The world has lost one of its musical giants, bluesman B.B. King.
On Thursday night (May 14), B.B. King passed away at the age of 89 at his home in Las Vegas. King left an indelible mark on American music, shaping blues, rock and roll, country, soul, R&B. He has inspired scores of musicians across the generations that have followed his own.
King was a powerful and precise musician who made every note from his guitar, lovingly nicknamed “Lucille”, sing like she was the star of the show. But King’s voice was also a main attraction and a force to be reckoned with. When King was performing in his prime, he poured every ounce of his soul into his voice and playing, creating a power that hit listeners in the chest, making them say “Damn. That was good. That was real good.”
If you’re wondering why we’re paying tribute to a blues legend on a country website, it’s because King had a profound impact on country music, not only blues.
King’s music was a tremendous influence on my musical personality. When I was a teenager, I spent countless nights in my room with my guitar listening to B.B. King records, trying to learn his signature stingers and vocal phrasing. Eventually, those sounds have worked their way into my own country performances at honky-tonks across the country. Whether I’m playing the lead to a Brooks and Dunn song or a classic Haggard tune, those traces of King are always there. And that’s the story for many, many other musicians.
Countless artists have studied the soulful power in King’s voice and guitar chops. Nearly all the preeminent country guitarists, from the 1960’s all the way to the modern heavyweights like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, have been inspired by King.
King also collaborated with a handful of country artists during his career, including Mr. Paisley and George Jones. The latter duet was an adaptation of Clarence Carter’s “Patches”. You can listen to that duet below.
But, of course, King was at his best when he was playing the blues. If you’re unfamiliar with his music, stop what you’re doing, and put on B.B. King Live at the Regal. That album has lit a fire in the bellies of several musicians, particularly a young Eric Clapton, who would grow up to carry on the torch for King and many other blues giants.
Or, if you’re in a pinch for time, watch the video below of King playing to prisoners at Sing Sing Prison (Johnny Cash wasn’t the only king to play the jails.) King called this show one of his best performances. You’ll see why.
Rest in peace, B.B. King. The world is not as vibrant without you in it.