Monday, June 23, 2014

B.B. King, the Life of Riley, A Film By Jon Brewer, DVD

There is probably no blues master of the electric generation who has made more impact on the world than B.B. King. If you want to know how and why check out the DVD B.B. King: the Life of Riley (MVD Visual 6345D). It's a movie by Jon Brewer with narration by Morgan Freeman.

The story is as remarkable as the telling. Riley "B.B." King himself, his family and friends, musicians and colleagues all contribute in the telling. From the plantations of Mississippi to the stages of the world, we get the story in two hours of film.

You come away knowing something, maybe much more about what makes B.B. special. Like B.B. telling us he developed the vibrato in his tone to try and imitate the sound of the acoustic slide guitar.

His beginnings were as tough as any. His father left the family pretty early; his mother died while B.B. was quite young. He picked cotton, eventually drove a tractor, and somehow found his way to the guitar. By the time he was in Memphis cutting his first records he HAD it--and it was HIS, and in time, the WORLD's.

From there he had blues hits, bought a bus (which was rare for a bluesman) and hit the road, essentially for the rest of his life. To pay for the bus and the fairly large band he gigged as much as 365 days a year--and that continued from his popular beginnings until later days, the last couple of years, when he's slowed down to three weeks on, three weeks off.

And it hits you how hard he worked to get somewhere. And how good he was from the beginning!

The story of course incorporates the dramatic expansion of the blues audience, how the blues became known and loved the world around, how B.B. was launched into the wide world as somebody everybody knew by name and sound, how he started making some very good money only when he began to cross over to the white youngsters who discovered the blues essentially through the British invasion. And then, how B.B.'s singular guitar sound influenced everybody.

And through it all you get B.B. the man, essentially a great guy as well as a genius. You feel how his struggle to succeed was very much a part of the struggle of Afro-Americans for freedom, justice and equality, a struggle that continues to this day. He was no shucker and jiver, ever. He was close with Martin Luther King and other champions. And his music told of the reality of the blues, the universality of the experience but the particular excellence of B.B. himself. It still does. It always will.

Well, so you should see this. It's excellent.

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