As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, blues legend B.B. King passed away last night, at age 89. His daughter, Patty King, said he died in Las Vegas, where, 2 weeks ago, he announced that he was in home hospice care after suffering from dehydration.
Cinematically, his life was the subject of the 2012 feature-length documentary “B.B. King: The Life of Riley” (he was born Riley B. King).
Jon Brewer, the film’s director, who worked closely with King, had this to say in an interview with Guitarist magazine: “It was an
absolute privilege to be asked to make this film – it’s B.B. King’s
life… One aspect tops all others. There’s this little boy who loved
going to school, didn’t so much love going to church, but so respected
his mother and did what his mother told him. And suddenly she was
fading; he saw his mother die, that then led to how he relied upon his
grandmother and worked the land, who was also fading in years, so they
could eat. And then she died – as a nine or 10-year old; his life had
been crushed. He managed to become a sharecropper, which is somebody who
earns $2.50 a month to pay for his rent and his food. I have seen the
ledgers that still exist where he cleared his debt and his grandmother’s
debt, before his father came to collect him. That man survived and
became The King of the Blues. To do what he has done is remarkable.”
The film is available on DVD and digital download (via iTunes) to rent or buy, so you have options.
On the scripted front, in 2011, Wendell Pierce was attached to play King in “B. B. King and I,” which was said to be based on the real-life events that led to King receiving his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But due to some legal fisticuffs (apparently King didn’t approve of the project), the film never got made. Pierce did address the disagreement saying that he “would never work on a project depicting his life without Mr. King’s approval,” adding, “He is an American icon that deserves my respect & admiration. I look forward to working closely with one of my heroes, BB King, but will never go forward without the King of the Blues leading the way.”
But before both of the above, first broadcast on the BBC in 1972, the below documentary featuring an obviously much younger B.B. King was filmed at a recording session at Command Studios, Piccadilly, London, during the sessions that led to the ‘B.B. King in London’ album. In the 30-minute piece, the blues legend talks about himself and the guitarists who inspired him, including Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker. It was part a collection of BBC programs featuring influential blues musicians, including B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson.
Titled “Sounding Out – B. B. King” watch the 1972 broadcast below: