King is Dead. Long Live BB KIng
May 15, 2015 4:51 AM   Subscribe


Oh, Lucille, what will you do?
posted by umberto at 4:54 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Once again, the blues cuts down a musician far too soon.
posted by Etrigan at 4:55 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by oceanjesse at 4:57 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by drezdn at 4:57 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by El Brendano at 4:58 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:00 AM on May 15, 2015

A joyful man played the blues, and brought light to others
posted by sarcas at 5:00 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

. Knew it was coming but this is huge.

Live at Sing Sing in 1972.
posted by octothorpe at 5:01 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by condour75 at 5:02 AM on May 15, 2015

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posted by theora55 at 5:05 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Foosnark at 5:05 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Faint of Butt at 5:05 AM on May 15, 2015

My girlfriend and I saw BB King in concert 14 years ago. It was in San Angelo, Texas, at an amphitheater down by the banks of the Concho River. He was already slowing down then--he only played about 45 minutes, and he sat the whole time. But it was an extraordinary 45 minutes. You don't get many chances to see someone who is absolutely the best at what they do.

Six months later we got married, and King and Clapton's version of Come Rain or Come Shine was our wedding recessional. The pastor said it was the best and most appropriate recessional he'd ever heard.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:07 AM on May 15, 2015 [14 favorites]

Curious fact that any time we lose a person who sings the Blues, as we just did in BB King, the World becomes a sadder place. --Neil deGrasse Tyson
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:09 AM on May 15, 2015 [18 favorites]

BB King means a lot to me - more than I can put into words right now. Today is a huge loss. But his music lives on, not just in his own recordings but in the lives and music of everyone he has influenced.

My soundtrack for the day

The man had a lot of joy
posted by jpdoane at 5:15 AM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by dubitable at 5:15 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Sphinx at 5:20 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Tacodog at 5:23 AM on May 15, 2015

My dad has always told me this story about playing in a big band at the White Eagle in Portland in the 70's, and how one time B.B. King was there and asked to play with his band, so of course they let him. Has always been one of my father's favorite memories.
posted by gucci mane at 5:23 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 5:24 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by ogooglebar at 5:25 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by tdismukes at 5:31 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Elly Vortex at 5:31 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:35 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by DigDoug at 5:36 AM on May 15, 2015

Truly the end of an era.
posted by ardgedee at 5:36 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by iviken at 5:40 AM on May 15, 2015

An absolute Titan. I feel like I've said this before but BB passing is another in a line of benevolent superheroes leaving us here to fend for ourselves. Damn did this man shine while he was here.

I was a kid, more or less, when it came out but When Love Comes to Town, with U2 was my first exposure to him and its s good one. Gracious, joyful, emotive. Insane chops on the guitar and an underrated, perfect voice. Speak softly and carry a big stick.

And don't play chords.

posted by dirtdirt at 5:40 AM on May 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Goodbye, great one.
posted by jonmc at 5:41 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by asok at 5:41 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 5:42 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by gauche at 5:44 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Navelgazer at 5:45 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Gelatin at 5:49 AM on May 15, 2015

If you gotta die, at least die of old.

posted by delfin at 5:52 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Heard this on NPR this morning, and it's really changed my day.
We have a little semi-tradition here in our home. When we're having a get-together, I kick-off the afternoon, as we're preparing the food/drinks/etc. by blasting "You Upset Me Baby" through the JBLs. You really can't start a party any better way.

posted by Thorzdad at 5:55 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by Kinbote at 5:55 AM on May 15, 2015

Recorded music has been such a gift to the world. Millions, maybe billions of people have had and will continue to have the opportunity to hear the music of BB King and experience the joy and life he put into every note he sang and played. He's left behind a huge and wonderful legacy of music for which I will always be grateful. I understand his last few weeks were not very pleasant so I'm relieved to know that his suffering is over. He was among the very best at what he did and he will be missed but never forgotten.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:56 AM on May 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

My wife and I caught him live at the Paramount Theatre in Austin in the early 80's. Front row center seats (it pays to have a friend in a music store that sells tickets). It was a memorable night for us...

posted by jim in austin at 6:05 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Between 2000 and maybe 2007 I saw him in concert four times. By then, of course, he was sitting for the whole show, but all of those shows were brilliant. What an amazing musician and class-act performer he was.

