B.B. KING-TO KNOW YOU IS TO LOVE YOU.

B.B. KING-TO KNOW YOU IS TO LOVE YOU.

In 1973, B.B. King decided to head to Philadelphia, to work with some of the city’s greatest musicians on his album To Know You Is To Love You. Many of these musicians were members of M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band. Among the members of M.F.S.B. which would accompany B.B.King on To Know You Is To Love You, were the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, percussionist Larry Washington and vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr. M.F.S.B. had accompanied Philly Soul legends, helping to shape the Philly Sound. The Delfonics, The Stylistics, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and The O’Jays had all worked with M.F.S.B. Other artists, realizing that M.F.S.B. could help transform an artist’s career, headed to Philly. Recently. Dusty Springfield and Laura Nyro had headed to Philly, to work with M.F.S.B. Both Dusty’s A Brand New Me and  Laura’s Gonna Make A Miracle had proved successful albums.  It seemed that M.F.S.B. had the magic touch. Now was B.B. King’s turn to work with M.F.S.B. Would M.F.S.B. work their magic with B.B. King on what would become To Know You Is To Love You. 

B.B. King was born in 1925, and his career started in the forties. It wasn’t until 1957, when his recording career started, with the release of his debut album Singin’ The Blues, on Crown Records. He released eleven albums on Crown, but none of them charted. When he left Crown, he released thirteen further albums, for a variety of labels, before signing to ABC Records. It was at ABC Records that B.B. King enjoyed the most successful period of his career.

Although B.B. King had released Confessin’ The Blues in 1965, for ABC Records, it was a one-off. Completely Well, released in 1969, was B.B. King’s most successful album, and featured The Thrill Is Gone, which won him a Grammy Award. It reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. This was just the start of the most successful period of B.B. King’s career.

1970s Indianola Mississippi Seeds reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. B.B. King Live In London, released in 1971, then reached number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. For a live album, B.B. King Live In London was considered a commercial success. However, it marked a fall in B.B. King’s commercial success

During 1972, B.B. King released two albums. L.A. Midnight, reached just number fifty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts. Guess Who reached just number sixty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. These two albums proved disappointing for B.B. King. What he needed was a group of musicians who could help rejuvenate his career. So, the call went out to M.F.S.B. and B.B. King headed to Philly.

It made sense for M.F.S.B. and B.B. King to hookup. M.F.S.B. were enjoying success as Philadelphia International Records’ house-band and were releasing albums in their own right. They were also the go-to-guys for artists looking for a backing band.  With M.F.S.B. ready to accompany B.B. King, B.B. and his producer got to work on the material for To Know You Is To Love You.

For To Know You Is To Love You, B.B. King penned Love and Thank You For Loving The Blues. Producer Dave Crawford wrote I Can’t Leave and Oh To Me. Dave cowrote I Like To Live The Love with Charles Mann and Who Are You with Horace Johnson. Luther Ingram and Mack Rice penned Respect Yourself, which gave The Staple Singers a huge hit single. The other track was a cover of To Know You Is To Love You, which Syreeta Wright and Stevie Wonder cowrote, These eight tracks became To Know You Is To Love You.

Recording of To Know You Is To Love You took place at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios. The lineup of M.F.S.B. included the the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, plus guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. Larry Washington played congas, Vince Montana Jr vibes and keyboards came courtesy of Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Charles Mann, Dave Crawford and Stevie Wonder. The Memphis Horns supplied the horns, while Charles Mann and producer Dave Crawford added backing vocals. Once To Know You Is To Love You was recorded, it was released in 1973.

On the release of To Know You Is To Love You in 1973, it reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. This marked the end of an era for B.B. King. After this, it wouldn’t be until 1997s Deuces Wild that B.B. King would release an album that surpassed the success of To Know You Is To Love You. At least the singles fared better. To Know You Is To Love You reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. I Like To Live The Love reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number six in the US R&B Charts. This became B.B. King’s most successful single since B.B. King’s Grammy Award winning single The Thrill Is Gone. Who Are You was the third and final single, released in 1974. It reached number seventy-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. While To Know You Is To Love You may not have matched the success of Completely Well and Indianola Mississippi Seeds, it’s certainly not because of the music, which I’ll now tell you about.

I Like To Live The Love opens Side One of To Know You Is To Love You. Written by Dave Crawford and Charles Mann, this was the lead single. Straight away, you realize something special is unfolding, as B.B. King and M.F.S.B. lock into a groove. Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat, guitars chime and the growling Memphis Horns punctuate the arrangement. Norman Harris and B.B. King trade guitar licks, before B.B. adds a heartfelt, grateful vocal. Meanwhile, Vince Montana Jr, adds vibes, horns kick, drums pound and tender backing vocals sweep in. By now, M.F.S.B, The Memphis Horns and B.B. have created a beautiful and peerless, fusion of soulful blues.

