America (and the world) has lost one of the greatest…if not the greatest…blues musicians of all time. But she hasn’t lost his soul.
I had the privilege of seeing BB King at the former Deer Creek Pavilion in Indianapolis just about 15 years ago. As I recall, it was 10 days before he was to play at Madison Square Garden for his 75th birthday. We were in the third row center initially, then at the edge of the stage very early in the show.
BB was joined by the greats of Susan Tedeschi and Buddy Guy – an incomparable trio that far exceeded the value of whatever the ticket price back then.
Susan Tedeschi was amazing that night, as she almost seemed to channel Joplin as she wailed on “Rock Me Right”. And it goes without saying that Buddy Guy was phenominal in everything he did. But, in all they did and despite their excellence – including Buddy’s five to six minute solo down in the aisle just feet from us – they were secondary to the King and his Lucille.
By that time, BB was sitting in a chair for most of his performances. And yet, he didn’t have to stand in order to own the pavilion.
Every note imparted emotion. Every lyric reflected a mood, a memory, or a message. Watching and listening as he played was a spiritual experience.
If you haven’t read BB’s book, you should. It’s the story of the true American dream – moving from the deepest depths of poverty as a peasant farmer making $2.50 per month to a decades-long reign as King of the Blues the world over. His success was a product of a commitment to his message, his pursuit of his passion and God-given talent, and his relentless unwillingness to quit. We should all be so determined.
To have risen from the beginnings he endured and achieved all that he achieved…at that time in our nation’s history…is truly remarkable.
And yet, the beauty of his legacy is that the thrill of his human manifestation may be gone, but the thrill of his spirit endures in his music forever – and comes to life with a fervent vengeance each time we press “play”.
I hope you’ll take a moment to press “play” and enjoy this link – one of many performances representative of his broad influence.
Keep it lit, y’all…