B.B. King 1925-2015: The Thrill is Gone Away

The thrill is gone
It’s gone away from me
The thrill is gone baby
The thrill is gone away from me
Although, I’ll still live on
But so lonely I’ll be

bb-king-4f29a930893b7B.B. King died on May 14th in Las Vegas, but he will live on. The lonely crowd will be us, his fans who wrapped our ears around his world whenever we felt the force of life beating us down to our knees. King redefined the blues and departs this world as the king. Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters may hold a few of the keys to the castle, but it’s King’s face on the front of the building.

Maybe it was the way he played the guitar, sitting in a chair, at the center of the stage, well into his 80’s. He played it so well and so honestly that one would think he was born with a guitar strumming around the crib. Maybe it was the way he sung the blues and made us feel the impact in our souls that he seem to be feeling deep in his bones as he belted out the tunes.

I remember seeing King play live in the late 1990’s at the Fox Theater with my friend Josh Brown. He got two tickets to a Blues festival, and all the greats came out to play so we went. Guy, Susan Tedeschi and B.B. King. The ones that took the stage before him were honorable and dynamic, but what they did paled in comparison to the show King put on. He only played for 45 minutes, but he sunk his soul into those songs. King was a musician who truly connected with his audience. He didn’t need a seven piece orchestra, a skin tight outfit, a trio of singers to help him out either. King could blow you away all by himself. He was old school. A relic from the past that wouldn’t die. One that kept getting stronger.

It’s all there in the tune everybody knows him by.

You know I’m free, free now baby
I’m free from your spell
Oh I’m free, free, free now
I’m free from your spell
And now that it’s all over
All I can do is wish you well

That’s King telling us that he feels no pain and while he is gone, he will still be in our heads when the song comes on. It’s a tune that I can listen to when I’m mad, happy, upset, hurt, beat up or sad. I listen to it when I run or when I am sitting with a cup of coffee. It’ll be as powerful when my son Vincent hears it for the first time as it was when I heard it as a kid and was dying for more.

A common thing to do these days is ask someone who their favorite band is or present two bands and ask you which one is better. They don’t get it. You can’t make someone choose between two different bands or try to make a voice seem as pure to someone else as it is to you. Music is personal. It owns a piece of your soul and is part of your life. When I hear a song, it takes me back to that first time it traveled through me or when I really needed it. Someone else can’t hear that and easily connect. Music is like the movies. An artform that’s painfully personal and direct.

B.B. King never let the weight of his work overwhelm his basic goal and that was to keep playing the blues. Somewhere up there, if they have a sturdy stool, a good black suit and white shirt with a bowtie to go with a wise yet game guitar, King will keep playing. I don’t believe in a life after death, but there are exceptions.

I think my grandmother Meme is up there watching 60 minutes, sipping dry red wine and talking people’s ears off. I think my late friend Troy is watching the Cardinals. I also think B.B. King is still playing the guitar.

The thrill may be gone from our world, but it’s resting easy in another place right now. It’s not gone far away at all. King’s true power and legacy are in the songs he left us. Give them a listen. Lean back. Get comfortable. Close your eyes and get lost in the Blues.

Take it from the man himself.

Everybody wants to know
Why I sing the blues
Yes, I say everybody wanna know
Why I sing the blues
Well, I’ve been around a long time
I really have paid my dues

You surely have, sir. Now rest in peace.

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