BB King died yesterday in Las Vegas. He was 89. RIP to the Chairman of the Board, the King of the Blues.
One of the first blues album I ever bought was BB’s classic “Live at the Regal”. I had cut my teeth on British blues-rock in my teens: the Stones, Zeppelin, Clapton, Cream, etc. When I decided to go a little deeper in my mid-twenties, I consulted a few lists of the top blues albums. This one consistently hit the top spot. And it was a revelation. His guitar playing was incredible: smooth and precise, each note had a stinging authority. BB never over-played, never under-played. Growing up listening to guitar players that believed true virtuosity meant sheets of notes, it was a revelation to hear someone who played exactly what needed to be said and nothing more.
And then there was that voice. BB could caress a lyric with the smoothness of a balladeer and then turn to rough rage and pain in the same verse. He was never off-pitch, was dramatic yet not melodramatic, always in complete control yet baring every emotion possible. In the coming days we’ll read a lot about his guitar work but he was every bit as good of a singer as he was a player.
In farewell I’ll post one of my favorites. It’s a studio jam off the Indianola Mississippi Seeds album. It’s just BB riffing on an old classic and producer Bill Szymczyk had the smarts to keep the tape rolling and then splice in a beautiful string section to the last fadeout. The fadeout is almost tragic because you want to hear it just keep going on and on and on. Somewhere out there it is going on, and BB is playing it. RIP brother.