Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Thrill is Gone....

Recently, I've written quite a bit about the majesty of the baseball narrative. Perhaps, what I love most about that narrative is how often it extends to people, places and events far beyond the baseball diamond. The life of the late B.B. King is one magnificent example. This posting will serve as a tribute to the Blues great who died on Friday, May 15, 2015.  King was 89 years of age.
One season later, these two would face off in the
"Bay Bridge Series: The 89 World Series

My favorite baseball player—even today—is Will "The Thrill" Clark, Jr. In the late '80s, the Bay Area was captivated by two very talented first basemen: Will Clark with the San Francisco Giants and Mark McGwire with the Oakland A's. A Sports Illustrated cover story brought them the national acclaim they deserved. "Bay Area Bombers" described their unique talents on the field. Clark, a lefty was known for his beautiful swing, competitive spirit and defensive strength. McGwire, one of the two "Bash Brothers" came to the plate with great power and natural athleticism. But the article also mentioned insight into the personal lives and passions of these athletes. McGwire had a thing for Corvettes. His brother Dan was a quarterback at San Diego State. Clark came from New Orleans, LA and may have loved duck hunting as much as playing ball. And I'll never forget that Will's answering machine (remember those?) had no standard greeting. Instead, it played a popular song fron the late 70s, BB King's "The Thrill is Gone." Brilliant.

Sometimes, the tiniest thing will lead me to learn more about a given musician. I love reading their musical repertoire. What they play. Who they name as influences. Who they have influenced. Their roots. Their triumphs and even their failures. 

B.B. King is as good an example as any. Here are but three vignettes I enjoy
Anyone who has been to a show at the Fillmore will
recognize their unique promo posters

1. The Fillmore West
I came to learn that King played most of his early career in music halls and clubs for Black audiences only. The first white audience he played for was made possible by Bill Graham; he played at the historic Fillmore West.

I live but eight blocks (literally) up the street from this iconic venue. Every time I enjoy a show at the Fillmore, I make homage to the history of its halls. Photographs line the the entryway from floor to ceiling. Promo posters adorn other rooms. I truly believe the venue is haunted. The musical greats still play their music. For B.B. King, we all know what or should I say "who" that is....(see #2) and I will make a point to search for his footsteps next time I am there.

2. Lucille

This story is so good, it's now kept on record in the Library of Congress. You can listen to King tell the story here or read the transcript below
KING: I used to play a place in Arkansas called Twist, Ark., and they used to have a little nightclub there that we played quite often. When we didn't have any other place to play, we were always welcome to play there. Well, it used to get quite cold in Twist, and they used to take something look like a big garbage pail and set it in the middle of the floor, half-fill it with kerosene. They would light that fuel, and that's what we used for heat. And generally, the people would dance around it, you know, never disturb this container. But this particular night, two guys start to fight and then one of them knocked the other one over on this container, and when they did, it spilled on the floor. Now it was already burning, so when it spilled, it looked like a river of fire, and everybody ran for the front door, including yours truly. But when I got on the outside, then I realized that I'd left my guitar inside. I went back for it. The building was a wooden building, and it was burning so fast when I got my guitar, it started to collapse around me. So I almost lost my life trying to save the guitar. But the next morning, we found that these two guys who was fighting was fighting about a lady. I never did meet the lady, but I learned that her name was Lucille. So I named my guitar Lucille and reminded me not to do a thing like that again.
Also of interest, as written by Tom Cole for NPR,
The sound he got out of her was what set him apart. Playing high up on the neck, he'd push a string as he picked it, bending the note to make it cry. He didn't burn a lot of fast licks, but you could feel each note he played. Nobody sounded like B.B. King, though later on plenty of rockers tried. (Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green got closest.) 
No wonder I love Fleetwood Mac!
3. His Humility
This virtue may underscore the nature of Blues music. The Blues is characterized by love gone wrong, by missing someone or something. It's as real as it gets. Pride be gone, Blues music invites in pain and agony and the truth of our humanity.

This may have come naturally for Riley B. King. His roots were quite humble. Born on a plantation in Itta Bena, MS, he picked cotton as a youngster. He played on street corners before heading to Memphis, TN where he stayed with his cousin.

He said "I started to feel that I had to be a good entertainer to keep a job. I'm happy I developed in my head that I'm never any better than my last concert or the last time I played. It's like an audition each time."

That—to me—is the recipe for excellence. A mindset of humility mixed with a strong work ethic. No wonder his brilliant career extended seven decades. 

These are but three unique stories of this man's life—and there are hundreds more. Odds are this musical great didn't need my favorite baseball player using one of his more popular hits to expose me to the Blues as a 14-year old girl. But it did. 

I doubt that any baseball player uses B.B. King's music as a walk-up song. That's might not be appropriate for that ritual. But I remember when Will Clark left the Giants for the Texas Rangers, several headlines repeated those fateful lyrics: The Thrill is Gone. 
It hurt then in that capacity and it hurts today in this one. But music fans everywhere must admit that hearing Gospel music, the Blues and even Lucille wail touches something deep in the soul. Thank you B.B.

Photo Credits
Double Trouble
Historic Poster

Thill is Gone
B.B. King

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