Listen now on:
Losing an artist of B.B. King’s stature is a rite of passage for our country. He wasn’t just a great blues artist. To millions of fans, he was the blues — the ambassador to the music that is the bedrock of nearly every form to come after. To generations of guitar players, he was an inspiration and a mentor. So, yes, it’s profoundly sad to lose him. But we should be grateful we had him for so long. For seven decades the man was on the road and in the studio, making music that was at once joyful, pained, simply delightful and profoundly truthful. He was the rare artist who seemed to speak for and to us all. He had one hell of a run. And while we won’t ever see him grace the stage again, he left more than enough music to sustain us. The man is gone, but his humanity still rings in every note he put down.
There are dozens of great albums to go back to, and we’re sure the mourning for B.B. King will be punctuated with debates about whether Live At The Regal or Live At Cook County Jail is his definitive statement and the best introduction to his unparalleled gifts as a singer, player and showman (life’s short, music is cheap, and each album is astounding — we say, get both). We’ll hear about how “The Thrill Is Gone” triumphantly tore up the charts in 1970 when the blues was all but dead. But when news of B.B.’s failing health first hit us, we turned to one of his lesser-known triumphs, “There Is Always One More Time.” Recorded later in his career, when most people took him too much for granted to pay attention to the new music he was making, it’s a song written by Doc Pomus, a dear friend of B.B.’s who wrote “Lonely Avenue” for Ray Charles, “Viva Las Vegas” for Elvis, and who’s death inspired Lou Reed’s Magic & Loss album.
B.B. recorded this song while Doc lay dying in a New York hospital, fully aware that he may never see his friend again, and you can feel B.B.’s heart pouring out through his voice and what might be the most impassioned guitar solo of his career. B.B. played the finished recording over the phone to Doc, and it became the last song the great writer would ever hear. It’s a song about resilience. About determination. About hope. And when B.B. King went in to hospice, Doc’s words stuck with us: “No matter what you’ve been through, as long as there’s breath in you, there is always one more time.” Sadly, not for B.B. King, but certainly, through his music, for the rest of us.