How many generations of guitarists have come and gone since B.B. King emerged on the Beale Street blues scene in the late 1940s?
60s blues-rock giants, 70s hard rockers, 80s metal shredders… at least two generations between B.B. and Slash, who is probably himself a guitar grandfather by now. Whether they know it or not, every rock and blues player descends from the Kings of the blues (B.B., Albert, Freddie, and guitarists who bore the title but not the surname). Slash knows it well.
We have three generations of guitar greats, and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, joining an 86-year-old King in the live performance above from 2011 at Royal Albert Hall with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood, and Slash, who sits next to the great man and lends him his top hat for a few bars.
The Guns n Roses lead guitarist named B.B. his favorite bluesman when King died in 2015 and put “The Thrill is Gone” in an ultimate guitar mix he compiled for Q magazine in 2004. At the live jam session above, he gets to play it with his hero, “the only hit I ever had,” says King by way of self-deprecating introduction.
Slash keeps a low profile, fitting himself into the mix of six guitars onstage (see the longer jam session further up). Another guitarist, John Mayer, maybe three generations of players removed from King, got to spread out a bit more in his jam with B.B. at the Guitar Center King of the Blues event in 2006. “It’s like stealing something from someone right in front of them,” he says. It’s a good joke, and it’s the truth.
Musicians have been following in B.B. King’s wake for over 60 years now. The best learn the same humbling lesson U2’s Bono did after his 1988 duet with King on “When Love Comes to Town” — “We had learned and absorbed, but the more we tried to be like B.B., the less convincing we were.” See more of King and Mayer just below.
B.B. King Plays Live at Sing Sing Prison in One of His Greatest Performances (1972)
B.B. King Explains in an Animated Video Whether You Need to Endure Hardship to Play the Blues
How B.B. King & Stevie Ray Vaughan Dealt With Breaking Strings Onstage Mid-Song: A Masterclass in Handling Onstage Mishaps
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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