It’s impossible to quantify just how profound B.B. King’s influence was across the world’s musical landscape, but here are 10 guitar heroes — some of whom were fortunate enough to collaborate with King – whose careers were deeply inspired by the legend, who passed away at age 89 in Las Vegas.
Dire Straits frontman and Englishman Mark Knopfler was enchanted by American blues as a teenager, and exposure to B.B. King’s 1965 record Live at the Regal provided a turning point in Knopfler’s young life.
Knopfler, who has also recorded solo albums and scored films, praised King’s style: “I was struck by the sound and emotion in his playing and singing and the effect of both on the audience. It was an honor to be a part of B.B. King And Friends, his 80th birthday recording of duets. B.B. will always be in my heart.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Texan singer, songwriter, and record producer’s life was tragically cut short in a helicopter crash in 1990, but over the span of his career he gained notoriety for being one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Vaughan’s older brother Jimmie had introduced him to B.B. King’s music at an early age; the two brothers emulated King’s style and went on to achieve lasting fame. King was devastated by Vaughan’s untimely death and performed at 1995’s Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan concert in Austin along with Clapton, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Art Neville and Dr. John.
While growing up in Seattle in the late 1950s, Jimi Hendrix spent hours each day mastering the guitar like King and other Delta blues greats as he cultivated his own iconic style.
The respect between King and Hendrix was mutual, although they didn’t spend much time together. Long after Hendrix passed, King told UniVibes in a 1994 interview that “Jimi held his own with anybody” and that despite hailing from the Pacific Northwest,
I don’t think it has anything to do with where a person is born … A lot of people play blues who have never been to the South or even have been to the United States … Jimi was one of the great explorers if you will of the so-called Delta blues.
Connecticut native John Mayer first hit the airwaves with an acoustic rock sound, and the singer/songwriter became exceptionally popular with teenage girls during the early days of his career. But the Grammy winner’s musical style changed significantly after his career took off, reflecting his early influences of the blues, and he went on to collaborate with blues legends including King, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy.
Like Knopfler, Eric Clapton was across the pond when the blues struck a chord with the world, and Live at the Regal was a source of inspiration for him, as well. Clapton and King developed a close friendship and performed together for decades. Clapton was a guest artist on King’s 1997 album Deuces Wild, which features collaborations with famous artists including the Rolling Stones and Willie Nelson. A few years later, Clapton and King recorded an entire album together, influenced by rock ‘n’ roll and the blues called Riding with the King.
In a touching Facebook video post, Clapton gives thanks to his friend, saying “He was a beacon for all of us who loved this kind of music, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
Gary Clark Jr.
Austin, Texas native Gary Clark Jr., who won a Grammy in 2014 for Best Traditional R&B performance, grew up listening to his father’s B.B. King records. In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, Clark said that King’s 1970 hit “Chains and Things” was a game-changer.
It’s this big, heavy groove, and he’s just testifying. I remember hearing that in my headphones when I was younger, thinking, ‘That is the heaviest shit I’ve ever heard in my life.’
Clark performed alongside King at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival; he also performed at the Red, White and Blues event at the White House, which also hosted King in its musical lineup.
Ten-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt, whose style is a blend of blues, rock, folk and country, joined King on the aforementioned Deuces Wild collaboration and praised him for his work in this short film, “B.B. King’s First Guitar.” In it she says,
I’m really happy to shepherd that music and keep it alive…It’s owned by the people that created it. B.B. King has done the most for blues in the history of music.
Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks
In the male-dominated blues genre, guitarist and singer Susan Tedeschi opened for B.B. King early in her career and praised him in early interviews. In 2012, she reprised an opening act role when she and her husband Derek Trucks – together as the Tedeschi Trucks Band – went on tour with King. In an interview with Guitar Center, Trucks stated:
I love the directness and honesty of the blues…There’s a complete lack of pretension in the blues that just hit me when I was learning to play. I think an education in the blues should be required for any musician who wants to play any form of rock and roll or any American style of music. The blues is the foundation for all of those styles of music…It’s important to celebrate artists like B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin or Buddy Guy who are still doing it. Those guys are the real deal.
When news of King’s death reached them yesterday on the road, they tweeted, “We were lucky he was here as long as he was. And getting to know him and share the stage a few times is more than you could ask for …”
Hailing from New York State, 38-year-old Joe Bonamassa grew up infatuated by the blues. At 12 years old, a fortuitous meeting with B.B. King changed his life, and the child prodigy was invited to open for several of King’s performances in upstate New York. It significantly impacted his fledgling career, and the two maintained a friendship until the end. Bonamassa has performed with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood and Derek Trucks and has a successful solo career – in 2013 he was nominated for a Grammy, and he has released 15 solo albums, 11 of which have topped the Billboard blues charts. He also runs the “Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation” in an effort to further music education help give resources to schools in need.