Now that the legendary bluesman B.B. King has died at 89, many prominent figures have weighed in with tributes, especially his fellow musicians. But few captured King’s outlook on his life -- from hardscrabble rural upbringing to the world’s finest stages for 300 shows a year -- as succinctly as the man himself.
“When I do eventually drop, I pray to God that it’ll happen in one of three ways,” he told the Guardian. "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...!”
PHOTOS: B.B. King | Life in Pictures
In a career-spanning interview, he told Esquire that for all his deep knowledge and skill at blues guitar, his favorite song was actually a Willie Nelson tune.
“‘Always on My Mind,’ the Willie Nelson version,” he said. “If I could sing it like he do, I would sing it every night. I like the story it tells. It go, I may not have written you -- he’s talking about a lady -- when maybe I should have. Or maybe I didn’t take you to dinner, didn’t call you when I should have, or didn’t love you as I should have. But you was always on my mind. I felt that way a lot in my life. I think every person feels it.... Don’t matter if you’re gay or straight, black or white, you still have the same problem. It’s love. It’s universal.”
And he had a rare skill in taking the specifics of his form and using them to translate those big, universal feelings, As he said in his 1996 autobiography “Blues All Around Me,” co-written with author David Ritz, “I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions.”
Other artists proved that his aim was true in that regard.
“You gone but you ain’t forgotten, we love you baby,” said Snoop Dogg, in one of a series of videos he posted in which he listened to King classics, including “The Thrill Is Gone,” and smoked weed. “True Legend.”
Gladys Knight, a King collaborator, said, “What a brilliant man you were. One who will forever be noted as such an inspiration to millions globally, RIP.” “BB, anyone could play a thousand notes and never say what you said in one,” wrote singer-guitarist Lenny Kravitz.
“I had a beautiful dream in 1995,” Cat Power wrote on her Instagram. She’s long been influenced by blues vocalists and classic soul, particularly on her 2006 album “The Greatest.” “I will never forget. BB King asked me to come on stage to sing ‘KING BEE’ with him (a muddy waters song- find it on, my favorite, the first Rolling Stones record) and when we were done he waved John Lee Hooker out to the red lit stage & BB played lead while John played rhythm, John asked me what song, I said “Maudie”, and we all smiled and I sang with John & BB kept up them rolling solos... RIP BB.”
And perhaps most insightful, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson noted correctly that it’s a “curious fact that any time we lose a person who sings the Blues, as we just did in #BBKing, the World becomes a sadder place.”