Innocent Words Blues Series: Remembering Riley “B.B.” King: September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015

BBKing_02092010_7670His Wikipedia page begins with this simple statement: “Riley B. King (born September 16, 1925), known by the stage name B.B. King, is an American blues musician, singer, songwriter, and guitarist.”

Quite possibly one of the largest understatements of all time.

Up until his death on May 14, 2015 at 89, B.B. King continued to tour regularly averaging over 250 concerts a year around the world. One might think that after releasing 43 studio albums, 16 live albums and 138 singles, being awarded 15 Grammy’s, two honorary doctorates, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Kennedy Center Honor as well as being inducted into the Rock & Roll and Blues Hall of Fame, King might have consider retiring. In the recent documentary film about him titled “The Life of Riley,” King explains why he continued to tour in these simple terms,” I think, how am I gonna eat? So I aint gonna quit.”

The Jon Brewer film is more than a history lesson, it is a full on love fest, as were his concerts. George Benson says it like this “You want to see what love is, go to a B.B King concert.” More than a dozen more icons and super stars are interviewed and quoted in the film, giving testimony to how B.B King personifies “The Blues.”

Carlos Santana extols that King “embodies the sound of collective consciousness.” Bono reflects on his time with King after their landmark four month tour “He is a lesson in grace.” Dozens of the world’s most famous guitarist site King as a primary influence on their playing. Walter Trout proclaims, “He invented a whole approach to modern electric guitar.’ Derek Trucks provides this insight on King, “his generation studied T Bone Walker, our generation studied B.B King. “ Further elaborating by saying, ’the moments between the notes, the tone, the time, that’s the lesson he gave to me. “ Bonnie Raitt who sang with King on his gold and platinum selling ‘Deuces Wild’ album shows her affection for King saying “B.B has given us a lesson in living.” His other collaborator on a million selling record Eric Clapton simply says, “He is the master.”

Born in Indianola, Mississippi to tenant farmers B.B King’s life is a reflection of the American experience. One that should be studied in conjunction with the post World War two history of the United States and the development of jazz, blues and rock & roll music. “B.B King defines the blues; no other artist in any genre can say that.” explains guitar star and fanatic Joe Bonamassa.

The date of his birth, September 16th may not be a holiday in the official sense, but anyone who loves modern music and the electric guitar should take a moment on this day to reflect on the life of Riley B King. The man thousands can recognize by hearing just “One Note,” from his signature guitar Lucille. B.B. King’s career elevated blues music from an old timey notion played by tramps and thieves and often considered a cult culture to a legitimate art form, one honored by presidents and kings and loved by the entire world.

Rest In Peace B.B. King