By Brian M. Howle
Rarely will you ever hear me proselytize about the need for everyone to hear this one artist at least one time in your individual lifetimes. Music, much like life, tends to be both abject and objective. So when I think of an artist who bridges all genres, all generations, all boundaries real or imagined – I can only find one, storied name.
And I don’t think you’ll be too surprised to know my choice for this title is B.B. King, which is made even more delectable by the fact that the legendary bluesman will bring his merry band of compatriots to House Of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Sunday, July 7, 2013.
I’ve attended every show that B.B. has performed at HOB since it opened in 1999, and each one remains ensconced atop my considerably extensive concert attendance record as the most enjoyable – by both the audience and the artist.
If you’ve never seen B.B. live, you’ve only yourself to blame. In 64 years, he’s performed over 15,000 concerts … so these shows are special.
Here’s a little of the history of this true icon, from his official website:
His reign as King of the Blues has been as long as that of any monarch on earth. Yet B.B. King continues to wear his crown well. At age 87 (88 on his birthday, Sept. 16), he is still light on his feet, singing and playing the blues with relentless passion. Time has no apparent effect on B.B., other than to make him more popular, more cherished, more relevant than ever. Don’t look for him in some kind of semi-retirement; look for him out on the road, playing for people, popping up in a myriad of T.V. commercials, or laying down tracks for his next album. B.B. King is as alive as the music he plays, and a grateful world can’t get enough of him.
For more than half a century, Riley B. King – better known as B.B. King – has defined the blues for a worldwide audience. Since he started recording in the 1940s, he has released over fifty albums, many of them classics. He was born September 16, 1925, on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi, near Indianola. In his youth, he played on street corners for dimes, and would sometimes play in as many as four towns a night. In 1947, he hitchhiked to Memphis, TN, to pursue his music career. Memphis was where every important musician of the South gravitated, and which supported a large musical community where every style of African American music could be found. B.B. stayed with his cousin Bukka White, one of the most celebrated blues performers of his time, who schooled B.B. further in the art of the blues.
B.B.’s first big break came in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. This led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis, and later to a ten-minute spot on black-staffed and managed Memphis radio station WDIA. “King’s Spot,” became so popular, it was expanded and became the “Sepia Swing Club.” Soon B.B. needed a catchy radio name. What started out as Beale Street Blues Boy was shortened to Blues Boy King, and eventually B.B. King.
In the mid-1950s, while B.B. was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, a few fans became unruly. Two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall. B.B. raced outdoors to safety with everyone else, then realized that he left his beloved $30 acoustic guitar inside, so he rushed back inside the burning building to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. When he later found out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to give the name to his guitar to remind him never to do a crazy thing like fight over a woman. Ever since, each one of B.B.’s trademark Gibson guitars has been called Lucille.
Soon after his number one hit, “Three O’Clock Blues,” B.B. began touring nationally. In 1956, B.B. and his band played an astonishing 342 one-night stands. From the chitlin circuit with its small-town cafes, juke joints, and country dance halls to rock palaces, symphony concert halls, universities, resort hotels and amphitheaters, nationally and internationally, B.B. has become the most renowned blues musician of the past 40 years.
Over the years, B.B. has developed one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. He borrowed from Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and others, integrating his precise and complex vocal-like string bends and his left hand vibrato, both of which have become indispensable components of rock guitarist’s vocabulary. His economy, his every-note-counts phrasing, has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jeff Beck. B.B. has mixed traditional blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop and jump into a unique sound. In B.B.’s words, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
The decades of bonding with his fans gives B.B. the extra comfort of being himself no matter what happens. If he had a bad day, he’ll tell you about it but he won’t dwell on it; same if he had a great day. Telling the stories of the blues in the context of B.B. King’s perspective makes them palpable when he regales them, interacting with his veteran bandmates in a way that transcends being a musician or a professional performer … they are the very epitome of brothers, baptized in the harsh reality of the history of their lives as black men in a predominately white market. They don’t feed on the negative, except to draw from experience that can be put to words and music, and conveyed to us all as the blues.
His age and advanced diabetes requires that B.B. sit for the duration of his show, but it doesn’t lessen that signature sound or prevent him from sharing a laugh. These are shows that remain, vibrant and fresh, in your memory banks forever … don’t let this chance to experience this delightful legend’s soulful sound slip you by.
B.B. continues to tour extensively, averaging over 250 concerts per year around the world. Classics such as “Payin’ The Cost To Be The Boss,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” How Blue Can You Get,” “Everyday I Have The Blues,” and “Why I Sing The Blues” are concert (and fan) staples. Over the years, the Grammy Award-winner has had two #1 R&B hits, 1951’s “Three O’Clock Blues,” and 1952’s “You Don’t Know Me,” and four #2 R&B hits, 1953’s “Please Love Me,” 1954’s “You Upset Me Baby,” 1960’s “Sweet Sixteen, Part I,” and 1966’s “Don’t Answer The Door, Part I.” B.B.’s most popular crossover hit, 1970’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” went to #15 pop.
I know, it almost writes itself .. but come hear the thrill before it’s gone, when B.B. King leaves his legacy at House Of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, July 7, 2013. Doors open 7:30 pm. For ticket info call 843-272-3000 or Ticketmaster 843-679-9333; or visit http://www.houseofblues.com or http://www.ticketmaster.com.
This was originally published at: https://bhowle.wordpress.com.