The Czar believes a hagiography on the late B.B. King is warranted, especially after the lively discussions we shared on Twitter with so many of you.
Mr. King’s death was a blow for all music, worldwide, and not just a small circle of blues groupies. Blues dilettantesand the Czar has met met many of them over the yearsseem to complain about King, mentioning that his guitar work was repetitive, his songs typically formulaic, and his themes are designed to appeal to crossover audiences. This is, interestingly, all true. There’s no denying his solos sound alike, but so what? His guitar work was a signature work: you can listen to an ensemble recoridng in which King is one of many musicians in the background and instantly know he’s there. Sure, he used the I-IV-V a lot, and a huge amount of his songs used the I-I7-IV-IVm-I-V7-I chord pattern of Darling, You Know I Love You, (you could easily sing these lyrics over dozens of B. B. King songs) but so do thousands of other songs in the blues genre. And crossover? Well, that was what elevates him to musician sainthood.
King wrote, recorded, and performed from the early 1950s continuously until just before his death. In that time, he remained popularsustained popularity, in factat all times. Name another act with that claim. On Twitter, @blaknsam suggested that while the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have managed houeshold name recognition continuously, it’s important to note that King predates them by a dozen years.
And legendary acts, like Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, or James Brown started at the same time King did, but they were pretty much done by the 1960s. They remained famous, doing live shows, but always hauling out the same old hits. King produced and produced new albums pretty much every year, giving concert fans a selection of his big hits, a wide selection of nearly-forgotten songs from his past, and a hellstorm of new material every show. For 60 years.
Crossover hits? What made King so successful was that he was so approachable, musically. Unlike the often scratchy, incoherent mess that makes up a lot of Delta blues recordings before him, the jazz-inspired slop during the 1950s, the drinking-and-cheating rock-infused songs of the 1960s and 1970s…or the gospel remakes or bitter, dark, and dreary growling that too often summarized modern blues, King’s work remains largely unfiltered. A trained ear can tell you when some of his work was recorded, but a newcomer can rarely tell whether a King song was done in 1954, 1964, 1984, or 2004 without an obvious tell. That approachability allowed a lot of peoplejazz snobs, metal heads, white-boy wannabes, or even elderly dwellers of the Lawrence Welk/Pat Boone radio opium dens to think B.B. King was really fun to hear.
And why not? King’s jubilant bellow and fluid joy when playing Lucille was evident in every song. Forget she-done-me-wrong doldrums: King’s work ranged from a guy so drunk he didn’t realize he’d gone to the wrong house to a schmoe upset that his wife disapproves of his exotic pet, to a sad sack realizing no one loves him but his own mother…and she’s probably lying about that.
This sort of fun and levity could be balanced by a sometimes serious and thoughtful topic, but even in those, there’s something uplifting about the conversation he has with Lucille: he sings a song, she plays a response. And always, there’s that hook that engages your ear.
But those are our favorites. The Czar wants to find a piece for youmaybe one nobody remembersthat encapsulates the sheer essence of his abilities, if you’re a newcomer aware of his legacy but not his work. And maybe this is it, where he lets Lucille explain it:
Listen to the great time he’s having there. B.B. King’s death is a loss that is being felt by classical musicians down to rubadub garage acts, and everyone in between. Despite that loss, his music remains sheer joy.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.