R.I.P., B. B. King…

Riley B. King: 16 September 1925 – 14 May 2015

I had an entirely different post planned for this morning, but I will post it tomorrow. I just heard of the death of legendary musician B. B. King, who passed away sometime last night in Las Vegas at the age of 89. From the Huffington Post:

Legendary blues musician B.B. King died on Thursday in Las Vegas, his attorney told The Associated Press. Cause of death was not released. He was 89.

Born Riley B. King in Berclair, Mississippi, and raised by his grandmother, the future “King of the Blues” purchased his first guitar for $15 when he was just 12 years old. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and spent much of his early years picking cotton and working as a tractor driver.

While he began singing in a gospel choir at church, the blues took root in King during his teen years. The blues is considered by many to be the only truly indigenous American music, and over time, King would become its foremost ambassador.

After a short stint in the Army during World War II, King returned home to work as a farmer. But a tractor accident prompted him to give up that life, and start another in Memphis. There, King officially launched his musical career in the late 1940s.

He honed his vibrato style of playing, worked steady gigs at a string of clubs, got his first real break on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “King Biscuit Time” radio show and hosted a 10-minute program on WDIA as “the Beale Street Blues Boy,” a name he eventually shortened to Blues Boy and then B.B. King. Over the next seven decades, King produced dozens of albums for various labels and released a string of hits (“The Thrill Is Gone,”“3 O’Clock Blues,” “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” “Sweet Little Angel”) that helped to define the genre’s post-war sound, Variety reported.

A true pioneer, if I may say. A giant in his field; one of the most talented musicians of all time, and an inspiration and influence on many. You can keep your Clapton and your Allman Brothers and your Bonnie Raitt, the “great white hopes” of the blues. The sound that emerged from the Mississippi Delta and rode north to Chicago on paddle-wheelers and locomotives wasn’t born from a life of ease. He’s being called the “King of the Blues,” and I agree. I’m going to offend many by saying that he is also the “King of Rock & Roll” – Elvis who?

It’s always “Marley Mondays” in my house; Sundays are always “Bluesville” day. Today is Friday and the blues are playing…it’s tribute time on the satellite radio station. There are so many fantastic songs he performed! From Al-Jazeera:

For most of a career spanning nearly 70 years, Riley B. King was not only the undisputed king of the blues but a mentor to scores of guitarists, who included Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and Keith Richards. He recorded more than 50 albums and toured the world well into his 80s, often performing 250 or more concerts a year.

King played a big Gibson guitar he affectionately called Lucille —named after a woman being fought over in an Arkansas dance hall —with a style that included beautifully crafted single-string runs punctuated by loud chords, subtle vibratos and bent notes.

The result could bring chills to an audience, no more so than when King used it to full effect on his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone.” He would make his guitar shout and cry in anguish as he told the tale of forsaken love, then end with a guttural shouting of the final lines: “Now that it’s all over, all I can do is wish you well.”

His style was unusual. King didn’t like to sing and play at the same time, so he developed a call-and-response with Lucille.

“When I sing, I play in my mind,” he told Rolling Stone in 2003. “The minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”

A preacher uncle taught him to play, and he honed his technique in abject poverty in the Mississippi Delta, learning C, F and G chords from “a sanctified preacher named Archie Fair in the hills of Mississippi. He was my uncle’s brother-in-law,” King told Guitar Player.

“I’ve always tried to defend the idea that the blues doesn’t have to be sung by a person who comes from Mississippi, as I did,” he said in the 1988 book “Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music.”

“People all over the world have problems,” he said. “And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.”

I’ll simply close with three excellent songs…when words fail me, music says it all.

Why I Sing the Blues

Everyday I Have the Blues

The Thrill is Gone

Tribute: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins: 18 July 1929 – 12 February 2000

Today marks the birth anniversary of a very influential musician: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Best known for his song “I Put a Spell on You,” his over-the-top theatrics and stage antics influenced many singers who are popular today, including Alice Cooper, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, and Marilyn Manson, to name a few. From Biography.com:

“Singer, songwriter and musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was born Jalacy Hawkins on July 18, 1929, in Cleveland, Ohio. One of rock and roll’s original madmen, Hawkins was as famous for his music as he was for his stage antics. He spent the first year and a half of his life in an orphanage before being adopted. His mother reportedly gave him up because she already had too many children to care for. Hawkins’ interest in music emerged at an early age. He taught himself to play piano and could read music by the age of 6.

