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B. B. King, Defining Bluesman for Generations, Dies at 89 (nytimes.com)
647 points by aaronbrethorst on May 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments


Once, quite a long time ago, I spent an evening w/ BB and a bartender in a bar in Alaska. It had snowed heavily, and no one showed up for his show, so he performed solo for the 2 of us, all night long. That night lives in my mind as the epitome of gracious, inspired performances. I was truly awed. The talent that passed with this man is a great loss. The Master of the Blues is thrilling the angels now, as he has thrilled so many for so long. Thanks for the show, BB.

I'm the guy who stays after a concert to see if the musicians jam. When musics play "out of office hours" it just sounds different to my ears.

I envy your BB King private show, badly.


This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. As a fan of music for music's sake I love how he just did it for 'the right reasons'. He knew that even though there were only two people there, that's two more than zero. Awesome.

RIP you true legend.

Btw, here the B.B King documentary on Hulu.


Enjoy it while it is free. Just saw it and now I know why he is a big deal! Didn't know much about him before today!

I'm reminded of a picture that tells his significance to music far better than words.


Then there's this one as well:


Here's another: http://userserve-ak.last.fm/serve/500/66006216/Slash++y+BB+K... You know you're the boss when slash lets you wear his hat.

FYI that second pic is a Photoshoped composition for a live bootleg where Jimi and King jammed together in 1968.


Here is the original B.B. King photo.


HA! That is one of the poorer hack job photoshops I have seen. The faux shadow behind Jimi's hair is a dead giveaway

This is a genuine question: I know nothing of B. B. King, and how does the first picture tell anything about his significance to music?

Eric Clapton considered him his mentor. So did Jimmy Hendrix. James Brown considered him his equal. For fifty plus years he was a major influence on other artists.

That picture of Clapton chauffering him was done for an album the two did together called Riding with the King. Clapton initiated the project. It went 2X multi platinum in the U.S. (rare for a blues album) and won a Grammy.


I came here to specifically mention this album. It is truly stellar. It's available as DVD audio too, mixed as 5.1 surround sound. It's one of the better 5.1 album mixes I've heard.

I heard B.B. was in the hospital not too long ago and hoped all would be OK. He was/is truly an enormous influence on the blues genre and will be missed.

I just bought Riding with the King last month. Didn't know there was a DVD-Audio version.

I was sad to hear that some of his recent performances were poorly received:




When it comes to aging music icons who still perform, I think of Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones. They're in their early seventies, kids compared to B.B. King, touring in his late eighties. If you ever catch me booing a man like B.B. King for an erratic performance, punch me in the nose. Hard.

I opened the liner notes for Riding with the King, which has a great picture of B.B. King and Eric Clapton playing side by side, sitting on Fender amps (not sure if this link will work):


Googling a bit, I found out (or maybe I knew at one time) that B.B. King was the cousin of Bukka White, who first sparked my interest in the blues. There's something about that gravely voice and slide guitar.

My dad got that album for his birthday when I was ~9 years old. For some reason I got really hooked on the music, it made me start taking guitar lessons and has shaped much of my music taste.

When you learn to play guitar you learn about the main staple of blues music, the Pentatonic Scale, a simple palette of just 5 notes that you can follow all the way up the guitar neck (or piano, voice, or bass for that matter)

B.B. King has a portion of the Pentatonic box patterns for guitar named after him, it's a place on the guitar neck known to guitarists as the "the B.B. King" box.

Then you learn how to play a lot of popular rock and pop songs, then you realize the overwhelming majority of guitar rock music over the past 50 years is very derivative of blues riffs, in fact it's all just blues music played really loud, distorted, and to a straight rhythm.

It's staggering to think how many great rock musicians have come and gone, and B.B. predated all of them by decades and outlived them for decades more, performing the whole time.

It shows Eric Clapton, widely considered one of the most skilled and successful blues guitarists, chauffeuring B.B. King, implying that Clapton honours and reveres him.

