I can think of no simpler and better way to sum up why B.B. King, who has sadly left us, so completely deserved his nickname, King of the Blues, than to point out that when I and millions of people around the world think of the blues, the sound we hear in our heads is B.B. King.
B.B. was the quintessential bluesman: raised a sharecropper on a cotton plantation, he knew and lived the hard life that is the very heart of the blues. Fortified by the gospel tradition, inspired by the blues from the very first time he heard it on the radio, he taught himself how to play the guitar, spent his Saturday afternoons, when done with work, busking and honing his craft, and was finally able to leave the plantation thanks to relentless touring on the Chitlin’ Circuit.
Though he was unsuccessful in marriage — two failed 8-year stints, 15 children with 15 women — by all accounts he was a very warm, friendly, and generous person, beloved by all of the musicians who were fortunate enough to know him and/or share the stage with him.
Beyond the sound that I hear in my head, as a musician myself, when I think of B.B. King I think of the depth of his immersion in the music, the visceral feeling he could wring out of his instruments, both guitar and voice, and the visual component, the wonderful facial expressions he’d make as he performed evidence that he was totally committed to authenticity. He also smiled a lot, and the overall impression, as you watch him play, is that he felt deep gratitude and joy for his livelihood as a musician.
I have the closest, personal connection with his biggest hit, The Thrill Is Gone, as I’ve performed it in several bands that I’ve been in. I love minor key blues!
And so, without further ado, here’s this week’s Video Fridays installment.
R.I.P., B.B., thanks SO much for your wonderful music, and Happy Weekend, everyone!