Today I woke up to the sad news that B.B. King has died.
I should say, before I write anything else, that I am far from an expert on music and not a music historian. But I do really dig the blues, and so this kind of hit hard.
I didn’t get into the blues until pretty late in life. I had a sort of vague idea that I might like them from a few individual songs I had heard here and there and pieces of movie soundtracks I had thought were cool. Finally one afternoon, and I don’t remember why, I decided to find out. I went to the library and checked out a CD (I suppose I could make myself sound even older by claiming it was a recording on a wax cylinder, but a compact disc it was) of blues classics, took it home and saw how it went.
I really, really liked it.
There were three artists in particular that grabbed me. One was Muddy Waters. One was Taj Mahal. And the other, of course, was B.B. King.
I don’t know enough about music to really talk about his technique on the guitar, although I know he did it very well. There’s emotion in his playing that you don’t have to be very well musically-educated to hear. His voice, though – sometimes it sounds achingly tired and world-weary, sometimes it kicks tremendous ass, and sometimes it will make you smile even if you didn’t think you would. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have an instrument like that, but it’s an amazing thing.
When I was a kid I didn’t understand why people would like the blues. I basically understood (or thought I did) that they were songs about sad things and I couldn’t get why you would want to listen to music that made you feel sad.
The thing is that they don’t, for some reason that I don’t completely understand. There is a lot of heartache in the blues, very ordinary kinds that are easy to identify with because we’ve experienced most of them. When there isn’t enough money. When your landlord is a jerk. When the person you love doesn’t love you. B. B. King said the blues were about people bleeding the same way he did, and I sure can’t improve on that.
Somehow listening to music about pain you can understand magically makes whatever troubles you’ve got in your life that little bit easier. Maybe it’s because it tells you you’re not alone. When the road gets hard, there are at least other people on it with you. And that helps.
There are, of course, songs that fall into the ‘blues’ category that are full of joy and happiness, ones that are more about anger than pain, and ones that are just fun. Somehow, and again you need a better educated guide than me to explain why, it all comes back to the core of tough times and surviving them in the end, though.
So I really do love the blues, listen to the music just about every day, and one of the first artists who I learned to love in the field was B.B. King. That he was, by all accounts, a wonderfully nice man, and a man who fought up from poverty and past narrow-minded bigots to become the King of Blues, only gives me more reasons to admire him. Heck of a dude. Heck of an artist.
Anyway, those are my thoughts today as a great blues man has left the stage for the last time. Thanks for sharing your talents with the world, Mr. King. It was something to behold.