King of the Blues Dies

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A giant in the blues world, B.B. King has died in his Las Vegas home. After collapsing during a concert in Chicago last October, the 89-year-old was hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion. Since then he has suffered ill health with a diabetes-related illness. B.B. King had been in hospice care in his home where he passed away peacefully in his sleep on Thursday, May 14.

The son of a sharecropper, Riley B. King was born September 16, 1925, on a plantation near Itta Bena, MS. He left school after grade 10 to make a living driving a tractor and picking cotton for 75 cents a day. His preacher uncle taught him to play guitar but it wasn’t until basic training in the Army in World War II when he began playing and singing the blues.

photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

Riley sang gospel songs on a Memphis street corner until he got a job at 23 at radio station WDIA as a disc jockey nicknamed “Beale Street Blues Boy.” In addition to a steady gig, it gave him access to a wide range of records in the station’s library. King studied the music of guitar greats like Robert Johnson, Django Reinhardt, and T-Bone Walker.

While playing local clubs at night, he first recorded four sides at Bullet Records in 1949 and his 1951 record Three O’Clock Blues became a top seller. His heartfelt vocals and wailing guitar would be the centerpiece of a string of hits including My Lucille, Sweet Little Angel, How Blue Can You Get, The Thrill is Gone, and many more.

From 1950 to 1970, B.B. King was always on the road and never home. He travelled an average 300 days a year and spent the rest of his time in the recording studio. (In recent years, he reduced his days on the road to 100.) Over several decades in the music business, he won 15 Grammys and sold more than 40 million records worldwide. King was inducted in both The Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

B.B. King’s gritty voice and scorching guitar licks on his Gibson ES-355 named Lucille influenced a generation of blues and rock guitarists like Otis Rush, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray, John Mayall, and Mike Bloomfield. His friend and record-mate Eric Clapton posted this moving tribute:

Always a gentleman onstage and off, this is B.B. King’s lively guest appearance on Sesame Street:

B.B. King: The Life of Riley

If you want to know more about King’s life, watch “B.B. King: The Life of Riley,” a feature documentary about this legendary blues musician. Directed by Jon Brewer and narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film takes us from Riley’s humble beginnings overcoming poverty and racism to become an international star. Brewer spent two years wading through 250 hours of archive footage and interviews to assemble a complete portrait of the man. (Warts and all.)

Even though its theatrical run is finished, you can download “B.B. King: The Life of Riley” from iTunes:

You can also buy it on DVD at:

B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center

If you are heading south from Memphis along the Mississippi Blues Trail, the impressive B.B. King Museum in Indianola, MS is a shrine for blues lovers. The museum not only profiles King’s life and career, but showcases many other blues artists from the Delta.

B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
400 Second Street, Indianola, MS 38751

Every year for the past 40 years, Mr. King returned to Indianola to perform for his hometown. This year’s annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival will be held in his honor at the museum grounds on Sunday, May 24th, 2015 at 2:00 pm.

B.B. King Homecoming Festival

B.B. King opened his last album singing, “I’m not going anytime soon, but when the day comes, don’t forget me.”

There’s little chance of that.  May his music last forever.


Delta Blues Museum Turns 36

photo by SueReed99, Flickr
photo by SueReed99, Flickr

Established on January 31, 1979, the museum began quite modestly by Sid Graves, director of Clarksdale’s Carnegie Public Library, as a showcase for the history of blues of the area. Graves originally housed his collection of blues memorabilia in a room of the Myrtle Hall Elementary School on Highway 61 and he took everything home with him at the end of the day. He only had few visitors at first but it gradually grew in popularity and moved to the Clarksdale Library in 1981. When the library was tight for space, Graves stored the display in the trunk of his car!

photo by VagabondMusicCo, Flickr
photo by VagabondMusicCo, Flickr

In 1988, rock guitarist Billy Gibson and his band ZZ Top accidentally discovered the museum and felt so passionate about the collection having a more permanent home that they began raising funds for the project. They sold “Muddywood” guitars constructed from fallen boards found at Muddy Waters’ old house.

photo by meantooth, Flickr
photo by meantooth, Flickr

Enough money was eventually raised to move the museum in 1999 to its to its current location, a former railroad passenger depot that dates back to 1926. About an hour’s drive from Memphis, the Delta Blues Museum is the world’s first museum dedicated to the blues, and it’s loaded with music displays and artefacts. Where else can you see Otis Spann’s keyboard, Super Chikan’s homemade guitar, or the shack where Muddy Waters lived on the Stovall Plantation!