Man, that left-hand vibrato.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:07 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by Small Dollar at 6:07 AM on May 15, 2015

The thrill is gone
posted by Fibognocchi at 6:10 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have been doing fieldwork in very remote places for the deaths of a depressing number of important blues and R&B musicians, and it's really interesting to see how people in other countries remember them. I was in remote Northwestern Kenya when Michael Jackson died; the nomadic Turkana family who camped close to our camp came by to listen to the BBC World Service broadcast of his funeral. I was in Cote d'Ivoire when Whitney Houston died - our driver told me the American lady who sang "WOooooooooOOOOOOOOooooooooo" had passed away. I was here, too, when Amy Winehouse and Etta James died, and had my own private music sessions. And now I'll say goodbye to B. B. King by blaring The Thrill Is Goneas I drive from town to my camp in the forest.

(As a kind of funny aside, I was also in Cote d'Ivoire when Lou Reed passed away. BBC World Service reported that Rolling Stone had broken the story that Lou Reed had died, and our guides came by to tell me that ALL THE ROLLING STONES WERE DEAD).
posted by ChuraChura at 6:12 AM on May 15, 2015 [15 favorites]

I'm glad to have had the chance to see him a few years ago at the MN State Fair. He strikes me as a thoughtful man, perhaps more than he's given credit for.

posted by ZeusHumms at 6:13 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by lalochezia at 6:14 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by blob at 6:20 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by pb at 6:28 AM on May 15, 2015

In an age when the words great and legend and awesome get tossed around lightly, this man truly was all that. Only saw him a few times; at the Fillmore East in 1969, sharing the bill with the non-related Albert King, was especially memorable. In the 1990s, on a magazine assignment in Mississippi, I stopped by the university’s Blues Archive to visit his record collection, and was amused to see that on top of one stack was The Beach Boys’s Party.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:29 AM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

🎸 Rock in Peace, BB.
posted by terrapin at 6:30 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Saw him live in concert many moons ago and he was amazing. Such a loss, but he left behind such a huge legacy.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:33 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by infini at 6:37 AM on May 15, 2015

It's been coming but it's still a blow.

It's staggering to listen to Live at the Regal (made before I was born) and hear him then make what could already have been just a nostalgia act really live and excite the crowd.
posted by hawthorne at 6:39 AM on May 15, 2015

I've always loved the Live at the Regal version of How Blue Can You Get, especially how the crowd goes wild at the end of this verse:
I gave you a brand new Ford
But you said, "I want a Cadillac"
I bought you a ten dollar dinner
And you said, "Thanks for the snack"
I let you live in my penthouse
You said, "It was just a shack"
I gave seven children
And now you wanna give 'em back!
posted by gwint at 6:40 AM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:48 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Smart Dalek at 6:50 AM on May 15, 2015

*Turns on Live From The Cook County Jail and enjoys*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:51 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

♫ ♫ `/ ♪ ♩
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:53 AM on May 15, 2015

Yeah, it's been coming. He'd been in serious decline lately but was apparently still trying to do shows. I gather recent shows had gone very badly because he just wasn't capable of performing any more and (entitled rich white) audiences were getting upset and booing him. Really sad.

Not as sad as this, though. This is what the world is going to be like from now on. People you admire, people who make up the world you live in, just winking out one by one until finally it's your turn.

Damn. Godspeed.
posted by Naberius at 6:53 AM on May 15, 2015

Sirius XM's blues channel, already called "B.B.King's Bluesville" (ch70), appears to be playing all B. B. King music today. Given his 66-year career as a recording musician, they may not have to repeat a single track all day.

B. B. King was known for his stamina as well as longevity. He played 300 shows a year for decades, right up into his eighties. He was diagnosed with diabetes thirty years ago and started sitting down to play somewhere in there. He only slowed down a bit recently. He'd cancelled a few shows last October. He'd said in an interview recently that he'd only missed 15 shows in over sixty years of playing live.

Get to that.

