B.B. King died last Thursday. I feel he was one of the last great blues stars. But as talented as he was I have a terrible confession to make. He was so influential on white rockers such as Eric Clapton that a) they just copied him slavishly lick for lick, all the time, forever b) I have developed a back-formation feeling that unfairly prejudices me against the music of a true guitar hero.
From the NYT obit:
B. B. stood for Blues Boy, a name he took with his first taste of fame in the 1940s. His peers were bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, whose nicknames fit their hard-bitten lives. But he was born a King, albeit in a shack surrounded by dirt-poor sharecroppers and wealthy landowners.
Mr. King went out on the road and never came back after one of his first recordings reached the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1951. 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.
He was embraced by rock ’n’ roll fans of the 1960s and ’70s, who remained loyal as they grew older together. His playing influenced many of the most successful rock guitarists of the era, including Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough, he told a public-television interviewer in 2003. A few years earlier, he recalled, an M.C. in an elegant Chicago club had introduced him thus: “O.K., folks, time to pull out your chitlin’s and your collard greens, your pigs’ feet and your watermelons, because here is B. B. King.” It had infuriated him.
When he saw “longhaired 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.”
He was an amazing live performer, and kept playing right up to the end of his life. This song, “The Thrill is Gone” was his signature tune.
Now, I feel like I hate Eric Clapton, but this can’t be right because I love some Eric Clapton songs! Like who doesn’t love “White Room“? And “Bell-Bottom Blues” off Layla is actually the jam. It’s just an excellent album, really, but was over-played. But that’s because—Duane Allman no backsies.
I also like the spectacularly goofy “Anyone For Tennis.” (You need to watch that video.) It’s just like the Spinal Tap “Cakes and Tea” song. And “Let It Grow,” similar in a “you need to be stoned tho” way.