Long Years
03.    Key To The Highway
04.    Marry You
05.    Three O’Clock Blues
06.    Help The Poor
07.    I Wanna Be
08.    Worried Life Blues
09.    Days of Old
10.    When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer
11.    Hold On I’m Comin’
12.    Come Rain or Come Shine
13.    Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Bonus Track)
14.    Let Me Love You (Bonus Track)

Where’s Eric!
Find us on Facebook