His first hit record: Three O'Clock Blues (1951)

Showing the influence of T-Bone Walker: Whole Lotta Love (1953)

Novelty "dance craze" track: The B.B. Jones (1968) Get to that.

His best known record, The Thrill Is Gone (1969)

The man could play when he wanted to: Niji Baby (1971)

Eric Clapton's message.

In 1974, B.B. King brought the blues back to Africa. Invited to take part in the three-day music festival which featured the legendary boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, King played before a crowd of over 80,000 Africans and delivered a performance considered by many to be one of the greatest of his phenomenal career.

From that show, here's a live version of King's most pointedly political song, Why I Sing The Blues.
posted by Herodios at 6:56 AM on May 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

NYT obit:
Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.

“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” Mr. King said in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (1996), written with David Ritz.

In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang — like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” (“I’ll still live on/But so lonely I’ll be”) — were poems of pain and perseverance.

The music historian Peter Guralnick once noted that Mr. King helped expand the audience for the blues through “the urbanity of his playing, the absorption of a multiplicity of influences, not simply from the blues, along with a graciousness of manner and willingness to adapt to new audiences and give them something they were able to respond to.”

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 sharecropper’s shack surrounded by dirt-poor laborers 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.
"Sweet Little Angel"

A sample of BB King's How Blue Can You Get? provided the chorus for the enigmatic 1996 song "Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand" by Primitive Radio Gods. Here's BB King playing it at Sing Sing Prison on Thanksgiving.

1983 concert

1989 (?) concert in Africa

1994 concert

2003 concert (Jeff Beck shows up around 45:00)

2011 concert (Slash and Simply Red join him around 42:00)

BB King & Eric Clapton play "The Thrill Is Gone"

BB King & John Mayer (Mayer: "Every day, I put BB King on, just to remember how to do it right.... It's like stealing something from them right in front of them!")

"Paying the Cost to Be the Boss"

For guitarists:

Here's how he did that vibrato.

BB King shows how his string bending was influenced by T-Bone Walker

His main influences

BB King on jazz horn

BB King on Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt

BB King on practicing and dynamics

BB King on chord voicings

BB King on soloing

BB King on phrasing

BB King on amps

BB King on picking, action, and string gauges

BB King on modulations

BB King on arpeggios and riffs (and more about Charlie Christian's influence)

Lesson on "Blues Funk"

Lesson on "Three O' Clock Blues": part 1, part 2

BB King's "ambiguous third"

More from the NYT obit:
In addition to winning more than a dozen Grammy Awards (including a lifetime achievement award), having a star on Hollywood Boulevard and being inducted in both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame, Mr. King was among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006, awards rarely associated with the blues. In 1999, in a public conversation with William Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mr. King recounted how he came to sing the blues.

“Growing up on the plantation there in Mississippi, I would work Monday through Saturday noon,” he said. “I’d go to town on Saturday afternoons, sit on the street corner, and I’d sing and play.

“I’d have me a hat or box or something in front of me. People that would request a gospel song would always be very polite to me, and they’d say: ‘Son, you’re mighty good. Keep it up. You’re going to be great one day.’ But they never put anything in the hat.

“But people that would ask me to sing a blues song would always tip me and maybe give me a beer. They always would do something of that kind. Sometimes I’d make 50 or 60 dollars one Saturday afternoon. Now you know why I’m a blues singer.”
posted by John Cohen at 6:57 AM on May 15, 2015 [48 favorites]

BB was always sincere, unaffected and generous in his playing with a sound so unique you know it's him from a single note.
posted by Jode at 6:58 AM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

B. B. King on Sesame Street.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:03 AM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Saw him play probably about 15 years ago at Tall Stacks in Cincinnati. It was during my teenager anti-globalization activist days, and went with a buddy of mine from that crew. We got super close to the stage and it was an amazing concert, and I felt fortunate to be close enough to really see how he handled a show. What a legend.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:09 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:16 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Sir Rinse at 7:20 AM on May 15, 2015

I was watching the Safari, and a fellow watcher mentioned it in chat. Sorry to lose him, he was a great musician and a good man. •
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:21 AM on May 15, 2015

B.B. introduced me to the blues and led me down the pathway to the other Kings (Earl & Freddie), Lightnin', the Sonny Boys I & II, Muddy, Chester "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, etc., etc., etc.

posted by Mental Wimp at 7:24 AM on May 15, 2015

Wow. Not unexpected after his recent health news but still a blow.

