Saturday, May 16, 2015

B B King, The Man Who Introduced Me To Blues Music

For this foreign graduate student from Bombay, the winter nights of 1988 in Akron, Ohio were long and lonely. I was low on money and depressed having left my friends and family thousands of miles away.  The stress of grad school and the loneliness was killing me, and the cold weather wasn't helping.  One day as I was walking back to the apartment on Walnut street, I noticed a perfectly good radio console discarded by some one who had apparently upgraded there equipment.    Listening to a Blues program broadcast out of Kent State University radio station on this console became the one silver lining to my week's drudgery and thus began my introduction to B B King and the American blues music.

There was something so melancholy about blues music that it perfectly matched my mood at the time, and I was immediately hooked. BB King was a master at touching people's soul and I immediately fell under his spell. His raspy voice and the slow rhythmic electric guitar touched me in ways no other music had touched me before, save Indian classical music. Add to that his subject matter of loving and losing wild women - well that subject matter made it doubly interesting for a lonely soul, who couldn't imagine what it would be to be with a lover, let alone lose one.  Most of my friends couldn't care less about Blues, but listening to BB King I was hooked. I know that BB King's most recognized song is "Thrill is Gone", but my favorite was "How Blue Can You Get".  At a time nothing could make me smile, this humorous song actually made me laugh.


It is only much later that I realized BB King didn't write that song, or even was the first one to sing it, but that didn't matter. It was his rendition that made me smile, so I credit him for the song.

BB King opened my ears to many new blues artists and over the years I moved away from BB King preferring the soulful sound of Mississippi Delta Blues with its acoustic guitar and harmonica. Early recordings of Muddy Waters (Hoochie Coochie Man), Howling Wolf (Spoonful), Elmore James (Dust my broom), Robert Johnson (Sweet Home Chicago) became my favorite and BB King with his electric guitar faded in the background.

I never saw BB King live, but I am told that his performances were electrifying. It's too late now.

When I heard of BB King's passing, it made me realize how funny it is that a man born in Itta Bena, Mississippi should touch the heart of another born thousands of miles, far removed by timezones, cultural mores and a subject matter that even to this day Blues music is considered scandalous in India. But such is the power of this music and I am glad I heard BB King's voice that lonely Saturday night - it changed the trajectory of my musical experience.

 BB King, may your soul rest in peace.
Post a Comment