With BB King currently leading in our poll (Who is your favorite blues artist?), it seems like a good moment to take a quick look at one of my favorite BB King albums...Completely Well. Released in 1969, this album contains the first version of King's great song "The Thrill is Gone."
If you're like me, you have probably gone to YouTube and searched out one of the many live concert videos of King playing this classic number and have heard it many times in many different venues. But it was when I finally clicked on one of those more boring and static album cover videos and listened to the audio of this song in its original album cut that my mind was blown.
I'd been used to hearing King play the musical intro on the neck pickup of his Gibson, producing a mellow, dark tone. But when the first notes sounded from the original recorded version, I was astounded to hear what sounded almost like Peter Green's tone from the early Fleetwood Mac days... that hollow out-of-phase tone that seems a world away from the full and darker tones I'd been used to hearing in BB King's later performances.
I'm not sure how King achieved this tone, a tone that you can hear throughout some of the other cuts on this album. Some say that the Gibson he used during this time period had pickups that were wired out-of-phase, so that when the selector switch was in the middle position and he was accessing both the neck and the bridge pickup at the same time, they were out of phase with each other, producing this hollow tone.
Others say that the varitone selector that King used on many of his Gibson guitars could achieve something of this effect on one of its settings through the use of the specific capacitors and pass-through filters.
I'm not sure the mystery of this tone creation will be solved, but I do know I like it. I'm a big fan of what is commonly called "the Peter Green tone" and enjoy hunting down other examples of this out-of-phase tone in guitars, a subject for many other blog posts to come.
The Completely Well album contains a wonderful selection of songs, including "What Happened," a song King re-recorded on his later album Blues on the Bayou as "Darlin' What Happened." This is one of those typically wonderful King songs reflecting on the end of a relationship with a kind of mystified sadness.
His seventeenth studio album, recorded during his prime years at the top of his game, Completely Well is one of the best blues albums you will find, and a must-have for any fan of BB King's music.