I saw him a few times in the late '80s and early '90s, when he was still very much in his prime. He and his band could really put on a show.

One of my favorite interviews of his was about his work ethic and stage presence. He said he always put on a suit before every show. Even if he already wore a three piece suit to the gig, he would put on a different one just before he started, because he felt he should be "in costume" to remind himself that he was there to put on a show for the people.

He was the first of many of my blues heroes, and sadly one of the last.
posted by rocket88 at 7:28 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Renoroc at 7:28 AM on May 15, 2015

He was a little outside my usual musical tastes, but I had a chance to see him in concert in 2007 and I am so glad I did, both to widen my musical horizons a little and witness his musicality.

What a loss.
posted by invokeuse at 7:32 AM on May 15, 2015

The last of the Three Kings is gone.

posted by Cosine at 7:37 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by tilde at 7:39 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by paulus andronicus at 7:44 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by koucha at 7:44 AM on May 15, 2015


A true inspiration for me to try play the guitar in a straightforward, emotional way.

Also he literally lived the life of Riley (his given name is Riley B. King)!
posted by freecellwizard at 7:46 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Huck500 at 7:52 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by blurker at 7:57 AM on May 15, 2015

Once again, the blues cuts down a musician far too soon.

Very few have made it to 89. Or supported as many people in the process.

I remember hearing him back in high school, hearing Sweet Sixteen and Three O'Clock in the Morning on a 20 Greatest Blues Hits on Kent. That guitar and what a voice, oh, man, what a revelation. And then, a few laters I saw him at Eagles Auditorium in '69. Which was Live at the Regal minus the audience. So, not quite Live at the Regal. But, still. That was the only time I ever rushed the stage to touch someone's hand.

Well, except for Johnny 'Guitar' Watson but then he tended to come to you. And it was just as cool.
posted by y2karl at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

My dad is a huge blues fan and fan of BB King and bought tickets for us to see him at a casino in Oklahoma, circa 2007. I was a little reluctant because I knew he was in his 80s then.
He maybe in total played 30-45 minutes, with a ton of delightful stories in between. My favorite part? He could BELT OUT "The Thrill Is Gone" and it gave me goosebumps. I remembered his personality the best though.


posted by hillabeans at 8:01 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Doc Ezra at 8:02 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:09 AM on May 15, 2015

When I was learning to play, I didn't see a use for chords and only wanted to play single notes but learning chords was A Thing You Had to Do. I saw BB King playing on PBS, and that guy never played any chords! He just sang with either his guitar or his voice. I was impressed that he didn't do anything he didn't want to do. That just seemed what the called back then "pimp as hell." I aspired to that (until later when I liked chords).

posted by ignignokt at 8:15 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I saw him in the late 2000s. I was impressed with his guitar work for sure, but I was blown away by that voice. Eighty-four years old and he was belting them out like a man in his twenties, the raw emotion and power tempered by experience and joy. Amazing.

And don't play chords.

Heh. One of the other Kings, Albert, was asked once why he never played chords. He pointed to the band and said "I pay them motherfuckers to play chords!"

👑 🎸🎶
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

A couple of years back I was working in far southeast Alabama with one of my clients. It happened to be the weekend of the BB King homecoming in Indianola, MS. His son was working there gaining some experience in the family business and they had gotten a table at Club Ebony, where BB was going to appear after his concert at the festival. Needless to say, I was quite jealous.

Well, as luck would have it, my boss and I had gotten our work done early and we were invited to go with. We all loaded up in the Learjet around 9 o'clock at night and were in Indianola less than an hour later. We stopped by the festival and caught the tail end of his show there and hoofed it over to Club Ebony. We got to see BB up close for a short time (he was already not in great health, so it was really something of a miracle he showed at all) after drinking copious amounts of beer and Jack Daniels. (I didn't know beforehand those were the only options)

Since we had to wait for the pilots to get some rest, in true Southern style we wandered over to the Huddle House nearby to soak up some of the booze with pancakes while we waited for the pilots to finish their rest period, flew back to Alabama, and were back at our hotel in Alabama sometime around 3 in the morning.

