Part of B.B. King’s brilliance existed in the way he made the blues work on his own terms— for him, the genre was not just synonymous with the great pain and mourning of black folk in America, but highlighted the inspired joy of blackness, too. You could find boundless sorrow suddenly turned on its head as B.B. King expertly slid his fingers across his guitar frets, unlocking the glory of his bittersweet melodies.
In 1971, King took to the stage of the Fillmore East in New York City, delivering a performance where his enthusiasm shines. Hot off the success of his remake of Roy Hawkins’ tune “The Thrill Is Gone,” this concert finds the King of Blues experiencing the excitement of mainstream success for the first time. His live rendition of the Hawkins track is full of delighted conviction— a rasp touches his smooth vocals, and later, he peels into animated guitar solos. It amounts to a thrilling take, charged with an unexpectedly blissful energy. Listen to the track, along with his trademark “Everyday I Have the Blues,” below.