Tag Archives: Cream

Reflections On BB King: The Legend Is Gone

When I was in High School I got into Blues music thanks to one caring English teacher and a bunch of 1960’s blues rockers. I was listening to Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, and Eric Clapton pretty heavily my senior year. Near the end of my last semester, I was assigned a research paper by my honors English teacher.  She suggested I write about the blues after she found out I was really into Clapton. This was probably the first time I ever considered writing about music, which looking back on it was pretty big moment for me.  Anyway, I went to the library and checked out a couple of dusty tomes on the history of blues music and over the course of writing that paper (which earned me an “A”) I feel in love with the blues. I’ve been hooked ever since.

bb-king

That’s how I first got into BB King. I picked up a copy of his greatest hits and by the time I had successfully digested that, his album with Eric Clapton, RIDING WITH THE KING, came out. RIDING WITH THE KING is a fantastic record and a brilliant primer for someone just getting into the blues, which was perfect for me. In a few short weeks I knew RIDING WITH THE KING top to bottom, I must have played it a hundred times.

BB King, who was pretty much always touring, was scheduled to play in Kansas City (where I was living at the time) and I knew I had to go. My dad and my sisters came with me, and it was a concert I’ll never forget. It was a drizzly evening and unfortunately the show was outside. The seats were wet but it luckily didn’t rain on us too much while we waited for the show to begin. John Haitt opened for BB King, he was promoting his album THE TIKI BAR IS OPEN, and we were all impressed with him.  My sister Amber was particularly smitten with Haitt, which looking back on it is pretty amusing since she was into bands like Hanson and The Backstreet Boys up until that point.

Man, what a great show. Thanks for the memories, BB.

Man, what a great show. Thanks for the memories, BB.

I remember BB King sitting on a wooden stool during his performance. He balanced Lucille upon his knee, like a grandfather tenderly holding his grandchild. He was old, and clearly not in the best health, but his voice was still strong and his guitar playing was still exceptional. After playing for about an hour, he took a short break then came back and played a few more songs. And then he was done. There was no encore, which I thought was strange, but not unexpected considering BB’s age.  Everything about that concert felt historic and important, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

I’d read a few weeks ago that BB King was very sick and that he was essentially broke. Initially I was upset to learn that such a respected, successfully musician had no money, but upon further reflection I realized that this cemented BB King’s place in the pantheon of great bluesmen. To die penniless is almost as important as song writing when it comes to the blues. BB King’s health had been poor since I was a child, so the fact that he lived (and played) as long as he did is kind of a miracle. I know that 89 years isn’t nearly long enough, but that’s what we got from BB King and I’m grateful.

bb-king-1950s

The topic of BB’s death came up today and someone asked me “why was that guy such a big deal?” I’m paraphrasing, but that was basically the question. I didn’t really have a very good answer at the time, mostly because I’m terrible at thinking, but after giving it some thought I think I know why BB King was so important. BB King was the most famous blues musician alive. He was an ambassador of an entire genre of music, how many other artists do you know that fit that description? BB King was a mentor to generations of artists and his influence is still felt today in the world of blues and rock music. He transcended age, race, socioeconomic status, everything. Today marks the end of an era, not just the music world but in the popular culture at large.

Rest in peace, BB King.

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: Best Psychedelic Rock Band

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL! This week I wrote a nerd-tastic article about NUGGETS, a boxset of trippy psychedelic rock from the 1960’s. It got me thinking about psychedelic rock bands in general and thus was born a poll.

Let’s break-down/over analyze what happened:

7, 6, and 5 (no votes) Iron Butterfly, T. Rex, and Steppenwolf: all three bands received exactly zero votes. Now, it should be noted right off the bat that only 10 people (myself included) participated in this survey (hence the “highly-unscientific” nature of the poll results) however I strongly agree and disagree with the votes these bands (didn’t) got.

First, let me address T. Rex. Marc Bolan and company were the last band I added to the list. I basically ran out of bands and didn’t want to add a band like The Beatles (which would have been too obvious and would have sweeped the poll). So I reluctantly added T. Rex. Although, to be honest, I don’t think T. Rex fits. They were more “glam” than “psychedelic” rock. True, they have some pretty trippy songs (especially in their early stuff). But for the most part, I think T. Rex was a mistake on my part. They didn’t belong on the list.

Iron Butterfly, and to a lesser extent Steppenwolf, didn’t get any votes probably because they were too psychedelic. I think most people dismiss Steppenwolf outright because their singles have been played so much on the radio they’ve lost their edge and have been relegated (unfairly) to parody. Iron Butterfly is a one-hit wonder–but that one hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is probably the greatest pscyh-freakout song ever. But one song does not a “greatest band” make, does it? I approve of Iron Butterfly’s lack of votes, but feel bad for The ‘wolf.

3. (tie) Cream and The Strawberry Alarm Clock: all three bands (ironically)tied for third place. Just to be completely transparent in my reporting, let the record show that the one vote for Cream was my vote. I think that Cream should have been #1. I think that in general Cream has the best psychedelic songs of the bunch. As a power trio, Cream created the most dynamic, textured, weird-ass sounds of any band on the list. But that’s just my opinion. The Strawberry Alarm Clock are, like Iron Butterfly, one-hit wonders. Their one-hit, “Incense and Peppermints” is pretty much a textbook example of psychedelic rock. And like Steppenwolf’s many radio hits, the song has been over-played and (thanks to use in films like AUSTIN POWERS) is now a parody of the era in which it was created.

2. The Grateful Dead: The poll was dominated by bands with a massive cult following, which shouldn’t be too surprising. The Dead are a another band that I added to the poll but ultimately regretted, like T. Rex. I don’t think they’re the best example of psychedelic rock. Still, they made some freaky-ass music and God know’s their is a massive contingent of people that worship they at their tied-dyed altar.

And the winner…

1. Pink Floyd: Winning by a landslide, Pink Floyd came out on top as the “greatest psychedelic rock band ever.” While I didn’t vote for them, I can’t help but approve of this choice. Pink Floyd have always been innovators in sonic freakiness. Whereas psychedelia might have been a fad or genre that some bands might have tired (like The Beatles), for Pink Floyd psychedelic sounds were a way of life. Hell, founding member Syd Barrett did so much LSD that he completely lost his mind. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is pretty much universally regarded as the freak-out album. Earlier Floyd albums are even trippier and go to even darker places.

So there you have it. Disagree with the results? Well then head on over to Facebook and “like” DEFENDING AXL ROSE. Then the next time I have a poll you can VOTE!!!

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