Friday, May 15, 2015

The King is dead - B B King RIP

This dreadful year of music deaths continues with the death of the King of the Blues B B King at the age of 89. This didn't come as a great surprise in view of recent reports about his health, but is nonetheless terrible news for lovers of the blues. For many people, B B King WAS the blues, so great was his reputation and so extensive his body of work as a blues guitarist and band leader. He worked hard throughout his life and made hundreds of appearances annually for many years. His legacy includes the excellent B B King Museum in the town where he grew up, Indianola in Mississippi, which I visited in 2011, and blues clubs that bear his name in Memphis, New York and elsewhere.
Brought up by his grandmother on a cotton plantation in the racially segregated south, Riley King obtained his first guitar at the age of 15 and went to Memphis in 1946 where he stayed with Bukka White. Returning to Memphis in 1948 he gained a reputation as a disc jockey and blues artist and was given the name the Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to B B. Early recordings were for the Bullet and RPM labels, many of them produced by Sam Phillips, and he formed his own band. In 1949 he rescued his guitar from a blazing building after two men had knocked over an oil drum whilst fighting over a woman named Lucille: from that point onwards all his guitars were given that name.
His first hit was 3 O'clock Blues in 1952 and he had further success in the fifties with You Know I Love You, Woke Up This Morning, Please Love Me, You Upset Me Baby, Every Day I Have the Blues, Sweet Little Angel and Ten Long Years, among others. He played a show nearly every day and in 1956 made 342 live appearances. His 1962 album Live At The Regal became one of the best selling live blues albums of all time and in 1969 his fame spread to a much larger audience when he opened for the Rolling Stones and had great success with The Thrill Is Gone. He continued to record and tour extensively throughout the next 40 years and collaborated with the likes of Bobby Bland, Eric Clapton and U2. In 1980 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
I saw BB perform many times and my photo shows him at the New Orleans Jazzfest in 2010. RIP Riley BB King.
A final word, also, for Lenny Cocco, lead singer of doowop group The Chimes. Their recording of Once In A While became the highest scoring record in my personal top ten in 1961.
Also to Errol Brown, who as lead singer of Hot Chocolate and as a solo singer had a string of lightweight soul hits in the 1970s and 1980s, the best of which were You Sexy Thing and So You Win Again.


At 9:38 am , Blogger john marriott said...

Oh no Nick. Just went onto Fb and yours was the first post I saw. Not a surpise but so sad. I too like you saw him so many times over the years starting at Manchester Free Trade Hall in the latish 60s. He just always seemed to be around and now he isn't.


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