This morning, I read that B.B. King had passed away. Of course, in recent weeks, I had heard about him being put into a hospice, about a dispute between his daughter and his manager, and many rumors. BB had been suffering from diabetes for a long time, and it seemed as if he really was not doing well.
However, it still is totally shocking to hear he passed away, and it’s hard to imagine this place without BB in it. After all, he was such an incredibly influential guitarist, and a true icon or legend, not only for guitar-players.
People might not associate me much with the blues or players like BB, as of course, I mainly play a different style of music. However, when I started out with the guitar, I at first played almost nothing but the blues… or at least tried to. I was influenced by guys like Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck and Gilmour, they and Satch were my reason to pick up the guitar in the first place back then.
However, I read interviews with those guys, and they all talked about being influenced by blues players, and the same was true for Jimi and so many other great players. So I went back and tried right away to start out where THEY started out, started to listen to anything from Robert Johnson to Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters to BB King.
So for the first 2 years or so, I listened to the blues a lot, and tried to play it too. And I realized just how influential BB was for guys like Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, who, in turn, influenced the players I was starting to get in to.
Even though I eventually started to get into other styles of music, I still love the blues, and consider it one of my roots… and I am aware just how much that music and its players influenced other styles too.
I first heard BB King on the radio back then, even before I played, and he occasionally was on TV as well. I bought all these compilation albums with live- and studio-performances by BB and many other players, and I loved what I heard. Not only was I able to relate to his music even at such a young age, it just was so cool how he played some of the saddest and some of the happiest blues, with so much taste, such an incredible tone and style.
It was amazing how he kept playing and touring so much, and I loved it when I saw him appear somewhere on TV, whether it was as a cameo guest on “Married With Children” (no kidding! He appeared in that show and played a tiny bit) to events like the Crossroads festival.
I remember reading an interview with him in one of the guitar mags when he was in his late 70s, and he was asked “Do you still practice?” and he replied “Yes of course. If we stop doing that, we die”. I also remember seeing a bit of the instructional video he did in the 80s, where he talked about tasteful vibrato and dynamics, and that could be applied to ANY style of playing, not only blues.
When I do teach, especially when it’s about taste, vibrato, dynamics, I often quote BB or use some of his licks to make a point, even though of course it will never sound quite like him.
And even though I might be known for a different kind of style, he was an influence and someone who was just…there, was just this living legend still being amazing, never stopped playing. Both from listening to him from an early age to being influenced indirectly through guys like Jimi Hendrix, he sure was an influence, and especially when I play blues, I often try to channel a tiny bit of the amazing things he did, try to cut back and be as tasteful with just a few notes as he always was, even though I don’t think I’ll ever get there.
As I said before…it’s hard to imagine a world without BB in it. Even though I knew his age and that he was going through health problems, it still is shocking to hear he is not with us anymore. Thank you so much, BB, for all the amazing music, the joy and sadness, showing us so many cool licks, all the shows you played, all the smiles. You truly will be missed…