Gish Gallop Salutes our Heroes: B.B. King, dies 89

BB King seen here in a Gish Gallop file photo from a 2003 interview.
BB King seen here in a Gish Gallop file photo from a 2003 interview.

Las Vegas, NV — B.B. King, the singer and guitarist who put the blues in a three-piece suit and took the musical genre from the barrooms and back porches of the Mississippi Delta to Carnegie Hall and the world’s tiniest concert stages with a signature style emulated by generations of blues and rock musicians, has died. He was 89. The iconic musician, along with his ever-present guitar Lucille, spent nearly 70 years thrilling audiences and spreading the music he learned as a poverty-stricken youth in the Mississippi Delta all over the world.

King died in Las Vegas, his attorney announced late Thursday according to the Associated Press. His daughter, Patty King, said he died in Las Vegas, where he announced two weeks ago that he was in home hospice care after suffering from dehydration.

Early on, King transcended his musical shortcomings — an inability to play guitar leads while he sang and a failure to master the use of a bottleneck or slide favored by many of his guitar-playing peers — and created a unique style that made him one of the most respected and influential blues musicians ever.

“Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you,” King told Gish Gallop in 2003. “I could play the blues and then not be blue anymore.”

The Mississippi native's reign as "king of the blues" lasted more than six decades and straddled two centuries
The Mississippi native’s reign as “king of the blues” lasted more than six decades and straddled two centuries

The Mississippi native’s reign as “king of the blues” lasted more than six decades and straddled two centuries, influencing a generation of rock and blues musicians, from Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Sheryl Crow and John Mayer.

“B.B. King was one of the few classic blues artists to have songs on mainstream radio,” noted Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. “Because I was able to hear his guitar playing on the The Thrill is Gone, it showed that given the right song you could sneak some great guitar sounds into top 40 radio.”

He tapped his music and over-sized personality in transcending the limitations of a genre that rein in most blues musicians, forging an international identity as a beloved cultural ambassador. King collaborated with hundreds of musicians in most fields of pop music, culminating with his 1989 teaming with U2 on the Irish rock quartet’s single “When Love Comes to Town,” which brought him to the attention of millions of young rock fans when he was in his mid-60s.

Decades earlier, when black audiences largely moved away from listening to the blues in favor of R&B and soul performers such as James Brown and Ray Charles, King’s flagging career was resuscitated when the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Clapton, Van Morrison and other white rockers of the British Invasion started singing the praises of King and other American blues musicians to their young fans.

King was married twice — to Martha Lee when he was 17 and then Sue Hall when he was 32. Each marriage lasted about eight years. He had 15 children.

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