The smile on his face is telling. It reminded me of another old legend of music, and unsurprisingly, they were jamming together not long ago:

http://imgur.com/6UnkEd5 (from http://www.jambands.com/news/2012/12/04/bernard-purdie-joins...)

Hoping people will listen to his style and be inspired to make their instrument sing as well.

Good to see Purdie, his Purdie shuffle is great. You will hear it in Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain" and Toto's Rosanna.

Watching Purdie talk about it on YouTube is informative.

Purdie is still extremely funky even at 75, which is rare.

The Time featured him in 2009 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRIWH4HCoz8

The laughs.

We talk a lot on HN about 'doing what you love' This was a man who, against all odds, truly did that. For most of his life he was playing over 300 shows a year and even this year when he was ill he played over 100. Very sad he's gone and I never had the opportunity to hear him sing live.

One slight tweak to the "doing what you love" meme:

BB reported in an interview years ago that he started off busking Gospel music. He found that lots of people came up and patted him on the head and praised him but no-one put any money in his hat.

So he switched to blues. Blues fans gave him the thumbs up and put money in his hat. The rest is history.

This is actually also in the obituary linked here.

There's no way it's anywhere near as superficial as he makes it sound -- that's definitely just self-depreciation. I can't imagine anyone working that hard to teach, work with, and publicize other bluesmen simply because it brings in more money, especially at his age/wealth.

Joe Bonamassa sticks out in my mind as one of the people BB King really worked with.

I don't know the history, so I could be wrong, but maybe when he explains that he means he did it as a way to sustain himself (and family I'd assume), rather than it being better-paying just for the money. It could be that it started for that reasoning and then later once the style had become his life, he stuck with it.

Again, could be completely wrong so take of that what you will. Just my opinion.

I remember that. I think the point was that the people who were supposed to be good (i.e. gospel fans) would listen but not pay him any money. The blues fans (and at the time I believe a lot of people considered that the devils music) did. I think it was just more of a humorous point than a serious point about a career decision.

Ah, a man who knows how to pivot.

That makes two of us - I missed being able to see Gary Moore live, and now B. B. King :( .

I got to see Moore but missed King - my friend went to see him but didn't tell me about the tour! Gutting.

Moore's blues songs are a million times better than his rock era, IMHO. Some nasty-sounding guitar tone there.

Additionally, King did very well to keep playing the blues over such a long period of time. If you listen to the songs from the 80s you can hear that he had to adjust (slap bass / boosted treble bass, round squishy synths and massive reverbs, horrible tom sounds) but he did well to carry on playing the blues through it and come back to a more traditional (normal!) sound afterwards.

Interestingly, he never played chords!

"Moore's blues songs are a million times better than his rock era, IMHO. Some nasty-sounding guitar tone there." Say what you want about the tone, but watch this and tell me his 80s playing isn't superb, I dare you! ;-) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFUW621lgXY

BB deserves a good send off. I don't know what to say, other than thank you for everything you did for the guitar, and for music, and for being a top bloke. I didn't know him personally but love how generous and charming he was in this video (some stunning playing by Derek Trucks too): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS0NHlWgi5w

Ah yes Moore's playing is indeed stunning, just the nasally higain tone that was offputting compared to his blues sound.

It might just be a rubbish mix on the album though - in person it is likely very different.

He didn't really have to... 80s was the Stevie Ray Vaughn era, and there was none of that in his music.

I feel blessed to have been able to see both of them live, even just once, and even before I knew much about Gary Moore (he was supporting someone else), but was truly moved by Still Got the Blues live.

Of course you never appreciate this as much as you do once they're gone. May they both rest in peace.

"I missed being able to see Gary Moore live, and now B. B. King :("

this thrill is gone away from me ♬ ~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUaevnP1LLg

Likewise. Gary Moore was my introduction to the blues and I never got to see him live.

I saw Gary Moore supporting B. B. King back in 2006. That was a good night.

"I never had the opportunity to hear him sing live."

