Blues Legend BB King Dead at 89
BB King, whose hits include the likes of Thrill is Gone, died in his sleep at his Las Vegas home on Thursday according to his website. He was 89.
Many fellow musicians took to social media to express their condolences and to share their stories. On his Facebook page Clapton said; “He was a beacon for all of us who loved this kind of music, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart. There is not a lot to say, his music is almost a thing of the past now and there not many left that play in the pure way that B.B. did.”
On his Facebook page guitarist Steve Cropper of Stax Records and Blues Brothers fame said “This time the World has lost a friend. BB King was friends to everybody. To listen to his music will seem like he is still here. One of God’s most ‘Beautiful People;’ an inspiration to everyone.”
“America lost one of its greatest musicians and I have lost one of my greatest friends” tweeted singer Tony Bennett.
“BB, anyone can play a thousand notes, and never say what you said in one” tweeted musician, Lenny Kravitz
BB King, whose music spanned six decades, influenced countless musicians from Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Kenny Wayne Shepard, and countless others while bringing Blues music to the mainstream with his piercing guitar and unforgettable vibrato. He took the Blues from the plantation where he was born and brought the music to a mainstream audience, performing before Presidents and the Pope. According to the New York Times, King kept performing until October 2014 when he canceled a tour citing dehydration and exhaustion due to diabetes
BB King was born Riley B King on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi on September 25th. According to the Wall Street Journal King was born into poverty, losing his mother and grandmother while he was still a young boy. According to his website King began recording in the 1940s, playing on street corners for dimes, and would sometimes play four towns a night. In 1947, King hitchhiked to Memphis, where he became a beacon of the music for a new generation. During this time King stayed with his cousin Bukka White, who was a celebrated Blues Musician of his time, and a major influence in King’s career according to King’s website.
He became the Blues Boy King, B.B. King for short, after doing some radio shows on the Memphis Station WDIA. The most famous surrounding the legendary blues musician was related to his famously named guitar, “Lucile.” According to the legend, during a performance in Twist, Alabama a few fans got into a fight and during the melee a kerosene lamp was knocked over starting a fire. King raced into the burning building to save his $30 guitar, and the legend of Lucile was born.
Over the years King incorporated a wide range of styles into his own form of music. This included being influenced by R&B greats such as Count Basie, the electrified blues of T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, which helped to mold a style that would become his own with soaring vocals. It wasn’t long before he was having influence over others. His first hit, Three O’ Clock Blues, which was recorded in the 1950’s, became a model that influenced American Bluesmen such as Johnny Winter, and British guitarists such as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, among countless others. In BB Kings own words, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
In the 1960’s, King would record such Blues classics as “Rock Me Baby,” and in 1970 the classic “Thrill is Gone” would enter Billboard at 15. In 1984 BB King entered the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. In 1987, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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