When I was kid, I only knew B.B. King as a caricature of himself. He was a large, round man, always smiling, played old-time music on a big black guitar worn high on his belly.
I first gave the man some serious thought while watching an episode of The Cosby Show; I still didn’t know much about him but I knew that guest stars on the show were usually legendary in some way, and so I paid attention. I thought he was entertaining and fun, nothing I hadn’t heard before, somewhere, but that piercing mellow guitar tone instantly made his music a signature.
Fast forward several years…
I had learned to play a decent blues shuffle over the years but never really studied it; it was something I did as an afterthought, da da, da da, da da. My friend Teddy Morgan decided that had gone on for far too long and popped a CD in the van, and it was there, on some anonymous stretch of Midwest interstate, that I was introduced to the music of B.B. King for the first time.
This music was alive; it was a living, breathing soul brought to life by a ferocious but restrained rhythm section and a powerful voice punctuated by a sharp, quick guitar. It was the sound of generations of music that came before it and hints of the directions it would take in the future.
It’s no surprise that a young me would dismiss B.B. King as something vaguely familiar, because he was familiar; I was born into a world whose music had already been shaped by him. His contributions are almost swept away by the sea of people he inspired.
B.B. King is blues music, one of those delicate genres whose relevancy today is maintained mostly by its legacy. But, oh, what a legacy.