Whether it’s history (“When I first got the blues, They brought me over on a ship. Men were standing over me, and a lot more with a whip”), contemporary issues in the world (“I’ve laid in a ghetto flat, cold and numb. I heard the rats tell the bedbugs, to give the roaches some”) or problems with your girl (“You’re evil when I’m with you … and you’re jealous when we’re apart”), no genre of music conveys the message like the blues.
I guess that’s what my pops instilled in me at an early age inadvertently. Lyrical dexterity is not needed as long as you’re direct and to the point. Music for and by the common man, with an emphasis on feel.
Hearing of the passing of one of the greatest musicians ever and one of my father’s favorites, the memories came back so vividly.
He was off work on Fridays, and he had a ritual with the stereo, the one that had a record changer arm that dropped a new record as the previous album came to an end, beginning early in the morning. Three LPs were loaded up and while the middle record was interchangeable, the first and the last were blues sides. By the time the third disc began, his electric guitar was out as he tried to mimic what was coming out of the speakers.
Pop promised that when he got an amplifier, he’d teach me to play the guitar so that I can sound like that dude on the record. That was the first of the two clear lessons he passed along. That dude on the record, playing the songs “Sweet Sixteen” and “Lucille,” that was B.B. King. In his hands, his instrument, a guitar dubbed Lucille, was no longer an inanimate object. The two were like a ventriloquist act. When she spoke, you didn’t see King’s lips move. She had a personality and spirit all her own, and King loved her for it.
That love was officially shored in the winter of 1949, when King was performing in a club in Twist, Ark. A brawl led to a fire that led to the building going up in flames. He made it out of the building, but once he realized his guitar was still inside, he was inclined to go back and retrieve it.
“So the next morning, we found out that these two guys who were fighting were fighting about a lady that worked in the little dance hall,” King explained. “We learned that her name was Lucille. So I named the guitar Lucille to remind me to never do a thing like that again.” King subsequently named every guitar he played Lucille.
Although separating King and Lucille into two separate entities was one of the first brilliant marketing moves the guitar manufacturing industry has seen, it is dwarfed by the genius of King’s playing. As Lenny Kravitz wrote on Twitter, “B.B., anyone could play a thousand notes and never say what you said in one.”
Instead of getting an amplifier for his guitar and teaching me to play, Pop helped me get my own amplifier to go with my two Technics SL-B1 and Newark mixers, so I can try to embark on a path to become a player in the blues of my generation. I guess my pop wanted me to aim high.
This weekend, King will be laid to rest. While he was here, though, he definitely paid the cost to be the boss.
RIP, sir. Hopefully you and David Sr. can connect and you can show him a few chords.
Over and out. Holla next week. Until then, enjoy the nightlife.