OK – Riley B King is not the last of the great Blues Singers – we still have the great Buddy Guy, Billy Boy Arnold and Lazy Lester – but he was a giant of a Blues Singer and Guitarist. But BB was one of the best.
The great years of Chicago was when Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were slugging it out to be cock of the roost, Elmore James was searing out those unparalleled slide guitar riffs, Sonny Boy Williamson (the 2nd) was laying down his harp wailing stories and the Little Walter, James Cotton, Otis Spann and Shaky Horton providing ample support. Then there was the incredible John Lee Hooker.
Those were the great years of Electric Blues. Albert King was laying it down with Stax in Memphis and then there was the brilliance of Magic Sam, T-Bone Walker, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Freddy King and Slim Harpo. From the melting pot of New Orleans all through Louisiana and Mississippi up to Memphis and on to Chicago in the industrial north the Blues was flourishing.
BB King was a giant in this competitive forum. As a young kid he secured a spot on WDAI radio in Memphis and never looked back. He still busked on street corners though. His articulate voice and unique guitar style of slick, fluent runs were ideal in his brilliant story-telling blues. He excelled on numbers like ‘Everyday I have the Blues’, ‘Why I sing the Blues’, ‘The Thrill has Gone’, ‘Lucille’ and the great ‘When Love Comes to Town’.
BB King got himself the reputation of being the hardest working man on the circuit. He often played 365 concerts a year. It was testament to the love he felt for his music. He set up clubs in Memphis and Chicago and gained a huge following.
He went on performing right up to the end and has now died at the age of eighty nine. He was a real link to those early years of rural Blues in Mississippi. We’ll miss him but he has left us a brilliant legacy of music.
Thanks Riley! You made the world a better place.
The Thrill has gone! We’re the poorer for its passing.