In 1990 blues music had gone, well, it had gone the way of R&B music right now. A pure relic of a musical past that the youth had a very hard time connecting with. We were just finding our voice in this 10 year old art form known as rap which, at that time, was still all about goodtimes and partying. We didn’t have any time for this slow dragging music where men and sometimes women whined about there women leaving them or their dog dying. Unless you were old enough to have seen “The Blues Brothers” you had no idea what the blues was about (maybe not even then.) And then BB King appeared on The Cosby Show.
The moment that young Bud (ok Kenny) sang with BB King a whole generation learned what the blues really was. Or as my sister put it “To our generation BB King WAS the Blues.” And he was. He became the image that we saw of a man take command of a stage with just a mic and a guitar. He reminded us of our grandfathers and uncles. Of sneaking downstairs during dominoes parties and smack talking. He was the side of a generation that we longed to see but weren’t allowed to see. Of stories we wanted to connect with but weren’t allowed to hear.
Mr King came from a tradition of great musicians and musical pioneers. Bluesmen like Muddy Watters, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Etta James and Coko Taylor were just some of the men and women that made this music that is so inextricably tied to African-American history and folklore. However on that day BB and his trusty guitar Lucille became permanently fixed on our young minds as the man that tied our current feelings of longing, loss and hurt to this music that we really didn’t know anything about but expressed those feelings perfectly. Not just because he was on The Cosby Show but because in that appearance we learned so much about the history of the music. Some of our parents chose not to talk about their hard experiences growing up in the 60’s or even as far back as the Jim Crow south. What Mr King did was tell his story and how he used music to tell those stories. And we learned that the experiences and inspirations of bluesmen were not so different from our own. We learned how the blues expressed those deep feelings of longing or regret that many times we lock away in order to party. We also learned that an instrument is not just a functional part of the music but it has its own way of telling the story all it’s own. Lucille was an integral part of BB’s storytelling. And man could he make her sing!
BB King died yesterday n Las Vegas at 89. Today we mourn the loss of a pure american storyteller at a time where we are running short of them in the and of music. At a time when so many would be guitar players have never even seen one in real life. I hope that somewhere someone has been inspired to learn more about who BB King was, about the rich history that he documented through his music and about that music we know as the Blues. I honor you Mr King. It was a joy to watch you get lost in your music. It was a joy to bear witness to your song.