I did. You missed one of the greats. There are many other great singers, songwriters and artists you still can see. He light the stadium with his sound and smile.

Last year I saw him perform on stage. Halfway through the show a child walked up to the edge of the stage. B.B King stopped in the middle of his riff said hello to the child, smiled big and handed him his pick. The band played on during this exchange and he quickly pulled out another pick and started in again, never losing a beat. Several more kids flocked to the stage and B.B King stopped for each and every one of them and did the same thing. He probably went through 50 picks that night. Although a bit disruptive to a great performance it was touching to see his engagement with kids.

My wife and I saw him play in New Orleans. Half way through the show his guitar strings broke and he stopped to fix it. The band kept playing, though.

A man in the audience stood up and started singing, and doing a very good job at it. The band picked up and followed the man singing, going right on through the song. Once his guitar was fixed, BB King came back in and sang backup for the man in the audience. His interaction with the audience for the entire show, and particularly this case, was amazing.


I find solace that on a site dedicated to technology and entrepreneurship, respect can still be paid to an artist such as B.B. King.

Choosing a favourite guitarist is like trying to decide between a favourite wine. So many choices but to me he has always been one of my favourites.

It hard to explain why exactly I, as a guitarist enjoy listening to his music. His heartfelt singing was warming but truthfully it the lady in his life. "Lucille". That's the name of his guitar. With her, he had this amazing tone. Its unbelievable. The way he made Lucille sing. This voice he gave her or she gave him just makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I listen to the pair of them.

People talk about legacy and he has an amazing one. It's true he has Inspired so many.

But don't be sad today, be happy for the man and the extraordinary life and legacy we celebrate which will continue to live on through his music.

PS I recommend the albums Deuces Wild and Riding with the King for your listening today.

I say Live at the Regal, hands down.. Then Live in Cook Cook County Jail. It's difficult to find a better live album than that.

Those are the two I've been spinning all day today. His best work IMO.

Yeah its the two that most other blues artists relate to..

I'd add "Live and Well" and "Indianola Mississippi Seeds" (even though purists hate the latter, I think it's a great album).

His tone is what gets me too. I saw an interview with him on YouTube a few days ago with something that actually really surprised me. When he's on tour outside the US he doesn't bring an amplifier. He plays whatever the venue provides (usually, but not always, a Fender Twin Reverb). He also said he doesn't spend time setting it up. He controls the tone entirely from the guitar.

Interesting! I found the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0mAQdTsVp0

That's it!

As Duke Ellington said of Louis Armstrong: "He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way."

The thrill may be gone, but it won't be forgotten.

If you have the means and opportunity, I can highly recommend a road trip down to Clarksdale, Missippi to visit the Delta Blues Museum:


Not sure if Chess Records on the South Side of Chicago is still accepting visitors, but that town has some amazing jazz and blues venues: the Green Mill, Buddy Guy's Legends, Lee's Unleaded, Checkerboard...

Now where did I stash that copy of "King of the Blues" so my old lady wouldn't toss it in the trash ;)

3 other venues for folks in the area would be Kingston Mines, Blues on Halsted, and Rosa's.

Also Red's Lounge, was fortunate enough to catch Robert Balfour there a few years ago while passing through.


I just hope there is electricity in heaven - because today it'll sound like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3KTjeqltuQ

B. B. King was not only the the king of the blues but was know to be a great person as well. His story is inspiring for everyone (not just (blues) musicians). He never blamed his background for any faults he might've had rather he channeled it to create the unique 'value' of his music -- or more correctly, his 'brand' of music. Maybe I'm just muttering nonsense ...he had a profound impact on not just my music sensibilities but on a lot of aspects in life.

Just take a look at each of these and it'll draw you a picture of the king: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/b_b_king.html

Love this one from that link you posted: "I don't think anybody steals anything; all of us borrow"

In the early 2000s (I must have been, what, 21 or 22 at the time), I was at a party and found myself sitting next to the stereo. Since no music was playing at that point, I looked through the CD rack (the parents of the host were on vacation, which was the reason we had the party there, and the CD collection was theirs) and found Riding With The King. I generally liked (and still like) Eric Clapton, so I put it on. The other people at the party were mainly into Hip Hop and electronic music, but they did not complain.

