The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend. B.B. King was born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador who brought his all-American music to his country and the world. No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.
The following is an official statement from President Barack Obama from May 15:
“Three years ago, Michelle and I hosted a blues concert at the White House. I hadn’t expected that I’d be talked into singing a few lines of ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ with B.B. by the end of the night, but that was the kind of effect his music had, and still does. He gets stuck in your head; he gets you moving; he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn’t do—but will always be glad you did.
B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever. And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.”
An official statement from the family of B.B. King from May 15 follows: “‘The blues was bleeding the same blood as me.’” Mr. King passed peacefully in his sleep at 9:40 pm, PT, on May 14, 2015. Riley B. King passed at the age of 89 in Las Vegas, Nev. due to a series of small strokes attributable to Type 2 Diabetes. His legacy cannot possibly be completely summed up in just a few words, and you have no doubt heard many accounts of his passing by now. I wish to share my memory of Mr. King, and convey if only briefly the influence this man has in the world of music that I love so much.
My special memory of Mr. King goes back to March 3, 2001. It was a special Saturday night: I was in Memphis covering the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. Vanderbilt had just upset #1 Tennessee 77-74 in a semifinal game thrilling enough in itself. After writing, I had no interest in just going back to my room. A good friend, and noted sportscaster, invited me to go with him to a club to unwind. It was B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street.
I had always been an admirer of King’s music, but only had a working knowledge of it to that point. It was about 10 pm, and there was a table waiting for us. The music playing was legendary blues, and it was a great time already. But as the clock turned 11, so did the atmosphere. The music stopped, a quick announcement was made, and without warning, someone placed a stool down at the center of the stage and out came the man himself.
B.B King treated us to an unforgettable performance of some of his classics, and some other classics, as well. Of course we heard ‘The Thrill is Gone,’ ‘Paying the Cost to Be the Boss,’ ‘Lucille,’ and ‘Why I Sing the Blues,’ but I also particularly remember covers of Derek and the Dominos’ ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Mannish Boy.’ I was a fan forevermore after those two precious hours.
King influenced most anyone who ever picked up a guitar. When he held his beloved Lucille, it was magic. From Hall-of-Famers Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to modern day virtuoso Joe Bonamassa, to Metal legend Dave Mustaine, all were influenced by the stylings of B.B. King. His impact on our culture will be felt forever, as will his loss.
Spotlight on Stanley
by Cass Teague
For over three decades, if you went to see B.B. King play guitar and sing, you would also see and hear one phenomenal brother playing trumpet. For twenty-five years, right up until his final performance last October, Nashville-based musician Stanley Abern-athy was right there on stage with the King. For more than a dozen years before that, Abernathy was on the road with King as part of the legendary Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland / B.B. King tours, playing in Bland’s band. Wednesday night, May 20, Abernathy joined other local musicians for an emotional evening at Nashville’s B.B. King Club, before flying to Las Vegas to join King’s family for Friday’s public viewing and Saturday’s private Memorial Service.
“There will never be another BB. King,” Abernathy shared with us Thursday afternoon, May 21. “I have so many stories and memories. But – ‘Blessed’ -he give me the opportunity the play 110 foreign countries, four Presidents and on and on. But, most thankfully, I was able to call him my Friend.”
Abernathy honed his skills at Tennessee State University before setting out for California after graduation in 1968, playing in bands like The Electric Flag and Pacific Gas & Electric, eventually winding up in Chicago and playing for Bland. Abernathy feels blessed to have had the privilege to work with and have as a friend and mentor the man many call the King of the Blues.
Abernathy recalls King as “One of the kindest and most humble persons I ever had the pleasure to work for.
He was the Real Deal.”
Did you Know?
Why BB King’s guitars are named Lucille
In the winter of 1949, King played at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. In order to heat the hall, a barrel half-filled with kerosene was lit, a fairly common practice at the time. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the burning barrel and sending burning fuel across the floor. The hall burst into flames, and the building was evacuated.
Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside so he went back into the burning building to retrieve his beloved $30 Gibson guitar. Two men died in the fire, and King learned the next day that they had been fighting over a woman named Lucille. King subsequently named that first guitar Lucille, as well as every guitar he has owned since, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over women.
B.B. King wrote a song called “Lucille” in which he talks about his guitar and how it got its name. The song was first released as part of Lucille and is included on the B. B. King Anthology 1962–1998 album.