Hail To The King


BB King is a performer of of magisterial command and authority.

That is today's axiom.

BB was born in Mississippi in 1925. He is a bluesman and a song-writer with several notable performance paradoxes of which I have been thinking about lately.

Paradox 1: He plays a Gibson ES-355 named Lucille. His style is based around bending notes and fast shimmery vibrato through a paper-thin tone. Melody and phrase are always at the center of his improvisational language and this expressive technique has influenced nearly everyone who has played the instrument since.

However, you'll notice that when he is not soloing he never plays.

BB King's musical training did not include learning to play chords. Thus, although he wrote the book on modern blues and thereby rock improvisation, he could not accompany his own playing or singing.

Paradox 2: As just noted, his guitar tone is paper-thin, delicate, and subtle, but in juxtaposition, his vocal style is robust and muscular. BB King demands attention when he sings, and he gets it.

This video is a live concert feed circa 1974. The King is in his prime. You'll notice that he holsters his guitar off to his side while singing, and that while his voice assaults the audience, his guitar tone and phrasing is an intimate listening experience. 

Another of my favorite performance characteristics of the King is that he never stops. His performances are marked by a continuous flow between songs, story telling, and guitar solos. Meanwhile, his band lays down a harmonic and rhythmic pocket that amplifies his own strengths and always bends to his will. That is the band you want to take with you to war (on tour).

Hail to the King. You dig?