Yes, we killed the planet with our extravagance, but it was for BB King, so fuck y'all haters! ;)

Not the greatest story, I admit, but still one of the more memorable musical experiences I've had.
posted by wierdo at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by BigHeartedGuy at 8:27 AM on May 15, 2015

That vibrato, those bends, his ability to both sing and play guitar with perfectly nuanced choices in phrasing and dynamic range.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:29 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by jfuller at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2015

I think that I saw him play several times. But I know for sure that I saw him in 1969 as part of a Stones tour in the LA Forum.

There were two shows that night - We saw the second and it was so delayed that the Stones came on at 5 am in the morning and we got out in daylight.

King, then Ike and Tina, then the Stones. Great show though.
posted by Danf at 9:07 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was a kid, more or less, when it came out but When Love Comes to Town , with U2 was my first exposure to him and its a good one.

My blues-fan father went out to see Rattle and Hum for his 46th birthday, and when B.B. King came on he apparently stood up and applauded in the middle of the theater.

Also watching Bono turn into a geeky little nervous dork in King's presence is adorable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2015

I have deep and rich memories of B.B. that cross decades. Hadn't heard of him before I saw him open for U2 at Tarrant County Convention Center where they debuted When Love Comes To Town. Saw him several times on his own tours since then, sometimes an hours long multi-band Blues revelation and celebration. Other times, as he got older and sicker, short but sweet injection of pure blues magic.

He was like none other, and we are all lucky to have had him in the world.

posted by hippybear at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2015

Three men playing like they have something to prove... and with BB King.

To the extent that I understand your framing I do not agree with it.

It is nice that they all played seated in deference to B.B. None of the other three are know for playing seated, at least not when plugged in.
posted by Herodios at 9:15 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had to tell my just-awake husband the news this morning. After a moment, he said, "He played 'till he couldn't play no more." Truly the end of an era. Truly.
posted by Occula at 9:17 AM on May 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

posted by chicainthecity at 9:19 AM on May 15, 2015

I had to tell my just-awake husband the news this morning. After a moment, he said, "He played 'till he couldn't play no more." Truly the end of an era. Truly.
posted by Occula

I was holding it together until I read your husbands quote, Occula. Truer words were, perhaps, never spoken.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 9:25 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by spacely_sprocket at 9:29 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by LooseFilter at 9:30 AM on May 15, 2015

So many guitarists, regardless of style, owe something to B.B. King. His licks will live on.

posted by tommasz at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for all the wonderful music.
posted by mogget at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2015


There are no words. Only the blues.
posted by chaosys at 9:33 AM on May 15, 2015

Living in Memphis, I got to see BB several times. He was awarded an honorary degree at the commencement when I graduated college, and I got to shake his hand and talk to him for a minute.

We should all hope that we get to live as full a life as he did, and create at his level of mastery.

posted by vibrotronica at 9:49 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I saw him, once, 27 years ago in a juke joint I probably shouldn't have gone to in a community south of my hometown. Any other night, I absolutely wouldn't have gone there on a bet, actually -- it was kinda notorious and not a little violent -- but when BB was in town it was safe enough. I was 18 and a week or two away from graduating from high school. I'd asked my girlfriend to go, but she wouldn't even broach the subject with her parents because of where he was playing, so I went solo.

Her fears turned out to be kinda silly, as the first familiar face I saw that night, after paying the cover and buying a beer, was her dad. We sat together and enjoyed the show. I'm not sure if he was 'supposed' to be there either, and we never mentioned having seen each other there in front of his wife or my girlfriend, which remains kinda hilarious to this day.

The club, as I guess is obvious, wasn't really a mixed-crowd kind of place most nights. It was more of a blend when someone like BB was there, but you'd still be pretty solidly in the minority, and that made a lot of white Mississippians uncomfortable. (Can't imagine why.) Consequently, despite everyone knowing that BB King was playing there, the crowd wasn't exactly diverse, which was shame because the show was amazing, and I don't think there was a harsh moment from anyone in the room.

