The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

King of the Blues, R.I.P.

Posted on | May 15, 2015 | 12 Comments

America has lost a national treasure:

B. B. King, whose world-weary voice and wailing guitar lifted him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to a global stage and the apex of American blues, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 89.
Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.
“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” Mr. King said in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (1996), written with David Ritz.
In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang — like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” (“I’ll still live on/But so lonely I’ll be”) — were poems of pain and perseverance.

It is worth noting that B.B. King’s biggest hit, recorded in 1969, was a cover version of a 1951 song by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell, but King made it his own. The elements of King’s trademark style — playing guitar “fills” between vocal lines, bending notes and adding vibrato — were not original to him, but he combined them in an unique way with sophisticated arrangements. Aware of his own lack of musical education, King at the outset of his career was shrewd enough to hire the classically trained Onzie Horne to write arrangements for his band, and hit the road with a vengeance. When it came to “paying dues” as a performer, nobody could dispute that King’s dues were fully paid:

He began in juke joints, country dance halls and ghetto nightclubs, playing 342 one-night stands in 1956 and 200 to 300 shows a year for a half-century thereafter, rising to concert halls, casino main stages and international acclaim.

Anyone enthralled by the popular misconception that a working musician’s life is glamorous should contemplate what it was like for King and his band in the 1950s when, in addition to the ordinary hassles of life on the road, they also had to cope with the difficulties that Jim Crow-era segregation imposed. King’s hard-earned status as the most commercially successful blues performer in history, however, required him to endure the ups and downs of a career affected by shifts in popular music tastes. In the early 1960s, he was actually booed in Baltimore by a young audience that was there to see the soul crooner Sam Cooke. King kept working — playing more than 40 weeks on the road year after year — until a new generation rediscovered the blues. British rockers like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, who had traced rock-and-roll back to its R&B roots, inspired a blues revival in the late 1960s:

Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough . . .
When he saw “long-haired white people” lining up outside the Fillmore, he said, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.”
“Everybody stood up, and I cried,” Mr. King said. “That was the beginning of it.”

King was 43 years old and had already played more than 4,000 gigs before his “commercial breakthrough” in 1968.

Think about that the next time you see a spoiled rich white girl at an elite university whining about how she’s oppressed.

“Trigger alert,” my ass.

B.B. King was born the son of sharecroppers in Mississippi and bought his first guitar for $15 when he was 12 years old. Imagine how he must have felt in December 2006 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush. Real achievement, earned through hard work and persistence, is the only kind of success any honest man should ever desire. I don’t care who you are or how much “talent” you’ve got, you damned sure ain’t better than the King of the Blues.

“Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings . . .”
Proverbs 22:29 (KJV)



12 Responses to “King of the Blues, R.I.P.”

  1. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    May 15th, 2015 @ 8:23 am

    RIP B.B.

  2. M. Thompson
    May 15th, 2015 @ 8:25 am

    Great art is truly appreciated by the intelligent.

    Rest in peace, Mr. King.

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  4. RS
    May 15th, 2015 @ 9:18 am

    Another legend gone. R.I.P.

  5. kilo6
    May 15th, 2015 @ 9:43 am

    What’s going to happen to Don “No Soul” Simmons now?

  6. kilo6
    May 15th, 2015 @ 9:56 am

    and that video is really a modern version of a line from Merchant of Venice

    The man that hath no music in himself,
    Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
    Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
    The motions of his spirit are dull as night
    And his affections dark as Erebus:
    Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

    RIP Mr. King, you definitely had quite a lot of music in you

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  8. ChandlersGhost
    May 15th, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    The bible verse juxtaposed with the Sesame Street clip is quite poignant. RIP.

  9. texlovera
    May 15th, 2015 @ 11:12 am

    The last of the Real Bluesmen, I fear.

    RIP Mr. King.

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  12. BozoerRebbe
    May 18th, 2015 @ 12:01 am

    The reason why Bill Graham booked B.B. King to play the Fillmore was because Michael Bloomfield told him to book King and other blues masters. B.B. King was forever grateful to Bloomfield for that.