photo by Visit Mississippi, Flickr
photo by Visit Mississippi, Flickr

Stop by for cupcakes on Friday, January 30th and on Saturday, January 31st, there will be performances by the Delta Museum Band, a special guest appearance by harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite, and a screening of the music documentary “Take Me to the River”

Delta Blues Museum
1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale, MS 38614
Phone: (662) 627-6820

photo by Steve Roake, Flickr
photo by Steve Roake, Flickr

Sittin’ on The Dock of Bay

Dock of the Bay

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was released this week in 1968. Soul singer Otis Redding recorded the basic tracks at Stax Studios three days before his death in a plane crash on December 10, 1967 at Lake Monona, near Madison, Wisconsin. The song was completed by co-writer and guitarist Steve Cropper, and released posthumously in January, 1968.


The tune came about in August, 1967 when Redding was sitting in a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California and started writing lyrics to the first verse of the song. While touring to back up his album “King & Queen” with Carla Thomas, he scribbled more lines for the song on napkins and hotel stationery. When Redding returned to Memphis, Steve Cropper helped finish the song in the studio with the Stax house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The distinctive whistling at the end fade was recorded after Redding’s death by Sam “Bluzman” Taylor, his bandleader. It is considered the most famous whistling in any song.

Initially, there were concerns the song had too much of a pop feel for Redding but “Dock of the Bay” went on to sell more than four million copies and brought Otis the greatest success of his career. The single went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R & B Song and Best Male R & B Vocal Performance and became a classic song. We can only imagine how many more hits Redding would have had in the next phase of his career if had lived!

International Blues Challenge

photo by Seeing Redder, Flickr
photo by Seeing Redder, Flickr

If you are a blues fan, all roads lead to Memphis this week. Hundreds of blues musicians come from all over the U.S. and the world to take part in this annual five-day event, held January 20th to January 24th this year. Performers for the challenge are chosen by local blues societies to compete in three categories: Best Band, Best Solo/Duet, and Best Self-Produced CD–all for cash, prizes, and industry recognition.

Last year, over 250 acts competed in semi-finals in the clubs on Beale Street so expect an explosion of the blues this year, too.

International Blues Challenge
The Blues Foundation
421 South Main, Memphis TN 38103
Phone: (901) 527-2583

photo by, Flickr
photo by, Flickr

Since the IBC is a showcase for new talent, many of today’s top blues artists competed in the past, including Tommy Castro, Eden Brent, Albert Castiglia, Susan Tedeschi, Delta Moon, Diunna Greenleaf, Zac Harmon, Larry Garner, Super Chikan, and more. Here is a list of this year’s participants, many of whom will be the stars of tomorrow:

2015 Blues Challenge Entries

photo by Mario, Flickr
photo by Mario, Flickr

The official list of this year’s IBC semi-finalists has been released so check out these artists live in the Beale Street clubs as they advance to the next round.

2015 Blues Challenge Semi-Finalists

photo by f8inMemphis, Flickr
photo by f8inMemphis, Flickr

The winners will be chosen at the IBC final battle of the bands on Saturday night in the historic Orpheum Theatre. Cheer on your hometown favorite or just go for the amazing talent on stage.

Here is a list of the 2015 IBC winners:

The Orpheum Theatre
203 South Main Street (at Beale) Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 525-3000

photo by suz2337, Flickr
photo by suz2337, Flickr

Reviews: Two From Omnivore – Big Star, “Live in Memphis” and Roger Taylor, “The Best”

The Second Disc

Big Star - LiveWelcome to Part One of our two-part review round-up featuring some of Omnivore Recordings’ releases from late 2014!

Just when one thinks the Big Star well has run dry, Omnivore Recordings surprises with a treat of the magnitude of Live in Memphis (OVCD-107). On October 29, 1994 at Memphis’ New Daisy Theatre, Big Star founding members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, were joined by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies for an overflowing set of Big Star classics and covers in front of an appreciative hometown audience. The debut of this band lineup on April 25, 1993 was preserved on the Zoo Records album Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93; the concert of October 29, 1994 was billed as Big Star’s farewell U.S. performance. It turned out to be anything but – the band continued to tour together for another 16 years until Chilton’s untimely death in…

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