That night, in that room, was the first time I remember encountering that special sort of group high that happens at really, really great concerts. You know the feeling, right? When it's obvious the whole room is so blissed out and happy about the music, and everyone's smiling and nodding along, and strangers are buying each other beer, and attitudes are a million miles away? It's magic when it happens, and a lot of it comes from the energy on stage. King brought that with him.

Then as now -- or, rather, then as this year -- he played seated. He was pretty big at the time, even at "only" 62. I thought, at the time, that I'd get to see him many more times, but for whatever reason that night remains the only show of his I ever saw, which makes me even more glad I went.
posted by uberchet at 10:00 AM on May 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

posted by faineant at 10:01 AM on May 15, 2015

I first saw him back in about 1988, and then a couple of years later, on a festival tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan, a few weeks before the Texan's death. I remember being bemused that people were seriously debating who was going to headline; I think that SRV would have refused to do so, even if the promoter wanted him to.
posted by thelonius at 10:06 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by angelchrys at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by caphector at 10:18 AM on May 15, 2015

I'm glad that gwint posted the "How Blue Can You Get" excerpt above, because that's a real chills-down-your-back bit of that great album—both from his performance and the crowd's reaction to just how he delivers the line.

For a lifetime of amazing music and for the way he'd sting those notes.


posted by the sobsister at 10:19 AM on May 15, 2015

The king is gone, long live the king. A peerless guitar player and an astounding singer. He could go from singing smooth to rough better than anyone; capable of expressing the most subtle of emotions. It's a great loss but we are left with an enormous catalog of live recordings and studio albums.

The morning I cranked up Indianola Mississippi Seeds. There's a studio jam on that record, "Ain't Gonna Worry My Life Anymore" where BB is just caught in the studio, throwing down a few licks. He quits, saying "I just felt like doing something" and then is urged to continue. "Heck yeah, here's another one." What happens next is just a couple minutes long and absolutely transcendent. Bill Szymczyk added on some horns and strings, you just want the damn thing to go on forever instead of slowly fading. A fitting metaphor for BB's life. Here's to the notion that he's playing it somewhere.
posted by Ber at 10:22 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh no :(

I saw him in Houston in 1992 and it's one of the three or four best shows I've ever seen.

posted by Room 641-A at 10:24 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by GrapeApiary at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by Xoebe at 10:40 AM on May 15, 2015

My favorite B.B. King memory is of him and Martin Mull doing a guitar duel on TV. Mull, a surprisingly good guitarist, keeps up with him for a little while, then B.B. just takes off, gently rocking from side to side all the while. The only part of him that moved faster was his fingers.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:52 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]



and owned the most famous guitar ever played - Lucille was the name of all his guitars it wasn't one guitar. It was maybe the most famous Guitar name....
posted by bitdamaged at 11:09 AM on May 15, 2015

Travel safe, young buck.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:28 AM on May 15, 2015

The always-great Kaleb Horton in Bitter Empire:
From a distance, we all gave B.B. King such a hard time. My brothers and my cousin, all aspiring blues guitarists, complained with alarming frequency. We complained about the commercials, we complained about the album with Eric Clapton, we complained about his tolerance for white boy blues prodigies, and we even complained about his effortless poise.

We complained about his appearance on a Simpsons novelty album. We complained about his appearance on Sanford and Son. We complained about “The Thrill is Gone.” We complained about his high ticket prices and short performances. We complained about his duet with Bono. We complained his song from the 1985 John Landis film Into the Night so much that we belligerently spammed it to each other on Facebook and eventually learned to play it and credibly sing it. We complained about depths of his discography most people don’t even know exist. We complained about the cover of L.A. Midnight. We sure knew a whole lot about that guy we didn’t like.

In 2011, I had some money burning a hole in my pocket and nothing to do. So, you know, as a goof, I went to go see B.B. King at the Nokia in downtown L.A. and, yes, I made a special call to my brother to complain about it. “Hey, I’m bad with money and guess who I’m seeing at the cell phone theater,” I said, maneuvering past the planet of teenagers gathered for a Twilight screening, going up that escalator, secretly excited. My brother knew immediately. “B.B. King. He’s on tour.”
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:38 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by eriko at 11:41 AM on May 15, 2015

I lived in Reno, NV during the early 80's and BB King would regularly play Harrah's downstairs showroom. My friends and I learned that the mid-week late shows were pretty empty and a couple of times, BB King played to an almost empty house except for five beer-drunk young white guys sitting about 15 ft. from him in the front row center - us. The show was always astounding with BB giving it his all.

