When love came to town: RIP Mr. King...

Easing into the start of our journey's third week I awoke to the news that Mr. B.B. King has died. It is too easy, albeit true, to note that now "the thrill really IS gone." I know that I will miss having his soulful playing in our world.  As you probably know, my blog's title, When Love Comes to Town, hails from the song he and U2 shared: they created a bit of genre blending on behalf of compassion and hope that was one part Irish trash rock, one part Chicago blues and one part down home gospel heartily shaken not stirred. It is a model for my spirituality.

Small wonder other artists have played with this song over the years - I particularly like what my man Herbie Hancock does with it in consultation with Johnny Lang and Joss Stone. Here the roles are flipped - the blues artists are white and the arranger is black - proving that the ethos of genre-bending in pursuit of joy, beauty and truth can create some wickedly satisfying art.  In an interview I recently read with Hancock and Winton Marsalis, Herbie takes on the young maestro for his lack of verve when it comes to blending genres in pursuit of something new and healing: "Winton," the old master says, "you don't know ANYTHING about pop music. It isn't jazz, but it isn't crap either. It is just different. Face it: you don't know what you are talking about!" 

Man, I would have loved to be a fly on that wall! Herbie Hancock has ALL the cred - he was a classical prodigy as a youth, learned his chops at the feet of Miles Davis and the masters of the second greatest quintet in jazz history (the first being the first Miles Davis ensemble), went on to explore Afro-centered jazz, total electronic funk, the fusion of rock/soul and jazz as well as everything in-between - and never once did he sell his soul or compromise his art Not that Mr. Marsalis is a slouch either, mind you; he is also genius. He is just more doctrinaire in his understanding of jazz and what it should and could be. Clearly I fall into the Herbie Hancock camp while admiring what Marsalis does on the bandstand.

I have always heard the musical and emotional integrity of the great genre-benders in B.B. King. His integrity shines through whenever he played the blues - and he played with some of the greats - black and white - always sharing his gift in ways that enhanced each song while strengthening the playing of his band mates, too. There is a picture on the cover of an album he made a few years back with Eric Clapton, Riding with the King, that was shot during the making of this video.  It captures the blessing B.B. King shared with the world. Notice two things, please:  First, EC gives the master his propers by being the chauffeur, yes? And second, the blues tradition is honored as the music unfolds all with a sense of humor as well as emotional depth.
Two short personal stories:  Back when "Thrill Is Gone" first came out, our high school band played a white boys cover of that song over and over again during one of our all night practices. I still remember working on trying to get that anguished groove just right. The other comes from my early days of ministry in Tucson. One of my buddies noted that Mr. King was getting old, his diabetes was really taking its toll, and he might not be around much longer. (This was 1997!) So, we got tickets to see him - and as soon as our Ash Wednesday liturgy was over, I raced down to the club to go to a church of a different kind. It was soul cleansing, too.

Today I recall that B.B. King was one of the people who brought love into my town:  rest in peace, good and faithful servant.


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