Monday, May 18, 2015

R.I.P. BB King 1925-2015

The tributes for BB King were flowing over the weekend after the blues legend lost his fight for life last Thursday (May 14 2015). The list of awards and honours he received over the course of his 89 years speaks for itself, but perhaps the highest praise offered was the short and succinct description of him as “the last of the great original Mississippi bluesmen” … which certainly seemed to be the most common tribute doing the rounds on social and mainstream media during the hours immediately after news of his death started filtering through.

I don’t profess to be an expert on King but his standing within the genre and his wider contribution to all things “rock” certainly made him the most visible “blues” icon of my own lifetime. Many will remember him for his signature tune ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, some latecomers will only know him for his collaboration with U2 on ‘When Love Comes To Town’ (or indeed his high profile work alongside Eric Clapton), but authentic and genuine blues fans will have a much wider spread of BB King delights to choose from when he’s recalled in years to come.

Me? Well I’m neither a King novice nor a huge fan, but I was lucky enough to see the man in his pomp back in 1994 – a relative heyday at the positively spritely age of just 68 – with a performance at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. I’m pretty sure that gig was part of some form of jazz (or blues) festival because around the same time – quite probably the same week – I had the pleasure of meeting Nina Simone (enjoying an extended chat with her over breakfast, no less – a long story and one I may expand upon one day) who was also passing through Glasgow.

A few years ago, when writing about my favourite all-time gigs, I rated that BB King gig as the 3rd best “concert” I’d ever attended (at that stage) and those words stand as the best I can offer here in the way of a personal tribute:

"I remember getting into some trouble for not taking my soon-to-be-wife to this particular gig on account of the fact that I “didn’t think she’d be into it” ... or just plain “didn’t think” (you decide!). If memory serves, this was part of a wider Glasgow International Arts Festival taking place at the time, and I went with a work colleague from the hotel I worked at. I recall being in awe of the venue itself but that was offset by the fact that we were sitting down throughout. Suffice to say I was a little frustrated, but the sound quality was fantastic. BB King (85) toured NZ last month to mixed/poor reviews so I guess I was quite lucky to see the Blues Legend at the relatively young age of 68. I actually hadn’t anticipated this gig being quite so funky (James Brown-esque to the point of King’s on-stage entourage including a dedicated dancer – almost a JB-lookalike – improvising on all of the Godfather’s best shuffles) but such is King’s range and versatility I really shouldn’t have been surprised. It was a special night of classic Blues, Gospel, and pure unadulterated Soul at its very best. And oh man, what a guitarist!"

R.I.P. BB King (and Lucille).

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