OBITUARY: BB King - a true musical pioneer and visionary

B.B. King performing at the 1980 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
B.B. King performing at the 1980 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
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HE was born of an era in which virtuoso and pioneering musicianship was commonplace.

However such was the power and wonder of his guitar playing that BB King was known by fans and peers alike as the King of the Blues.

King, whose death was announced yesterday at the age of 89, was at the forefront of musicians who brought the blues to a mass audience, proving to be a direct inspiration on the likes of Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin.

His lawyer Brent Bryson said the musician, who suffered from diabetes, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas, where he had been receiving hospice care.

His innovative phrasing shaped modern music and his passing was mourned by the world’s leading musicians, as well as two presidents.

Barack Obama said “the blues has lost its king and America has lost a legend”.

Recalling the time he performed an impromptu duet with the star, he said: “No one worked harder than BB. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.

A statement from former president Bill Clinton called King “a brilliant blues guitarist and a kind, good man.”

Tributes from the music world to the guitarist have also come from Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. Clapton posted a video tribute on Facebook to the man he called a “dear friend”.

He said: “I want to thank him for all the inspiration and encouragement he gave me as a player over the years and the friendship we enjoyed. There is not a lot left to say because this music is almost a thing of the past now and there are not many left who play it in the pure way that BB did. He was a beacon for all of us who love this kind of music and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.”

Born in the heart of the American south his life followed a similar trajectory to that of the music he played - moving from playing for change on street corners to packing out stadiums.

Raised on a cotton plantation in Mississippi he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, as a young man intent on a career in music, where he worked as a DJ and musician and teamed up with long-time collaborator Bobby “Blue” Bland while honing his craft.

Throughout his career he updated his electric blues sound and worked with up-and-coming acts in jazz and rock but always stayed true to one thing - his guitar Lucille.

The instrument, a hollowbody Gibson guitar which became his trademark, was replaced many times over the years but always kept the same name.

He continued to tour, performing hundreds of shows a year, and always set aside a few weeks to play back in Mississippi.

Asked about the blues, he said: “I’m trying to get people to see that we are our brother’s keeper. Red, white, black, brown or yellow, rich or poor, we all have the blues.”