Saturday, 16 May 2015

BB King - the thrill has gone

I'm just a local amateur singer-guitarist and my music doesn't have a lot in common with the blues, but it's a mistake to assume that the music someone plays is the only music they like, but I've found it's an assumption a lot of people make.

Although I can't claim to be an expert, I love the blues, from the classic bluesman like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and BB King, to blues-influenced rock artists such as Eric Clapton, the Stones and Peter Green. The influence goes further because, as Muddy waters sang, The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll. He was right: rock & roll was heavily influenced by the blues, and the basic chord structure of blues and rock & roll can be quite similar, which is no coincidence. Rock & roll also was influenced by country, gospel and doo-wop, but the blues provided the template that took rock & roll through to rock: Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Whitesnake - among many other bands - all acknowledged their music and singing style were derived from the blues. For my money, U2's finest moment was when they played When Love Comes To Town with BB King.

BB King is one of the last of the genuine Mississippi bluesmen. 'BB' has in recent years been explained as meaning Blues Boy, but I remember years ago reading that this was a later revision and it originally had a more racist derivation: Black Boy*. I find this quite plausible, given the racism that these performers had to face through much of their lives: refusal of admission to hotels, or referred to the back door, and the lawful segregation in many aspects of everyday life that they grew up with in the old 'gallant' South. I think we British can take some credit for the fact that, because these blues singers were treated like conquering heroes over here even before they'd played any gigs in Britain, they were ultimately respected by white audiences in the USA. The Rolling Stones must take a lot of credit for showing white Americans what they had in their midst when they insisted on BB King supporting them on a US tour in the late 1960s.

I once thought 'BB King' when I heard on the radio the very first guitar note of one of his songs. I'm quite sure I couldn't have recognised any other guitarist on such scanty information,

Quite simply, an era has passed.

* P.S. (4 June): having listened to a lot of media coverage and done a bit of research on the internet, I've now concluded that this derivation is unlikely, and is probably no more than an assumption. However, my description of the discrimination black performers were subjected to is completely accurate.

Here is BB King playing with the late Gary Moore. It's definitely worth nine minutes of your time.

4 comments:

  1. Nothwithstanding the racism he undoubtedly faced in the American South, I'm pretty sure BB comes from Blues Boy: he had a radio show in Memphis in the late 40's on which he played records and sang advertising jingles and was introduced as the Beale Street Blues Boy.

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    Replies
    1. It's what I read somewhere, but I'd be happy if the suggestion proved to be wrong.

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  2. Wikipedia has "Blues Boy", for what that's worth.

    That video is insanely wonderful. It's a kind of music I'd never usually listen to, but when you can play that well...!

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  3. Gary Moore and BB King. Quite the double act!

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