That was my introduction to B.B. King. What else can I say? He will be remembered by so many people, and his music will stay with us.

It will be a sad weekend in Memphis. There are no words to describe what he means to that city. We lost a legend.

I recall that he said something like: "I don't play a lot of notes. I just try to play the right ones".

I think that if a guitarist plays a lot of notes real fast, it often sounds like he or she is rapidly searching for the right one. Instead, BB played the right note at the right time -- with the right lead-in (slide up or bend).


The thrill is gone...

RIP B.B., you'll be surely missed.


Excellent choice there. If you want to know what they mean by "tone" when talking about guitar, listen to that...

I'm listening to this right now. BB King in Zaire:


It's not his best concert but the sound and film is good.

Yeah money is not running the world for some people. Passion like music can drive our lives. Follow what your heart is telling you. Be happy with what you do everyday.

If you want to learn more about him I highly recommend the recent documentary 'Life of Riley'[1]. Incredible story.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2259306/

Introduced to his music ver yearly in my age. Loved (and still love) this kind of music (even if I live outside the states). After him, I discovered and appreciated so many artists.

His music will live on, reminding people why expressing yourself through arts is so great.

A legend. My first exposure was through his participation in U2's Rattle and Hum album/rockumentary [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRHV-HWhqWQ

A buddy and I once attended a performance at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Embarrassingly, we're were pretty drunk, but we were also enthusiastic,friendly, and front row, stage right. He graciously played a tune we kept shouting out ("Nobody loves me but my momma, and sometimes I think she's lying too...") and shook our hands at the end of the show. He even gave my friend his guitar pick. I think he had family in the from row that night as well. Makes my face red to even think of it now. A tremendous talent and gracious man, he's been in my mix for over 30 years and for some more to come. Thanks B.B.

It's amazing how much emotion he was able to convey with his guitar. I'm so lucky to have seen him a few years ago at a blues festival. He got me into the blues and I've fallen in love with the genre. He will be missed.

As a guitarist B.B. King has always been one of the defining guitar players for me. His style is unmatched and distinct. We lost one of the greats today and I am forever grateful for what impact he and his music has had on my life.

He was a great artist and he had a great stage presence. I am sorry I only got to see him play live one time.

Another great blues musician died last year: Johnny Winter.

You are indeed very lucky to have witnessed the king. He will surely be missed.

I was i his show in Brazil, I think it was back in 2010.

Between songs, a young woman shoulted: "I love you B.B."

He looked at her and said: "I love you too, honey."

An admirable talent, deserving of the greatest respect. He made life better for all that were touched by his music. RIP.

One of his most memorable verses:

"And everybody wanna know Why I sing the blues Well, I've been around a long time Mm, I've really paid my dues"

Full lyrics: http://www.vagalume.com.br/bb-king/why-i-sing-the-blues.html


I had lunch in Memphis one time and he was with a group across the room. My brush with a legend.

I knew it was BB King playing with just one note. His tone was indistinguishable. RIP King of the Blues, you're riding with the King.

RIP King of the blues, you'll be truly missed.

Goodbye, B.B. King! I watched you play in the Bournemouth International Center in 1997. Thank you for helping me get through life!

I would have sworn this happened a couple of weeks ago, but apparently I was thinking of Ben E. King.

No words. RIP.

That makes me sad. It feels like a connection has been severed. Can't listen to him today.

here is a tribute to BB king from the internet itself: http://bandhub.us/s/5495e38a4ab7e9bb28734ce2

The greatest. Got more into one note than most could into an entire lifetime.

Very sad news- but unlike many others that died, he will not be forgotten.

The world is lucky that he created music for as long as he did.

whenever bb king was playing his guitar the guitar was crying.

All hail the king!

BB you da man


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