Friday, May 15, 2015

B.B. King (1925-2015)

"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," wrote The New York Time, "He was 89."

The notes below, which seem like an appropriate way to remember the blues man, are written by Stanley Dance in 1967:

"The King of the Blues! That's what they call Riley B. King, otherwise known as the Boy from Beale Street, the Beale Street Blues Boy, Blues Boy King and B.B. King, a man "born on a plantation right out from Indianola, not too far from Itta Bena, in Mississippi."

Those who call him the King of the Blues are not really much interested in a pretty play on words. They know their man, and they believe that of all the blues singers he is the one entitled to wear the crown. To get a better idea of why they think this way, he should be seen in action at a theatre like the Apollo in Harlem, preferably on a bill with other great blues artists. Usually, B.B. King closes the show, and as the others come on one by one, exerting their spells by voice, guitar or harmonica, it is hard not to wonder how he will ever top them.

He likes to say that he hasn't much showmanship, and sometimes he will just fall into a blues without any kind of preamble. At other times he will stand in front of his band and start winging wild, tremulant guitar notes out over the audience. Then, suddenly, he is ready, and he begins to move towards the microphone, half dancing in time with a beat that leaps through the audience like electricity. The connection is made and from then on he main-tains it at full, charge. Excited shouts come from all parts of the house, shouts of joy, appreciation, identification and encouragement. 
"Put it in the alley!" someone cries.
"Naw, put in the swamp!" Another shouts assertively. 
He bears down on the beat, intensifying the feeling in his voice as the long guitar notes wail in pain and releasee. Now he is playing on the people's emotions as surely as on the guitar strings. The response is vibrant and, sensing it, he is himself uplifted, for it is when he is moving people who understand the blues that he is truly inspired. The converse is true, too. "When I stand on the stage and sing and sing," he says, and people don't understand what I'm doing, I almost cry.""

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