B.B.King and I go way back.
In 1969, I bought my first B.B.King album: “Live And Well.” Downbeat magazine, which I subscribed to and read religiously at the time, had praised it as “the most important Blues recording in many years.”
I saw him in concert in February, 1969 at the 4th Annual Boston Globe Jazz Festival and, I’m pretty sure, the following summer at the Carousel Ballroom in Framingham, MA. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to see him two other times, once at the Hampton Beach (N.H.) Casino Ballroom (on a double bill with Roomful of Blues) and once at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH.
Among the other B.B.King record albums and CDs in my collection are “Completely Well” (1969), “The Best of B.B.King: Blues On Top of Blues” (a short-but-fabulous collection of his hits from the 1950s), “Riding With The King” (2000) and “One Kind Favor” (2008).
B.B.King was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 in a house on the shores of Blue Lake, midway between Itta Bena and Indianola, Mississippi.
In 1947, he and a friend hitchhiked to Memphis, TN where Riley looked up his cousin, Blues musician Bukka White. With the additional assistance of Memphis singer/harmonica player Rice Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson), King got a job as a disc jockey at radio station WDIA. The station billed him as “The Boy from Beale Street,” then “The Beale Street Blues Boy.” His listeners shortened it to “B.B.”
B.B. made his first recordings in 1949 for soon-to-be-out-of-business Bullet Records. His first hit record was “Three O’Clock Blues” on the RPM label. It reached #1 on the R&B charts in 1951 and stayed at #1 for 18 weeks. Between then and 1985, B.B. King put 74 recordings on the Billboard magazine R&B charts.
Pretty good for a singer/guitarist who admittedly cannot play and sing at the same time.
B.B.King went on to become known as “The King of the Blues.”
Writing in the September 1980 issue of Guitar Player magazine, Tom Wheeler states: “Riley B. King is the world’s preeminent Blues guitarist.” Bill Dahl wrote in The All Music Guide to the Blues that: “the legendary B.B.King is without a doubt the single most important electric guitarist of the last half century.”
My favorite tribute to B.B.King came on May 11, 1995 at an Austin, Texas concert held in tribute to the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn. Singer/guitarist Jimmie Vaughn, Stevie’s brother, introduced B.B.King like this: “Without this next guy, there wouldn’t be any electric Blues as we know it. Today, it wouldn’t even be close, because we’re all trying to sound like him and still are, everyone of us.”
Those words were spoken from a stage that, besides Jimmie, also contained guitarists Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray.
A belated but no-less-enthusiastic Happy 85th Birthday to you, B.B.King. Thank you for everything.
P.S.: A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn is available on CD and DVD. Both versions end with the song “SRV Shuffle,” an absolutely remarkable performance that features all of the guitarists above trading guitar solos in a virtual masterclass of electric Blues guitar. A “Must See” and Very Highly Recommended.