It’s hard to imagine a musician more influential than B.B. King, one of the last great bluesmen, who passed away on Thursday. He came from a musical heritage rich in heartfelt lyrics, incredible guitar skills, and down to Earth topics. King’s music was for the everyman, like the delta blues that proceeded his electric. Blues has an ability to reach into your soul and tug at your feelings. We all recognize the topics – heartbreak, melancholy, and feeling downtrodden. It’s happened to all of us, at one point or another. B.B. just put it to music and let it flow.
King was more than just an incredible musician in his own right, though – he was also a massive influence on music, one of the biggest of the 20th Century. He revolutionized the blues, and with it, revolutionized music. B.B.’s style pushed rock music forward, and helped create some of the legends of the 60s and 70s. As Rolling Stone note, King influenced Hendrix, The Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many more. Without the blues, there would be no rock, and without King, the blues just wouldn’t have been the same.
Nothing shows just how important B.B. was to the world as much as the amount of tributes that have been flooding in. From President Obama to Eric Clapton to Gene Simmons, his influence on just about everyone with an interest in music was staggering.
Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight, KISS guitarist Gene Simmons described King as “a trailblazer,” saying that “it is an understatement” to call King “probably the greatest guitarist of all time.”
Cream guitarist and rock legend Eric Clapton posted a touching tribute to King on his Facebook page, calling King “a beacon for all of us.”
Eric Clapton and B.B. King collaborated on the album Riding With the King and played together numerous times over the years.
It wasn’t only King’s work that influenced other guitarists, but also his playing style. As the L.A. Times points out, his simplistic box approach to creating solos has influenced countless guitarists, across a range of skills and ages, and most likely will for the foreseeable future. B.B. King was born into poverty in Mississippi in 1925, the era that Blind Willie Johnson was plying his trade, and just years before Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, amongst many others, would be becoming legends themselves. It’s no wonder that this environment gave B.B. King hugely fruitful influences. King transformed his hard early life into a blues career and made the genre his own.
King’s influences stretch far back in time, and his own influence will be felt for many years to come. Next time you listen to modern electric blues, or rock music, if you stop and listen you may well hear it. He will never be forgotten.
B.B. King’s life may not have been the easiest at the end, with King reportedly suffering from a bout of health problems towards the end of his life, a result of his battle with diabetes, but he will always be the King. One of the last great bluesmen – a legend lost to this world, but remembered through his music forever. In his own words, from the legendary track “The Thrill is Gone,” let’s hope this great man is indeed “free, free now.”
I’ll leave you with one of B.B. King’s early singles. From way back in 1951, it’s the supremely soulful “Three O’Clock Blues”
Are you a musician? How did B.B. King influence your work? What did King’s music make you feel?
[Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images]