The legendary bluesman B.B. King died last night in Las Vegas. He was 89. We believe the best way to honor a man’s death is to celebrate his life. So let’s play a note for the King.
Born Riley B. King, B.B. brought blues music to the masses. When he sung, he sung from the soul, exposing his childhood on a Mississippi cotton plantation, his infatuation with women and his shameless love for his guitar, Lucille. Lucille was almost always by his side and he caressed her neck with an affection that could elicit audible emotion from the mere bend and strum of a string. His sophisticated playing style earned him a top spot on all respectable “Top Guitarists” lists, and a number of hall of fame inductions. B.B. was truly one of the few musicians whose influence can not be overstated.
If you’re blue over B.B., remember that the best cure for the blues are the blues. Here are five B.B. King songs to help you through a solemn day in music.
“Lucille” tells the story of B.B.’s beloved guitar. Believe it or not, she’s said to have saved his life a few times. B.B. depicts his love for the instrument through story but, most potently, through intimate picking.
If you’re wondering why B.B. sings the blues, he’s got an answer for you in “Why I Sing the Blues.” Well, he has less of an answer than some context. “See,” he sings, “I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve paid my dues.” King takes us back to slavery, introduces us to tenement housing, points out the rats and the bed bugs in his flat and seems to ask, You really wonder why I play the blues? until he finally shouts, “I just love to sing my blues!"
You must watch B.B. King perform live. Prepare for he and Lucille to arouse emotions you didn’t know existed with “The Thrill is Gone,” live at Montreux.
B.B. was a true collaborator. He and Eric Clapton met on the tremendous album Riding with the King. He and U2 joined forces with “When Love Comes to Town.” Here he is performing live with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Jimmie Vaughan. Each of these great blues guitarists has his own style, but B.B.’s influence on the other three is audible and undeniable.
Not only does King command the stage, but here he commands a silver pinstripe suit with swagger and poise. “How Blue Can You Get,” depicts B.B.’s woes over women but it also exhibits the often overlooked connection between blues and good humor. He let’s Lucille rest for much of the tune as he sings, “I gave you a brand new Ford, but you said, ‘I want a Cadillac.’ I bought you a ten dollar dinner, and you said, 'Thanks for the snack.’"