Thanks, Mr. King...I'll never forget.

posted by telstar at 11:51 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh man.

posted by Splunge at 11:58 AM on May 15, 2015

posted by key_of_z at 12:31 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in a taverna in Crete and someone just put on "The Thrill is Gone," so naturally I went to metafilter to check for the BB King death thread.

posted by susoka at 12:50 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by drnick at 1:12 PM on May 15, 2015

A hell of a jam on "You're Gonna Miss Me", featuring the late Jeff Healey, too.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:46 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by jabo at 1:55 PM on May 15, 2015

posted by trip and a half at 1:55 PM on May 15, 2015

posted by From Bklyn at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2015

posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:29 PM on May 15, 2015

posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:09 PM on May 15, 2015

Pluck F to pay respects.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:19 PM on May 15, 2015

well, i just feel inadequate to say anything, so, i'll let the man say it

i've had my fun, if i don't get well no more ...
posted by pyramid termite at 4:22 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

A hell of a jam on "You're Gonna Miss Me" , featuring the late Jeff Healey, too.

Aw, man. Thanks for this. Sad reminder of two great ones gone. Had the pleasure of seeing Healey up close many times at his club here in Toronto.

My brother and I often went there on Thursday nights for his blues show. Always amazing.

I think it was at a 2003 B.B. show in Toronto where my brother and I saw Jeff Healey walking into the Molson Amphitheatre.

My brother and I discussed how cool it would be if Jeff and B.B. jammed during the show.

Wouldn't you know it? Part way through his set B.B. announces "I'd like to introduce a very fine player from right here in Toronto, Mr. Jeff Healey!"

The crowd goes nuts. My brother and I elbow each other madly to say "Oh! This is gonna be awesome!"

A minute or two goes by, and no Jeff.

B.B. turns around in his chair and looks at his band leader. He shrugs.

A little more time goes by, and B.B. says "Well, sorry folks. Seems like we had a miscommunication" or something like that.

He carried on with the set, which was still great.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:23 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Many respects to his musical talent, but I've never really sat and listened to BB King aside from his popular stuff that you hear everyone; not my genre, really.

However, I do always think of King's endorsement of a very important charitable cause, supporting Blacks Without Soul, from the 1987 sketch comedy movie "Amazon Women on the Moon."
posted by Sunburnt at 4:26 PM on May 15, 2015

posted by oneironaut at 7:22 PM on May 15, 2015

I just feel happy thinking about the guy. Once I saw him standing in a line at Stapleton Airport in Denver, and went up to tell him how much his music meant to me. I remember the feel of his big meaty hand and him smiling at me like I was his best friend.
posted by kozad at 9:06 PM on May 15, 2015

U2 played When Love Come to Town, their duet with B.B. King at their show tonight in Vancouver. For the first time since basically the 80s.
posted by dry white toast at 11:33 PM on May 15, 2015

BB was a man of this world. He enjoyed gambling, he enjoyed women, and he didn't drink. His Esquire articles (What I've Learned and on his hands) are full of fun and hilarity and respect for his craft. Perhaps my favorite line of his anywhere, speaking of those amazing hands which made Lucille cry, sing, laugh, and sigh:

"I watch where these go, my friend. If I ain't lookin', I ain't puttin' my hand there. I don't even -- you got a good sense of humor? -- I don't even put this between girls' legs."

Rest in Peace, BB.
posted by aureliobuendia at 12:18 AM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


There have been way too many moments in my life when I perked myself up listening to his songs. Like others, saw it coming, but it's still sad, isn't it.
posted by the cydonian at 1:32 AM on May 16, 2015

posted by Meatafoecure at 11:25 AM on May 16, 2015

posted by bjgeiger at 9:43 PM on May 16, 2015

posted by On the Corner at 12:37 AM on May 18, 2015

posted by pt68 at 8:54 AM on May 18, 2015

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