B.B. King’s mother left his father before he’d grown past age 10, and was brought up by his religious mother and grandmother. It was a preacher who saw King’s interest in the guitar, and taught him his first ever lesson; teaching the E, A and B chords. His mother died when King was 10, and his grandmother at 15, leaving King to take control of his own and barely survived on a pitiful working salary. ‘We were poor people’ King stated to David Letterman in an interview about his life & childhood, confiding that always he was hoping that ‘one day we’d be better off than we were then’. This innate drive of King hasn’t left him still at age 86, where he still tours the globe and performs, having seen over 15,000 performances and only 3 months of holiday in 48 years.
Being an early pioneer of blues on electric guitar through his methods of fluid string bending and bringing an almost noble class to soloing, King is a pure musician’s musician. Guitar-God Jimi Hendrix listened to his father’s B.B King albums as a child and gives credit to him for his blues-styled method of playing, which of course led him to the no.1 guitarist spot by ‘Rolling Stone’. Yet King proudly and almost obviously declares himself as a ‘Sinatra-nut’, respecting him greatly for how many ‘white-only’ venues he brought black-artists into.
Other known musicians who credit B.B. King as their influence are George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter and figuratively every blues-inspired guitarist to-date.
The King of Blues presenting ‘The Thrill is Gone’:
Alcohol limits my capabilities right now, but I still want to attempt this. I first heard this song a year or two ago lying in a Melbourne University dorm, my friend Zac next to me, the window open, our adored ‘mega’ cigarette lay burning a hole in the floorboards. We’d been wandering the empty hall, expecting to see others acting the same yet found it to be entirely deserted. Although at one moment Zac and I had to run and hid in an old music room as some dusty janitor scuffled through, we obviously thought it was the devil himself. So later he’s lying next to me and he passes me his headphones as he rolls over to sleep, and this song of Dylan’s is just beginning to play. I’d never really listened to the man at that time to be embarrassingly honest, as now I’m just a stark-raving admirer. The complexity of the guitar I just revel in, with it beings based upon a melody folk musician Paul Clayton taught him. So really, how could their melodic baby not be beautiful. The fast-picked guitar played in the track from ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ is speculated to be played by a different folk musician Bruce Langhorne, although Dylan would play it himself at festivals and alternate recordings. Really I think it just was the song matched the moment, as many songs have the potential to do. I mean, I’d sunk a dozen cigarettes, Melbourne air blew in the room and at around 4am in the morning, the song just blissfully sent me to sleep. Until I woke up when it ended to cast Dylan’s lyrical enchantment over myself just once more. Definitely my favourite song by him, just topping “Not Dark Yet” and “WWIII Blues”. Some YouTuber encapsulated it well;
“Song is typical of a genius who takes a part of your life and tells it back to you in poetry.”