Respect Yourself is a cover of a song made famous by The Staple Singers. Here, B.B. King gives the track a makeover, where soul, funk and blues unite. The song is slowed down, with M.F.S.B. providing a moody, broody and dramatic backdrop. Baker Harris, Young are at the heart of the action, before The Memphis Horn blaze in. B.B. King’s vocal veers between styles. It’s deliberate, vampish, soars high and later, becomes a powerful growl. Meanwhile he lays down some of his trademark bluesy guitar lines, as he brings new meaning to a classic track and its anthemic lyrics.

A jangling, bluesy piano combines with Baker, Harris, Young as Who Are You begins to reveal its secrets. As the arrangement drives along, B.B. adds his signature guitar sound, before unleashing a needy, hurt-filled vocal. Backing vocalists tenderly sweep in, adding a contrast, while The Memphis Horns growl and blaze dramatically. The longer the song progresses, the better things get. B.B’s vocal and weaving, chiming, crystalline guitar, plus the combination of M.F.S.B. and The Memphis Horns prove a potent combination.

Just B.B’s bluesy guitar opens Love. Then Baker, Harris, Young, Larry Washington’s congas and the blazing Memphis Horns accompany B.B. He expresses his happiness and gratitude. For their part, M.F.S.B. provide a slow, understated backdrop for B.B. as he unleashes another powerful, emotive and grateful vocal.

I Can’t Leave closes Side One of To Know You Is To Love You. The tempo drops, with B.B. King’s searing, crystalline guitar and Ron Baker’s moody, prowling bass accompany B.B’s heartbroken, frustrated vocal. His rasping, grizzled vocal has Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, braying horns, and Earl Young’s drums add a dramatic, bluesy backdrop, as B.B. lays bare his soul, hurt and betrayal for all to hear.

To Know You Is To Love You opens Side Two of To Know You Is To Love You. It’s an eight-minute epic, where Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright’s song is given bluesy makeover. Stevie Wonder plays keyboards, joining M.F.SB. and The Memphis Horns. The result is something of a musical dream team. Baker, Harris, Young provide the pulsating heartbeat, while horns growl and rasp as they dramatically punctuate the arrangement. B.B’s vocal is impassioned, powerful and emotive, while he lays down some of his best guitar lines. He’s helped no end by Norman Harris’ jazz tinged guitar playing and Stevie Wonder’s contribution on keyboards. With such a multitalented personnel accompanying B.B, it’s no wonder this is one of the best tracks.

Oh To Me sees a piano and B.B’s guitar set the scene for his vocal. What follows is B.B. delivering one of his most heartfelt vocals. He lays bare his feelings for the woman he loves. His vocal and guitar playing are at the heart of the track, while churning, growling horns accompany him. Ron Baker’s bass and a piano helps drive the arrangement along, as we hear a soulful side to B.B. King’s music.

Thank You For Loving The Blues closes Side Two of To Know You Is To Love You. It’s another epic track, lasting nearly seven-minutes. Mind you, it’s seven minutes where B.B, M.F.S.B. and The Memphis Horns showcase their talents. B.B’s guitar weaves its way across the arrangement. For company, he has Norman Harris’ guitar, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, an atmospheric Hammond organ and Earl Young’s drums which pound dramatically. Here, B.B’s vocal is half-spoken, pensive and thoughtful. He takes the time to say Thank You For Loving The Blues, before he and the band kick-loose and showcase their considerable, combined talents. This seems a fitting way to close To Know You Is To Love You.

So, To Know You Is To Love You marked the end of an a short, commercially successful period B.B. King enjoyed at ABC Records. Between 1969 and 1973, he enjoyed the most successful period of his career so far. After this, his music was no longer as popular. Musical fashions overtook B.B. King. To Know You Is To Love You marked the end of an era for B.B. King. Blues music was no longer as popular. Its popularity had been overtaken by other musical genres, including Philly Soul.

This didn’t stop B.B. King releasing albums and constantly touring. His patience eventually paid off. Twenty-four years after the release of To Know You Is To Love You, B.B. King released an album that surpassed its success, Deuces Wild. By 1997, B.B. King’s music had become fashionable again. On 1997s Deuces Wild, he was joined by an “all-star” cast of recording artists, which included Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, D’Angelo and Eric Clapton. Three years later, in 2000, B.B. and Eric Clapton released Riding With The King, which became B.B. King’s most successful album. These two albums marked the start of a new era for B.B. King. To Know You Is To Love You marked the end of an era for B.B. King with one of his most soulful albums. Standout Tracks: I Like To Live The Love, Respect Yourself, Who Are You and I Can’t Leave.

B.B. KING-TO KNOW YOU IS TO LOVE YOU.

 

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    1. Midweek Music Break: B.B. King, “To Know You Is to Love You”

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