December 15, 2006


Blues in the White House (MATTHEW OSHINSKY, December 15, 2006, NY Sun)

It couldn't have been easy to learn how to play electric guitar growing up in a town with no electricity, but by the time Mr. King reached Chicago via Indianola, Miss., to play the Regal Theater in November 1964, he had spent 39 years mastering the instrument. Taking the stage that night with more than 20 charted singles under his portly belt and a veritable army of women dangling from the balconies, one might say he had pulled it off. The live album that came out of that performance, "Live at the Regal," was a breathtaking slice of urban blues and helped introduce the guitarist to the American mainstream.

Between 1951 and 1985, Mr. King notched an incredible 74 songs on Billboard's R&B charts.

Along the way, Mr. King played as large a role as any figure in the development of rock 'n' roll and the integration of blues music as an art form. At first, his brilliantly original style of soloing over blues chords found followers in future blues stars like Buddy Guy, Albert King, and Luther Allison, all of whom drew their own careers from Mr. King's blueprint. But perhaps even more important, especially to the popular music revolution of the 1950s and '60s, white guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Johnny Winter, and Stevie Ray Vaughan — all legends in their own right — might never have picked up their signature instruments if not for B.B. King.

Today, at age 81, Mr. King continues to tour the country relentlessly, as he has done for more than half his life. Last April, at his eponymous club on 42nd Street in Manhattan, he played the 10,000th concert of his career.

Could, of course, be apocryphal, but the story I've read is that his first "guitar" consisted of stringing chicken wire across nails on the side of the shack he grew up in. And, like seemingly every great blues player ever, his first real one was a Stella, because you could order them from the Sears catalogue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2006 7:38 AM
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