It’s not the greatest way to start the day by waking up and seeing a text that says B.B. King died. But still life goes on. If I had my choice I would have stayed home under my covers and listened to his early work all day, but life goes on and that wasn’t an option.
Until this morning, I never realized how much of an influence B.B. had on me. I was maybe 13 at the time, still trying to learn to play AC/DC songs on guitar when it just wasn’t working for me. My fingers didn’t move like that. Of course I wanted to play guitar and that was the only music I listened to. So I searched on Youtube to explore my options and this came up. That’s B.B. King playing Blues Boy Tune live. There was something about it that changed me. Here was this man, fairly old, sitting down to play guitar. I didn’t know much about him except he didn’t look like any guitar player I’d ever seen, but those first four notes killed me.
The beautiful tone and they way King holds his vibrato, it really was like nothing else. He was a man putting so much passion and soul into his work it’s a wonder his being wasn’t bleeding out of him. That’s the first time I heard soul put into art over technique. B.B. changed it all for me. I switched up my style and played nothing but blues from there on out.
I heard the King and then I went back some. I picked up some Muddy Waters, Son House, Lightin’ Hopkins, Bukka White, Sonny Boy Williamson, really any blues I could get my hands on. But still it all led back to B.B. and nobody else had quite the same effect on me. Later I got into the British Invasion and The Rolling Stones, but I’ll talk about that another time.
He really was a true performer. He worked for every dollar he made, it was reported that there were times when he’d do over 300 shows a year. He continued performing right up until a few months ago when his body couldn’t take it anymore, and that was really the end for him. If you haven’t read B.B’s autobiography you really should. I own it and it’s a must read for any of his fans. For albums of his I would recommend to start with Singin’ the Blues (my favorite track being 3 O’Cock Blues) and then go to Completely Well, which holds the famous song The Thrill is Gone.
To give some scope of the influence he had here in Memphis, today many of the schools flew the flag at half-mast. The people are shattered, the world truly lost a great man today. But just remember, B.B. King may have passed away, but Lucille will never die.