May 14, 2016 will mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of B.B. King–more commonly known as The King of Blues. It seems impossible to think that we now live in a world he no longer shares. I’d like to post a few words to remember him.
Succeeding in the music business is hard enough to begin with, but to succeed in a field like the blues is three times as hard, as it gets nowhere near the exposure of mainstream music. So for B.B. King to hit the level of success he did is truly amazing. Make no mistake, though: He earned it, every step of the way. The son of sharecroppers, he was absolute proof that you can achieve your goals with hard work and dedication to your craft. I always like to use this as a measure of putting his name and success to the test: Stop anyone on the street, just a casual music listener, and ask them who the king of rock and roll is. It’s a pretty safe bet they will say Elvis Presley. Ask that same person who the king of rock and roll is (or to name any blues artist), and it’s also safe to say they will answer B.B. King. He is–hands down–the biggest name to ever be associated with the blues.
I spent two years on the road with B.B. as a kid. I followed him from city to city, witnessing over 287 live shows. He and his then-manager Sidney Seidenberg were always extremely gracious and accommodating to me. I often reflect on those times now, and I’m so grateful that they both welcomed a kid into their world. I had a million questions and was as curious as could be, yet B.B. and Sidney always had time for me, and went out of their way to give me gifts such as albums, guitar picks and set lists that I will always treasure.
I wrote a tribute to B.B., speaking about my days with him in a BG article last year, and then as well as now it always amazed me to see how humble the man was. Complete strangers constantly praised him and asked for autographs. He would always thank them. I saw him come off stage exhausted many times, yet he never turned anyone away that asked him to sign something, often spending time with fans until the sun came up.
Even though B.B. is gone, it’s great to witness all that he left behind here on earth. His musical contributions are far too long to list here. Beyond the blues, every genre of music owes him a huge debt, as he changed everything we know about music. For guitar players, 1000 years from now people will speak of someone over-playing, and say, “B.B. King said more with one note.”
More importantly, though, as I had the honor of witnessing first-hand, B.B. wrote the book on how musicians should conduct themselves. He told me, time and again, how important it was to him to give the people all they paid to see and more. For that reason, he never showed up late or drunk to a gig, and he always showed his appreciation for all who supported him, right down to introducing his band members each night. He also treated his crew and staff like family. I saw many examples of people who worked for him forgetting to do things, or not having things quite how they were supposed to be, and B.B. always told them not to worry about it. As long as they did the best they could, he understood that accidents happen.
Never forget what B.B. King gave to us. If any of you were lucky enough to see him perform live, you witnessed a true musical giant, and you have something to brag about for the rest of your life. Thank you B.B., for the music, and for showing the world that a giant can also be a humble, gracious, and down-to-earth human being. We’ll never forget you.