The Thrill is Gone: See B.B. King Play in Two Electric Live Performances

One of the last great Mis­sis­sip­pi blues­men, Riley B. King, is gone, passed away last night at the age of 89. King made per­haps the most suc­cess­ful crossover of any blues artist into main­stream rock and roll, record­ing with Clap­ton and play­ing for rock audi­ences for decades. But his sound remained root­ed firm­ly in the very blues he cut his teeth on in the fields of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta and in Mem­phis, where he hitch­hiked at 22, with $3 in his pock­et, and quick­ly became a hit as a song­writer and D.J. called the Beale Street Blues Boy—B.B. for short. He “was paid four cents,” writes Buz­zfeed, “for every album he made.”

“By his 80th birth­day,” writes The New York Times, “he was a mil­lion­aire many times over. He owned a man­sion in Las Vegas, a clos­et full of embroi­dered tuxe­does and smok­ing jack­ets, a chain of nightclubs…and the per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al sat­is­fac­tion of hav­ing endured.” King’s sig­na­ture gui­tars, cus­tomized Gib­son 355s he named Lucille, are as ele­gant and styl­ish as the man him­self. I once stood in front of one of them in a glass case at the Stax muse­um in Mem­phis, star­ing in awe, exam­in­ing the places where his hands had worn into the wood, try­ing to absorb a lit­tle of the mag­ic. King’s sto­ry is one of suc­cess far beyond what most of his peers could imag­ine. But it is also one of pro­found ded­i­ca­tion to the blues, and of over­com­ing racism, pover­ty, and pain—suffering he chan­neled into his music and nev­er lost sight of through the wealth and fame.

Well-deserved trib­utes from fans and fel­low musi­cians are every­where today—to King’s per­son­al warmth and charm, to his impas­sioned singing, and, of course, his incred­i­bly expres­sive vibra­to gui­tar play­ing. “The tone he got out of that gui­tar, the way he shook his left wrist, the way he squeezed the strings,” says gui­tarist Bud­dy Guy, “… man, he came out with that and it was all new to the whole gui­tar playin’ world. The way BB did it is the way we all do it now. He was my friend and father to us all.” See and hear B.B. do it above in live per­for­mances of “The Thrill is Gone” and “Blues Boys Tune.” And just above, see him play and tell his sto­ry in a short 1972 doc­u­men­tary called “Sound­ing Out.” It may be too late now to see the great man per­form live, but it’s nev­er to late to learn about his lega­cy as the undis­put­ed “king of the blues.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

B.B. King Explains in an Ani­mat­ed Video Whether You Need to Endure Hard­ship to Play the Blues

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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