BB King/RIP/King Of The Blues

Photo of BB King performing live onstage,  (David Redfern/Redferns)
Photo of BB King performing live onstage, (David Redfern/Redferns)

I was saddened by the news of the great blues guitarist BB King’s passing recently in his sleep at the age of 89…I had the privilege of seeing BB King literally dozens of times in his prime….He was a featured performer at both Bill Grahams Fillmore Auditorium and Chet Helms the Avalon Ballroom, and in the Summer of Love era ALL the bands played 2 full, complete sets every night, so it was like a double shot of the blues every time he appeared on stage to an always rapt and appreciative audience…

BB King played songs in the old Southern delta blues style, and he always sang and played impeccably about a long past bygone era, one of smoky small crowded clubs, deep in the South, the so called “chitin’s circuit” before mostly all black audiences….But even after he gained prominence, you could still feel, almost hear, the sounds of noisy ice tinkling in the glasses of small Southern nightclubs and animated conversation, the heat of a crowded small club on a Saturday night, the raw energy of the audience… But when he got going the attention was always on him…His music was evocative, powerful and compelling, he drew you into his music…

He had this unique way of seeming to make his guitar “talk,” almost like Peter Frampton, but without any gimmicky techno equipment, just the power of his playing while he was singing….His face was so expressive while he bent the strings of his guitar solos on long extended jams you would swear the guitar was talking…He had large fingers but he always nailed each and every note precisely, firmly, and with a definite power that mesmerized me, and everybody else in the audience that was privileged to hear him…

He sang songs about the blues, love and betrayal and revenge and heartbreak, all the things that he himself experienced as he traveled throughout the country with his beloved guitar “Lucille”….BB King stayed true to the blues format, while many of his contemporaries and close friends like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino shrewdly adapted their styles to the new music called rock and roll….

BB King was content to play the music he was most comfortable with his entire career, he was a blues master, and his influence was profound….Once discovered, he had a string of R & B hits in the 1950’s and this exposure further heightened his popularity to a legion of aspiring up and coming rock musicians….

He was idolized by the 1960’s British invasion, people like Eric Clapton especially, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and dozens of other popular British musicians were hypnotized by his soulful blues picking…Clapton was so powerfully influenced by King’s relaxed, but deeply emotional and deeply felt, style that in 2000 he recorded a blues album with King titled Riding With The King. It was a homage from a musician fans had called “God” to a real blues god. Eric Clapton always idolized BB King….

A new generation of musicians embraced King when U2’s Bono wrote When Love Comes To Town and not only featured King on the album 1988 album Rattle and Hum, but actually toured the world with him. It brought King to a new audience when it reached No.2 on the US pop and rock charts.

He also had a top ten hit with “The Thrill Is Gone, ” but his strongest influence was in the legions of all the new young blues guitarists all over the world….American musicians like Mike Bloomfield, Steve Miller and Stevie Ray Vaughn were also heavily influenced by BB King, and to see him live and in person like I did so many times I now realize for the unique privilege it was….

BB King was able to play the blues so well because he truly lived them, he was a man of his time, and he always remained faithful to himself…. He had the unique ability, like all great artists, he was able to encapsulate the experience of an entire generation in his powerfully emotional, technically perfect, rhythmically rocking style of playing…..

There will never be another BB King because he was a true original, a trend setter, not a trend follower although he was always willing to share his knowledge and discuss guitar playing with any musician who cared to talk with him; he had “conversations” with a very young Jimi Hendrix, for example, but he also affably and enthusiastically jammed with almost every prominent musician of his era….

Besides seeing him in concert so many times, I have one indelible memory of BB King from the 1960’s….One time I was riding the 22 Fillmore bus in San Francisco through what was then a black ghetto and I looked around the bus and sitting near the back, I actually SAW BB King, right there on the bus on some personal business! He did not have his guitar Lucille with him and BB was always a very stylish dresser, dressed to the nines with thick rings on his fingers….

I saw him, and he saw me, but I was too much in awe to say a word to him, I think he was just trying to blend in anyway and I wouldn’t dare risk making a fuss and disturbing his anonymity….After all, he was the King!


Where Have All The Good Times Gone/A Nostalgic Look Back at 60’s Music

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, and the older you get the more you tend to be nostalgic, because you simply have more things to be nostalgic about….My baby boomer core audience, because I am one with you, know exactly what I mean… I was born in the first wave of baby boomers so I know that what I personally miss the most is the incredible live music of the late 1960’s….

But I am sure we all, in our own way, wax nostalgic for many things from our youths…..Nostalgia is defined by my Google resources as: “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” So many things have changed in the last 40 years since we baby boomers were coming of age, and the world we grew up in and the world we live in today are infinitely different….And yet, the world of today has been in so many ways, shaped, molded and influenced by the musical revolution of the late 1960’s….

