Blues Is King is the third B.B. King album selected for the Blues Hall of Fame, following Live at the Regal and Live in Cook County Jail. All three were recorded live in Chicago for the ABC label group. Neither King nor ABC was ever based in Chicago, but the capital city of the blues may have been home to B.B.’s strongest fan base. King was in Chicago at least six different times in 1966, and on November 5 he recorded the bulk of Blues Is King live at The Club (formerly the Club DeLisa and later the Burning Spear) at 5523 South State Street. Twelve days later he was back in town to record more tunes, including one track, “Waitin’ on You,” that became the opening track on the album. The Club was a large, historic African-American showcase nightclub managed by WVON DJs Pervis Spann (a Blues Hall of Fame inductee) and E. Rodney Jones, and in this club setting the crowd response spurred an inspired performance by King and his band (Bobby Forte, Duke Jethro, Sonny Freeman, Kenneth Sands, and Louis Satterfield). In addition to his biting, incisive guitar phrasing and impassioned vocals, the song selection is a bonus, as it includes gems that were not the greatest hits that filled so many of King’s later sets.
Although the Regal and Cook County Jail albums sold far better and achieved classic status first, many aficionados rate Blues Is King, which failed to even reach the charts, as B.B.’s best. Produced by Johnny Pate and B.B.’s manager Lou Zito, it was the first release on ABC’s new BluesWay imprint in 1967. Listeners who know King only through his later performances as the grandfatherly ambassador of the blues can get a taste of the king on fire at his peak on Blues Is King, when he was shouting, “I’ve got so many women, baby, till they’re standing in line.”