Article 27

Rock On

King of the Blues - BB King

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 5th January, 2002)

M y introduction to the African American Art form, the Blues was through its diehard followers from England, the famous British trio of super guitarists, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. It's hard to believe that at one time, these three guitarists were actually all in one band," The Yardbirds". Later, all these super musicians went on to form their own super groups that would rule the music scene for decades to come. Jeff Beck always did the solo act with famous musicians like Nicky Hopkins on piano and Rod Stewart on vocals backing him. Clapton had "Cream", "Blind Faith" etc. while Page formed the ultimate super band "Led Zeppelin". All three musicians had the blues as their foundation and it was amazing to hear these British artistes play this purely American form to perfection. My curiosity as to the origins of the blues was growing in leaps and bounds. I could always find white British and American artistes available to me and American Blues guitar players like Michael Bloomfield, Johnny Winter became my heroes but my dream to get a chance to listen to the African American originals artistes only came true a year later when Nancy, an American friend asked me what music I would like as a gift when she visited me in Bombay. All my musical heroes seem to have one name in common as their music influence and it had to be none other than the King of the Blues, B.B. King.

B.B. King, the Beale Street Blues Boy, (hence B.B.) was born in Indianola, Mississippi on September 16, 1925. King moved to Memphis, Tennessee in his early twenties so that he could earn his living playing the blues at the countless blues clubs on Beale Street. He soon built up a strong reputation as a hot guitarist with the Beale Streeters and was soon making records and scoring hits all over the nation. King toured extensively to promote his records and in the process broadened his fan base to include white listeners, who by the mid sixties had become to tune into the blues. His legendary relentless touring (he reportedly did 342 shows one year) also saw him push the blues into newer directions and the fabulous "The Thrill is gone"(which, incidentally, was on the album Nancy gave me) featured the soulful voice of King against the backdrop of a bed of strings, an unheard combination till then. This also won for him the Grammy for 1970 Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance, Male

"Lucille", King's guitar has been a source of great admiration among guitar enthusiasts in the world. The black, gold plated, pearl inlaid Gibson 335 (or 355) is almost as well known as King among music enthusiasts and the personification of his axe has greatly added to the mystique of the man. Oodles have been written about how he makes "Lucille" talk, beg, love etc. by the gushing music critics of the world and King's talking guitar style has been widely copied by nearly all the guitar players of the world. King, himself, had been influenced by Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt as well the jazzy electric guitar of ' T-Bone' Walker. King's finger vibrato was unique and gave his music the fluidity of speech, a quality that would make him a living legend in the eyes of the blues loving public.

I had the good fortune to hear this master musician live some ten years back in Holland when he performed at the North Sea Jazz festival, Den Haag. He performed with his 25-piece band, a full brass section and started with a rousing introduction by his very own private compere. The whole audience went crazy when the master walked in with Lucille and launched into a rip-roaring blues that would have us rocking for the next two hours. King has over the years constantly reinvented himself by having numerous collaborations with major Rock acts of the 90s. His "When Love Comes To Town" from Rattle & Hum, U2 and the 2000 Riding With The King (with Eric Clapton) are notable examples.

Over the years, King has come to represent the spirit and tradition of the Blues to all musicians and blues lovers all over the globe. The respect with which he is held is truly awe-inspiring and countless fans will always remember his five decades of dedicated service to the propagation of this African American Music Art form. More power to this gentleman Blues man and hope that he keeps rocking into the night for many more years to come.

Rock on!

Nandu Bhende











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