BB King: King of the Blues
Due to an enrollment overload of adolescent baby boomers, I spent the first two years of my high school experience on double sessions. Interestingly, among that large sea of blemished teenage faces and new social experience, I could have counted the African-American students on one hand. African-American students were not barred by any particular discriminatory policy of the school, it’s just that Scottsdale Arizona in the early 70’s was an overwhelmingly Caucasian community.
When I was a junior, my father passed away at the much too young age of 44. I was scared and lonely. Already a guitar player, music was my escape.
One day while reading an interview of Eric Clapton, I noted that he credited a guitarist named BB King as a major influence. BB King? I had heard and read the name before, I even had seen him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Why, I wondered, would a rock star like Eric Clapton be interested in an older black guitar player who seemed to have none of the glitz, glamour, and pizazz that my guitar heroes had?
Curiosity piqued, I headed to the nearby record store and bought one of BB’s older recordings. At first listen, the album seemed rather bland to me because of the tone of BB’s guitar and the old timey sterile production. But after a few listens, I began to get the connection between my rock star idol, Mr. Clapton, and this blue collar musician. The ensuing weeks found me playing along with the BB record, trying to cop the essence of blues improvisation. It was a very useful learning tool.
A few months later, I found out that BB King was coming to Phoenix to play at at The Celebrity Theatre, a smallish venue that featured in-the-round seating. I bought my ticket for $3.50 and planned to go with one of my guitar playing buddies.
On the day of the show and upon arrival at the theatre, I couldn’t help but notice that the audience filing in was predominately African-American. This event already promised to be a different experience for a young man from the lilly white city of Scottsdale, Arizona.
I can’t even remember if there was an opening act or not, but I know I’ll never forget the power and gripping emotion that I felt that night as BB King mesmerized the entire audience with soaring, sweeping crescendos of angst and pain, tender lilting waves of hope and love, and even a bit of show biz comedy thrown in for good measure. I had heard a lot of music in my sixteen years, but I had never FELT music like this before! It felt like I felt when I was missing my father; scared and confused, unsure of the future. It also felt sad, angry, and bitter about the past, which was also just like I felt. But at the same time, it somehow made me feel good. Real good! It was as if by facing my deepest darkest emotions and dancing with them for a while, they were somehow purged from my possession.
The audience was part of the show that night too. People were responding with shouts of acknowledgement to what BB was generating onstage. The crowd was moving, gyrating, FEELING the same electricity in the air I was feeling. I came out of my seat more than once simply because the music demanded it.
BB King changed the way I would look at music from that moment on. Clapton was right. And when I listened to Clapton after that, it all made better sense to me what Eric was going for.
BB King was at this year’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, and for the first time, it seems like he has slowed down a bit. He is 87 years old now and one begins to realize that, like my father, Riley B. King, will not always be around. My dad died suddenly and I never got a chance to say goodbye, so I felt it was time for me to write of my respect and love for the man they call The King of the Blues. Not only has BB King been an inspiration and teacher to myself and countless other musicians, but he also helped a hurt young man deal with his sadness in a way he never would have thought to do on his own.
Thank you BB King for making music and life a just a bit more understandable, and a whole lot more enjoyable.
This article appeared originally on www.BoundForGlory.net