Listening to Lucille
By now, you've no doubt read and heard a lot about the passing of B.B. King, but I'd like to add my own personal take on it.
B.B.'s playing, on his legendary guitar Lucille, had a huge influence on me as a young guitarist. From his melodic and lyrical note choices to his incredible tone and vibrato — including those high tonic notes he'd jump up to — his style was unique and iconic.
The last time I saw him live — probably about three or four years ago at the club named for him in New York City — it was kind of sad. He barely played his guitar. He just sat on a stool and sang, letting the other guitarist in his band play the solos (which couldn't hold a candle to B.B. at his peak). Once and a while B.B. would play a note or two, but you could tell he was winding down.
But in his prime, there was no better pure blues guitarist on the planet. He was also a superb singer, and a showman in a very old-school and distinguished way. B.B. made his band wear suits onstage. They would precede him onto the bandstand at the beginning of the show, and then he'd come onstage with the music playing, the spotlight shining, and Lucille in his hands.
When I was growing up, I listened to his Live at Cook County Jail album over and over and over. He was on top of his game, playing one perfect solo after another. He wasn't flashy or fast, but he was about as tasteful a guitarist as you'll ever hear. Listening to him taught me about the economy of notes, the importance of phrasing and the impact of being melodic. He was living proof that you don't have to be a speed demon to be a great soloist. He had a knack for always hitting just the right notes.
B.B. influenced not only blues guitarists, but rock players, as well. He had an remarkably long career, and left a legacy of recordings that guitarists and music fans will appreciate always. Thank you, B.B.
Have a great week.
U.S. Editor, Audiofanzine