While in his teens, Hawkins took up boxing. He had some success in the ring, winning a Golden Gloves championship in 1943. Still, Hawkins maintained an interest in music. Inspired by Paul Robeson and Enrico Caruso, Hawkins studied opera. But he left school to join the U.S. Army to fight in World War II in 1944. As part of his service, Hawkins entertained the troops. When he returned, he continued to box for a time before pursuing music full time.”

“I Put a Spell on You” wasn’t an immediate hit when it was first released on Okeh Records. It took a drunken session at Columbia Records to get the sound that was needed! More from Biography:

“In the early 1950s, Hawkins worked such artists as Tiny Grimes and Fats Domino before striking out on his own. It took two tries to score a hit with his best-known song, “I Put a Spell on You.” The first version for Okeh Records failed to attract listeners.

During his next attempt for Columbia Records, he and the studio musicians drank heavily during the recording session. The result, which Hawkins claimed not to remember recording, was a bluesy, voodoo-tinged single filled with boisterous vocals, including moans and other sound effects. This version gave him his first hit in 1956.

After some encouragement and a little financial incentive from disc jockey Alan Freed, Hawkins enhanced his stage persona to project a more macabre image. He made his stage entrance from a coffin and often dressed as a vampire. Besides his coffin, Hawkins used other creepy props, including a skull perched on a stick that he named “Henry.”

Sometimes he appeared wearing a turban with a bone through his nose or wearing a loincloth and carrying a shield and spear. While audiences enjoyed his wild antics, others, including the National Association for Colored People (NAACP), were concerned that his actions reflected badly on the entire African-American community.”

Screamin’ Jay moved to France in the late 1990s. He dabbled briefly in acting, appearing in Mystery Train (1989) and Perdita Durango (1997). I’ve not seen either of those movies, so I might give them a look-see one of these days…I guess I’ll check what is said about them on IMDb! Married six times, he is believed to have fathered over 57 children – both in and out of wedlock. According to an ABC newspiece, some of those kids attempted an “Illegitimate Family Reunion” in February 2001:

“With bones up his nose, a vampire cape, and a cigarette-smoking toy skull named “Henry,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins put the cool in ghoul.

Now, the legendary blues man and womanizer is being celebrated posthumously in a way only he could have appreciated: His illegitimate children — and he claimed to have more than 50 of them — are getting together to throw him a party.

Call it the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Illegitimate Family Reunion. At least 12 of his offspring are coming to Los Angeles — making pilgrimages from as far away as Paris, Cleveland and Honolulu — to celebrate the bizarre showman Feb. 12 at L.A.’s House of Blues.

Hawkins, best known for the hit “I Put a Spell on You,” died in Paris last February of multiple organ failure — a condition presumably not related to supporting his prodigious extended family. His was a storied life of stage antics and skirt chasing. One girlfriend even stabbed him in the back when she found he was cheating on her.

But that episode occurred some 40 years ago, and the Cleveland native lived to the ripe old age of 70, singing, dancing and dressing like a ghoul, right up to the very end.

“He led a fast life, a hard life — and he said without exaggerating that he had 57 children,” said his friend Maral Nigolian, a banker and film producer who is working on the singer’s life story.

“He wasn’t boasting,” she said. “He was just sad that he didn’t get to know many of the people who should have been more present in his life.”

Hawkins left behind a 31-year-old French widow — his sixth wife — and thousands of admirers, who packed European venues for his concerts up until his final years, when he was residing in Paris.”

Of course I’ll put a link to “I Put a Spell on You” here! I’ve loved that song from the first time I heard it – and it wasn’t the Credence Clearwater Revival version I heard; it was by this legendary musician. The late, great Nina Simone also covered it during her career, so I’ve included her version as a bonus link. I’ve also included a few other choice songs by Screamin’ Jay for your listening pleasure…enjoy!

Nina Simone: “I Put a Spell on You

I Put a Spell on You

Old Man River

Alligator Wine

Constipation Blues

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