From the Soul – The King of the Blues

‘From the Soul’ Series

A short introduction into what this blog series is about.  I have a very large, eclectic range of interests and passions, both in and out of music.  Therefore I thought it might be worth sharing with people where I get my inspirations from in my music.  To make it clear, though, this is simply a series of ramblings on what I personally find enjoyable in music and other aspects of life.  I don’t intend to lecture and tell people what they should and shouldn’t listen to, as that would be borderline arrogant and definitely narrow minded view of the world.  This is though to let people know what I enjoy and what I find inspiring in performing and listening environments.

My own inspirations, or ‘muses’, vary across many genres, including Jazz, Rock, Ska, Hip-Hop, Folk, Metal and Funk, as well as many more.  However, I can say without a doubt that my biggest musical passion is the Blues, pure and simple. So where better to start than with the King himself, B.B. King…

Louisiana Gator Boys

The first time I was exposed to BB King was when I was around 10.  It was late at night on holiday in the room of a French Motel, I think we were coming back from our summer Holiday.  They were showing the Blues Brothers 2000 on the TV, and being a huge Blues Brothers Fan I decided to watch it all, even though it was in French.  For those who haven’t seen it, BB King is one of the featured guests in it, who is met near the start as a car dealership man who is retiring to move down south on a new ‘career path’. You then hear nothing of him for the rest of the film until right at then end, where BB is lead member of the Blues Supergroup Louisiana Gator Boys.  There were so many other people in this band, but the few I can remember include Eric Clapton, Jimmy Vaughen, Dr John, Stevie Winwood, Bo Diddly and Joshua Redman for good measure.  The tune that they played has come to be one of my favourite Blues songs ever, How Blue Can You Get.  The sheer power and magmatism of BB’s voice and presence on the stage has with me ever since, even being surrounded by so many other huge musicians. Soon after this I started looking up and listening to more of his music, with some fantastic input from my Dad, who himself was a big fan.  One example includes a rendition of Rock Me Baby at the 2004 (I think) Crossroads guitar festival DVD my dad owned, with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Jimmy Vaughen.  This performance is phenomenal and has to be one of my favourite live recordings to watch him in (with the White House performance not far behind).

Live at the Regal

Later on, as I grew older, I started listening more and appreciating some of BB’s older records.  Though they might not have been as well recorded, and his voice certainly sounded much younger and different, you can still hear much of what made him the great guitarist and singer in them.  As I write this, for instance, I have BB’s Live Album ‘Live at the Regal’ playing away on my brand new vinyl player and I find there is so much I can learn and benefit from listening to it.  His calmness on stage and the way he effortlessly moves from playing his guitar Lucille to singing and talking to the audience is astounding.  This album was brought up a lot in his Biopic, The Life of Riley, with many citing it as inspirational.  This film is made up of a collection of short interviews from many different individuals and musicians and what they have all gained from the great man.  If you get the chance, do give it a watch and a listen, it is a fascinating insight into his life and experiences.  I especially enjoyed hearing Bono’s reaction to sharing the stage with him for U2’s joint performance of ‘When Love comes to town’.

‘Gravely Matured Voice’

BB’s older songs I do enjoy and love to listen to, with Sweet Sixteen, You upsets me Baby and I’ll Survive being favourites of mine. However, I do have huge joy listening to his gravely matured voice of some of his later albums.  His Louis Prima covers album is great fun to listen to, especially his version of Saturday Night Fish Fry.  There is so much sass in his voice, it brings a smile to my lips every time I hear it.  His collaboration album with Eric Clapton, Riding with the King, is pure gold dust.  Their contrasting styles in both singing and playing is so enjoyable to listen to, and the updated versions of old standards like Three O’clock Blues and When my Heart Beats like a Hammer are simply amazing.  This might be a bias due to my age, since I know some more older gentlemen might prefer the older versions (if you’re reading this, I’m looking at you Tony!), but I’m not ashamed to admit it!  His final ever album though, One Kind Favour, is wonderful and harps back to so much of his earlier material, with Tomorrow night being my personal favourite track to listen to, especially late at night driving home.  Finally, the perfect swan song for the man, is the track Stay Around a Little Longer, which is featured on Buddy Guys album Living Proof.  A truer proof of friendship between players can be found nowhere else.

Blues Boy Riley and His Impact on Me

It was a great loss to the world when BB sadly passed away last year, and I was fortunate enough to see him perform a few years ago at the Wembley Arena, though I was miles away from the stage.  What I found wonderful then, and still do, was BB’s amazing skill at being completely open in his performing.  Whether it is him playing the guitar, singing or even just talking to the audience, he has this natural ability to captivate and sound truly genuine in what was being said.  His guitar playing sounded so much like singing and felt so authentic, and is something I usually aim (with varying success) to replicate in my saxophone playing.  Though I am no Blues Guitarist, I find that at the end of the day that doesn’t really matter.  There are many aspects to BB King, and many other Blues artists, that performers in any genre can learn and benefit from.  His legacy will live on in many ways, and I hope that whatever amount I can add to it will be worthy of it.  Long live the King!