B.B. King, born with the name Riley B. King, died on May 14, 2015 after succumbing to problems from Type II diabetes. In the last few months, B.B. had a minor heart attack, dehydration and mini-strokes. It is believed that the strokes were the cause of death. B.B. died in his sleep but probably would have quipped he wouldn't mind dying at the hands of a jealous lover.
One of his famous quotes is, "When I eventually drop, I pray to God that it'll happen in one of three ways: Firstly, on stage or leaving the stage, then secondly in my sleep. And the third way? You'll have to figure that out for yourself! "
B.B. had stopped performing after October 2014 because of exhaustion and dehydration. His Type II diabetes had finally put a stop to his long, illustrious career. During his career he had influenced so many musicians, many of whom weren't even considered blues artists. They all came out to pay tribute to B.B. in the last few days, including Eric Clapton, Warren Haynes, Ringo Starr, Gladys Knight, and Lenny Kravitz. President Obama praised B.B. King, stating that "The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend."
B.B.'s influence on musicians speaks for itself. He brought back the blues when it was waning in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. He would play his beloved guitar, which he named Lucille, and you'd know it was B.B. without seeing who was playing because of the unique sound he made. Since his rise to fame, he influenced musicians such as The Allman Brothers and The Rolling Stones, whose rock and roll is blues-based. Mick Jagger called B.B. the best blues guitarist ever. B.B. also influenced Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Bono and so many others. The breadth of his influence is incalculable.
B.B. was nominated for 30 Grammys and won 15 of them. He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was consistently in the top ten list of all-time best guitarists and usually in the top five. He had a star on Hollywood Boulevard. He received other honors, including one from the Kennedy Center in 1995.
Some reports indicate that B.B. had fifteen children, while most reports indicate he had eleven children. Regardless, B.B. enjoyed life. He was always joking around on stage. This writer saw him in concert in 2009. He was sitting down and played an occasional lick while his band covered for him. He was still able to play with the same quality he always did, just not with the same energy he had when he was younger. He loved telling jokes on stage and you can bet that almost every one of them was dirty. He loved the audience's reaction to his humor.
B.B. seemed to accept that he had changed from a skinny kid to a hefty adult although the diabetes had a lot to do with that. Still, on stage, while he sat, played and quipped, he showed off his girth by dancing in his seat to the delight of the audience. He had an ear-grinning smile after he did that. It was obvious he loved being on stage even in his eighties.
If you had a chance to see and hear singers in concert who are now in their seventies or eighties, most of them would disappoint you. Usually their voices aren't what they used to be. Take Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, for example. The 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live showed that they both had vocal trouble and needed all the microphone help they could get. Paul McCartney had vocal trouble back in 2010 at the London summer Olympics. Not B.B. He was in his eighties and he could still sing and he could still play. There should be no doubt that had he lived into his nineties, he'd still be playing and singing as long as he was physically able.
B.B. is quoted with saying, "The blues was bleeding the same blood as me." He left us videos of his concerts and such legendary songs as "The Thrill is Gone," which was actually a cover but he made it his own. "Paying the Cost to be the Boss," "Lucille," "Everyday I Have the Blues," "When Love Comes to Town" and "Riding With the King" with Eric Clapton are just a few of the great songs he left us.
B.B. will be missed by musicians and music lovers, not just blues lovers. He was an who appealed to all kinds of music lovers and his personality was infectious. There have been many blues greats but B.B. appealed to everyone. The King is gone and deserves every accolade he gets. His fans have a treasure trove of his music so he'll never really be gone. I'd like to think he's playing with Stevie Ray somewhere. There was a mutual respect between them, not to mention talent that few could match.