First posted March 6, 2011. Last updated September 10, 2018.
Riding with the King
Eric Clapton with B.B. King
Released: June 13, 2000
Sales (in millions):
For his second full-fledged blues album, the 55-year-old Clapton collaborated with B.B. King, his senior by nearly 20 years. The pair first performed together in 1967, but didn’t record together until 30 years later when Clapton guested on King’s Deuces Wild album. WK For Riding with the King, “Clapton arranged the session using many of his regular musicians, picked the songs, and co-produced with his partner Simon Climie.” WR That would seemingly relegate King to guest status, but “because of Clapton's respect for his elder, it nearly works the other way around.” WR
Indeed, PopMatters’ Don Moos called the album “strong blues cocktail…with one part Mr. Clapton slickness mixed with three parts of Mr. King’s blues stature.” WK Entertainment Weekly’s Steve Futterman called the “father” and “son” collaboration “triumphant.” WK
In the Columbia Daily Spectator, Nicole Bode offered specific praise for the “call and response guitar and vocal duet…on…Hold On, I’m Comin’, an Isaac Hayes’ song originally released as a single for Sam & Dave in 1966. Of Come Rain or Come Shine, from the 1946 musical St. Louis Woman, she said it was “a mournful vibrato so tender it almost breaks your heart.” WK
The album also included covers of standards such as “the Big Bill Broonzy-penned Key to the Highway (which Clapton had recorded in the early 1970s with Derek and the Dominos) [and] Chicago pianist Maceo Merriweather’s Worried Life Blues.” WK Alongside those standards are “five ‘vintage’ King songs from the 1950s and 1960s: Ten Long Years, Three O'Clock Blues, Help the Poor, Days of Old, and When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer.” WK
The title cut was written by John Hiatt and first appeared on his 1983 album of the same name. The song came about when producer Scott Matthews told Hiatt about his dream of flying on an airplane with Elvis Presley. WK The album was rounded out “with some specially written and appropriate recent material.” WR
The “danger is that Clapton will defer too much…but the two players turn out to have sufficiently complementary, if distinct, styles so that Clapton’s supportive role fills out and surrounds King’s stinging single-string playing…The result is an effective, if never really stunning, work.” WR
That sentiment was echoed by the Mobile Register’s Dave Ferman who said that while it “was a ‘great idea well-executed,’ it is not as good as it could have been.” WK He also said Clapton has never been a great blues singer and critiqued the overall result as too “squeaky clean…antiseptic and clinical.” WK
However, Cosmopolitan’s Louis Gerber called it a “refreshing and sensational album” WK which “goes directly to the heart and soul.” WK while Bode said King takes Clapton “deeper into blues territory than he has ever gone alone” WK and draws out a “raw, growling” side of Clapton’s voice. WK
Like Clapton’s 1994 From the Cradle album, this one also won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album.