Remembering The King of The Blues
Written By Patrick Ortiz
We talk a lot about the legendary musicians who have made a significant mark on music or culture in general. In fact, as far as blues guitarists go, you probably have a list of about five to ten individuals that you can assume we’ll talk about continuously. In fact, most people’s lists would probably look similar because there are just a few undeniable masters at this craft. The musician that we hold a special place in our hearts for a litany of reasons is the incomparable, B.B. King.
Beyond being a blues guitar pioneer, inventive songwriter, and inspiration to future musicians, B.B. King was a caring and selfless person who always had a smile on his face and loved whatever he was doing. He was also a strong believer in shepherding the next generation of blues musicians. One guitarist that always names B.B. as a main influence and someone that helped start his career is Joe Bonamassa. We all know that King helped to put Joe on the blues map as a twelve-year-old, so I won’t bother you with all those details; but for Joe personally, his generosity and gifts to music will never be forgotten. Although Joe has embraced the rockier side of the blues, he, like most blues guitarists, owes a lot of his technique and touch to King.
The main reason for me writing this is because we are fast approaching B.B. King’s birthday on September 16th. “The King of the Blues” would have been celebrating his 93rd birthday, most likely on the road or playing ‘Lucille’ in his bedroom. Like in all forms of media, sports, or things of that nature, music has main figures who will forever be remembered and idolized by everyone in that craft. That is why we try to honor B.B. as much as we can, because without him, there would be no Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, or countless others.
Within his long and rich career, B.B. King accumulated an impressive discography that has been used as a bench mark for blues playing since the 1950’s. There of course are many go-to King albums that are on the top every “best blues albums” lists, but even from the beginning, King’s style and talent were unmistakable and had elements that would be linked to him almost 70 years later!
For example, if you listen to his first recorded album with Crown Records, Singin’ the Blues, you hear King’s silky-smooth vocals and the beginning of his trademark “shimmering vibrato” and stinging single-note soloing; although, he might have played a few more notes back then! One of the stand-out tracks on the album is one that King continued to perform throughout his career, “Everyday I Have The Blues.”
As I said before, every B.B. King album is a masterpiece of epic blues proportions and can be used as reference for how to play blues guitar the right way. However, one of his quintessential albums that is a must-have for Joe Bonamassa and many fans and musicians alike is Live At The Regal. At this point, King had already established himself as one of the heaviest hitters on the scene and had amassed an impressive twelve studio albums. Recorded in 1965, Live at The Regal, at the Regal Theater in Chicago was King’s first recorded live album and is still considered one of his best. Along with albums like Like at Leeds by the Who, At Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers, and Live at the Apollo by James Brown, this album always hits the “best lives albums” lists and for good reason. King is firing on all cylinders in every aspect and plays some of his best solos!
Throughout his entire career, King was a major inspiration to many people. He opened public blues clubs, appeared on television shows and commercials, and helped to guide the next generation of musicians. Unfortunately, King fell ill which made it harder to record and perform, but not before releasing his 42nd studio album at 83 years old! One Kind of Favor was a brilliant record and a perfect way to cap an extraordinary recording career of a master. The record was warmly received by critics and fans and even won the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2009. If you think his playing suffered because of his age and health, you’re gonna have to rethink that. Although he may not have been as fast as on Singin The Blues, King was just as impactful as he was in the early 50s.
Thank you for so many wonderful albums and for influencing some of our favorite modern musicians. Happy Birthday B.B.!