The Thrill Has Gone

The Blues Boy is gone. And with him the second generation of bluesmen; the guys who came north, most from Mississippi, after the original acoustic Delta blues cats like Son House, Skip James and Robert Johnson had seen their time in the spotlight fade. For this younger generation, electricity was the calling card. Microphones and electric guitars their weapons. As it must, time marches on and the crew that included Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, one that changed blues, rock ‘n’ roll and really all of popular music forever, has now gone into that good night as Riley B.King died at his home in Las Vegas last night at the age of 89.

It’s hard to exaggerate anything about a man who lived so long and accomplished so much. What made him so special besides his famous guitar, Lucille, his unequaled showmanship that brought the blues to millions and his long, single note leads that gave new meaning to the word “stinging,” is his massive discography which, leaving out a multitude of compilations and licensing projects, numbers over 80 albums. A consummate performer who was a great player, very good singer, and very funny when he wanted to be, King’s most important recordings were invariably live albums, two of which bookend his most productive period, Live at the Regal in 1965 and Live in Cook County Jail in 1971. Yet B.B.’s studio records during that same period have their moments as well, especially his output on Bluesway/ABC Records. Albums like Live & Well and Completely Well are both classics as is the record pictured above Indianola Mississippi Seeds. Although his later recordings never quite reached those heights again, he had several late career highlights including his 1999 heartfelt tribute to the great Louis Jordon, Let The Good Times Roll: the Music of Louis Jordan and what would prove to be his last studio album, the 2008 T Bone Burnett- produced One Kind Favor.

Also late in life, King became a television pitch man of some renown and also attached his name to a string of music-themed restaurants in Nashville, Memphis, Orlando and New York. Located on 42nd street just off Times Square, the New York club, which is also a music venue, is a giant tourist trap. Although it has hosted many a great show by the likes of James Brown and Chuck Berry, it’s probably most famous for booking goofy tribute bands of every size, shape and color and having some of the most overpriced food and drink in all of Times Square which given that location is no mean feat. I always thought the man deserved better.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

I saw him live more than once & reviewed him for the college paper. He was better live than on record, which is the way it should be. Recommend Live at the Regal and Blues is King (also live) as hommage to what he really was & sounded like, both recorded in front of a black audience, which interacts actively with the music, just as it does in church. Thrill is Gone is to BB what Satisfaction is to the Stones, just the mass hit, far from the best. BB was the Ambassador of the Blues, a very cool gentleman.

PS. Whites and the white media tend to focus on his guitar, which is a mistake. He was a singer first, with guitar accompaniment.

dalethorn's picture

The show he and Bobby Bland did for PBS TV in the 1970's was hugely influential for me, as they explored many topics familiar to bluesmen. At times hilarious, poignant, sorrowful - a blues tour de force.

Allen Fant's picture

Great! clip -RB.

drblank's picture

BB King, Albert King, and Albert Collins at Fillmore West in 1969. I had just turned 10. I was attending a summer school class and the class was teaching us how to make "light shows" and movies. It was a "arts" based summer school. Very progressive at the time. The teacher got us tickets and we stood around watching the group of people creating those psychedelic light shows so we could see, first hand, how the pros were doing it.

I remember standing on line with the rest of the group of kids and the teacher waiting to get in and I was asked by someone passing by the people in line if anyone wanted to buy some acid or lids.

Catch22's picture

Next to SRV, I've seen B.B. King more than any other artist. What a class act, he was.

olc's picture

Growing up in Chicago in the late 50s&60s, I had the opportunity to see the blues greats in their element. I saw them in the south or west side's blues clubs where my friends and I were met with curiosity (and friendliness), likely being the only Caucasians in a mile radius. BB was an exception even then, not so much for the ethnicity of his audience, but because he could attract an audience big enough to appear at The Regal Theater rather than a club. All the blues-men I saw in those days (and it was 2-3 times a week, I couldn't get enough), BB was the most unique, a quality he kept, at least for me, for close to 60 years. There is a sound and feel to his work that no one else has come close to, not even his good friend Buddy Guy, the very last of the blues heroes of my long ago youth.