When I was a kid, my dad had a stereo in our house that had speakers as tall as I was.
He’d play Zeppelin, AC/DC, B.B. King and Eric Clapton, among many others. We’d dance and sing and it’d go well into the night. Music was a celebration at our house. And dad never told me the artists names. To him, names weren’t important. The music spoke for itself.
So from the time I was 5, I knew Eric Clapton’s voice particularly well.
But I’ll never forget the first time my mom said, “My favorite B.B. song is ‘The Thrill is Gone.'” Her and dad gave each other knowing looks, not bothering to explain the subject of the song.
When I was 10 or 11, B.B. King and Eric Clapton released Riding With The King, a joint album.
I remember this being CRANKED in our house. And I still rock out to it. Despite all of King’s classics, this is my favorite. His voice melts perfectly with Clapton’s and you can tell that their friendship shared a mutual respect. They were creating soulful, beautiful, chugging music, and having fun while doing it.
I took guitar lessons as a teenager (which never really went anywhere. I was far too much of a perfectionist then.) But the first thing my dad urged me to do was name my guitar. “B.B. has Lucille,” he’d say. “If you’re going to bond with it, you need to name it.” I never felt like I deserved to name my guitar. How dare I try to be in the same company as such a blues legend?
In 2003, Lightning in a Bottle captured a special concert that took place in Radio City Music Hall to pay tribute to Blues legends and raise money for music education. Martin Scorsese produced the DVD, and I still own a copy of it. In it, B.B. took the stage for “Sweet Sixteen” and “Paying the Cost to Be The Boss.” Even in the DVD, you can see how B.B. was venerated by his fellow artists. He had no peers.
When B.B. passed on May 14th, Clapton release a heartfelt message to the world about his friend and mentor.
“…There are not many left that play it in the pure way that B.B. did. He was a beacon for all of us who love this kind of music.”
Clapton’s message was saddening, because all Blues fans knew this day would come, even though we prayed it wouldn’t.
I encourage you to listen to the title track, “Riding With The King.” B.B. had a talking line in it that gave me chills when I played it recently.
I stepped outta Mississippi when I was 10 years old. With a suit cut sharp as a razor, and a heart made of gold. I had a guitar hanging just about waist high. And I’m gonna play this thing till the day that I die.
And he did just that, didn’t he?
Rest in Power, B.B.