B.B. King Turns the Blues into Platinum

Posted in MusicWorld on August 31, 2000 by

With a career spanning over 50 years, B.B. King has quietly transformed himself into America's leading blues ambassador. But thanks to a curious twist of fate, the pioneering singer, songwriter and guitarist has found himself competing against a formidable contender - himself.

The drama unfolded last spring when the New York Post wagered that B.B. King's new solo album, Makin' Love Is Good For You, would "snag the [Grammy] award as Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year." Mere months later, B.B. doubled his Grammy winning odds when he teamed with rock legend Eric Clapton for the super-duo recording Riding with the King. The acclaimed disc entered the Billboard pop charts at number three and has since been certified platinum in the U.S., Denmark and Japan. By releasing two superb albums in a single year, B.B. has placed himself in an enviable predicament: He will probably be named twice when Grammy nominations are announced in early 2001.

The hoopla is well deserved. As his new recordings reveal, B.B. is performing at the very top of his game. Where Makin' Love Is Good For You offers a stylish mix of blues standards and original compositions, Riding with the King casts B.B. in the role of blues mentor to Eric Clapton's student. Tracks like "Marry You," "Help the Poor" and the funky title track showcase the rapport between the legends.

For Riley "B.B." King, feats of derring-do are par for the course. Born in 1925 to an impoverished Mississippi Delta family, B.B. shunned the squalor of his origins and cultivated a tuxedo-clad style all his own. With his gentlemanly demeanor, gale-force vocals and expressive guitar playing, B.B. conferred an elegance to the blues that was previously unimaginable. Grittier than T-Bone Walker, yet more urbane than Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, B.B. skillfully toes the tightrope between hardcore blues and sophisticated jazz.

To fully comprehend his cultural impact, consider this fact: Every guitarist that has employed string-bending vibrato has paid homage to B.B.'s pioneering influence. The resulting list includes legends like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless others. Indeed, in blues history there are two periods: "Before B.B." and "After B.B."

Currently enjoying his fifth decade as King of the Blues, B.B. looms as a symbol of Yankee-style diligence and upward mobility. The untutored bluesman has received four honorary doctorates, including honors from Yale and Berklee College of Music. He is the recipient of 4 honorariums, including a Kennedy Center Honor, a National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellowship and a Presidential Medal of the Arts. He's won nine Grammys, three Walk of Fame honors, four NAACP Image Awards, seven Downbeat magazine Readers Poll awards and 27 International Critics Poll honors. He's even won a B'nai B'rith Humanitarian Award and an MTV Video Music Award for his 1988 performance with U2 in the video "When Love Comes To Town."

Most recently, the guitarist oversaw the grand opening of a B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Manhattan. Combined with his critically acclaimed new albums, 2000 is shaping up to be the Year of the King.


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