Riding with the King.
This wasn’t the post I’d intended to write, BB. The plan was to spend the weekend bashing out some hilariously amusing prose which would have everyone in stiches, marvelling at how charmingly entertaining I am. But then you died, and, while I knew you’d been ill recently, the news took me by surprise and I couldn’t let some things go unsaid. Not today.
You were a hero of mine, BB. Ok, I know an overweight Whovian with foppish hair and dodgy knees doesn’t have too much in common with a Blues Legend from Mississippi, but you played a big role in my own Blues journey, BB, a BIG role.
I started getting into the Blues as a young guy, largely thanks to some woman trouble at the time (long story, it has coriander in it I think. And a forest. I like forests…). In short, when I reached rock bottom, I started digging, but music helped me stop the decent. Not all music, just some pretty specific stuff, occasionally caught on the radio or in the background of old films. And I started to find myself drawn to find out more about this heart wrenching, soul saving black music called The Blues, with its powerful, haunting simplicity and its at once universal and wholly private truth. I picked out a few albums that first day in the record shop; some Elmore James, some Bessie Smith… and something by a guy named BB King.
Words like ‘hooked’ and ‘captivated’ get banded around a lot these days but don’t do justice to how I felt about that music. Your music. And it stayed with me. Through my love of the Blues I started getting into the Mod scene, and pretty soon I had a regular show with a mate of mine on internet radio. We weren’t a bad little team, me and Al, we had good listening numbers and we each brought something different to the show. While Al was very much the authentic Mod, steeped in the Revival movement and with an admirable knowledge of Soul, Beat , Psych and the like, I was always the Bluesman, spinning the tracks of the old Masters, whose tunes were the foundation of everything that came after. I remember you were our Artist of the Week more than once, BB.
And all the time the show was going on, I was trying my hand playing some Blues of my own. We weren’t exactly in your league, BB. Shit, if you were the European Champion’s League Winner of the Blues scene, my little crowd were fighting relegation from the Big Dave’s Pie & Mash Pub Conference, Northern Division. But still, you were the one we looked up to, the one we tried and yearned to emulate. I used to blow quite the mean harp back in the day, BB, a habit I’ve grown out of along with eating healthily and trusting politicians, and I can still remember the time the band and I got The Thrill is Gone just right… We were cramped in Martin’s living room, Martin on guitar, Rick on bass and Big Jon on the sax. Della and Neil were doing their thing and, the singer, was standing behind the clapped out Mike stand and man, everything just clicked. At least, we thought so…
But it didn’t end there BB, no way. You see Al (from the show, you remember?) and his lady friend decided to get married. Back in those days they used to go to Prague quite a lot and eventually planned the wedding there. I was still in a grumpy, unhappy place at that point and didn’t really want to go, but eventually, due to the friendship we’d shared, born out of our love of the music, I relented and booked a ticket.
Talk about Life Changing….
The reception was held in a small Blues bar, just off Old Town Square, which served up some fabulous Cajun food and some of the best Blues this side of the Delta. The staff were more like old friends and though the bar is no longer there I still count many of them as friends to this day, particularly one girl; she was so nice I ended up marrying her. The relationship wasn’t easy at first, being so far apart, but I remember like it was yesterday the first time she came to Manchester to see me and the concert I took her to see. It was you. You were an old man by then, BB and sometimes you needed to have a break during a song and just talk to the audience while the band played on behind you. That was ok; we hung on your every word. And Man, could you still play….
I have a book coming out soon BB, and, now that I think of it, there’s probably more of you in there than I realised. It’s set in Prague, a place I wouldn’t have gone if not for my friendship with my old Mod Radio compatriot, and the Blues bar is homaged between the pages. Then there’s the main character, a chap called Peter. A lot of people think writers inject themselves into characters and maybe that’s true. But I’d like to think there’s a bit of Riley B. King in Peter too, certainly in his love of the Blues. And, if truth be told, if you hadn’t gotten to me all those years back and started me on this journey of love for this music, then maybe Peter might not be between those pages today.
So goodnight BB. I guess I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for your joy, thanks for your passion, thanks for everything you influenced in my life…. and thanks for playing those damn Blues. I never met you, but I am and always will be thrilled that for so long and for the best of times, I rode with the King.