Astute readers with a musical flair will note that part of my title refers to an old Kinks song, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”… The Kinks were an English band, part of the musical “British Invasion” of the 1960’s, spearheaded by the Beatles….Younger readers may have heard the Van Halen copy, as Eddie Van Halen must have grown up listening to the Kinks, they also did a cover version of “You Really Got Me,” another inspired song by Ray Davies of the Kinks….

I actually saw the Kinks once, in the now long defunct “Playland at The Beach” auditorium in San Francisco in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, to tell the truth, it’s all a little fuzzy now, but then living in San Francisco during the “Summer of Love” I was at ground zero for most of the the musical cultural explosion that rocked our world, blew our minds, and changed our society forever…

Back in those good old days, concert tickets were a modest $2-$3 per show in San Francisco, so even living as a hippie without any real job I was able to scrounge up enough money every weekend to see nearly every major band of the time as they all passed through San Francisco, the mecca of the social and cultural revolution that was sweeping our country in the late 1960’s…

I am not just blowing smoke here, although i seem to recall i blew a lot of smoke back in those days!… My wife and I saw almost every famous band of that golden era, a musical cornucopia that still evokes strong and potent feelings of nostalgia in me…

Leading the pack in 1967 were of course the great San Francisco bands, The Grateful Dead, with Jerry Garcia on lead guitar playing incredibly long, spiraling virtuoso guitar solos that took you to never-never land, the Jefferson Airplane (before they became the Jefferson Starship) with a young, vibrant Grace Slick pulling “White Rabbits” out of her hat…

The unforgettable raspy, gravel voiced, down to earth, gritty blues styling of Janis Joplin, with “Big Brother and The Holding Company,” begging us to “Take Another Piece of my Heart, the “Quicksilver Messenger Service” who were a staple on the local concert scene…. Their most popular song live in concert  was always a  cover of the Bo Didley smash hit “Who Do You Love?”…I tell you, if you were not here then you missed so much great music…These were the staple bands back then in San Francisco, and I saw them all countless times….

And the ironic thing was, we took it all for granted at the time, we thought the shows would never end…I remember legendary rock promoter Bill Graham was outraged at that damn LA band “The Doors” asking for $10,000 for a concert, an unheard of price at the time….Bill grumbled, but he sold so many tickets they had to move the concert from the local musical shrine, the Fillmore Auditorium to the much bigger and nearby Winterland, a former ice skating rink….

So we all got to see the lizard king Jim Morrison strut his stuff in all his youthful glory in December 1967, with his skintight black leather pants and white ruffly pirate shirt unbuttoned to his waist as they belted out songs from their first album, including “Light my Fire” and “When the Music’s Over”….

We saw Jimi Hendrix play at Winterland too, this was in October 1968 when he was recording his famous double album “Electric Ladyland,” with Hendrix unforgettable extended version of Voodoo Chile”…Jimi, always at ease with his audience, exhorted the crowd to make a lot of noise, because it was a live recording, and nobody knew whose voices would end up as background noise on the finished album project….

I remember seeing Eric Clapton on his first American tour, indelibly etched on my consciousness, with his mind blowing psychedelic painted guitar and little Dutch boy wooden shoes, belting out “Sunshine of Your Love” with Cream in September 1967, “Live at the Fillmore” and the Who with the manic Keith Moon on drums playing “My Generation” as only he could do…..

The list of musical performers is virtually endless, and like the old saying goes, “If you were really there in the 1960’s you probably don’t remember it!” But these bands still jump out of my consciousness, as if it was only yesterday, and in many ways, the important ways, it WAS only yesterday….

Oh, and one other thing modern audiences would have a hard time grasping…. That the great promoters and impresarios like Bill Graham and Chet Helms from the “Family Dog,” who started out in the Avalon Ballroom, would astutely package what would be today 2-3 headliners in each show for that expensive $2-$3 ticket! That’s right, each band would perform not one, but TWO full sets of music each and every concert….We just laid back and took it all in….We took it all for granted, it was our birthright…

Talk about musical nostalgia! The late 1960’s were the epicenter of the musical cultural revolution, the music that changed the world we live in even today, and if you were there, you know what I am talking about….And if you weren’t here in San Francisco in the Summer of Love, I am sure there were other stops these incredible bands made on their tours all over America, hopefully in your area …But for me, I personally saw and listened to them right here in awe and sheer, unadulterated enjoyment….

That is the point, for me, I WAS here, and the musical nostalgia these bands and performances evoked have left a long and lasting, permanent imprint on my mind, my heart, and my soul….Yes, I definitely still feel thrills and nostalgia for all these musical extravaganzas I personally witnessed, and my one wish is that “When the Music’s Over, Turn Out the Lights!”