B.B. King and the source of inspiration

24May15

This is going to sounds a little weird, but stay with me.

My routine Thursday nights involves taking my guitar to The Next Page Cafe in Weymouth, where an exceptional open mic blues jam happens. The host, Willie J. Laws, and his amazing band mates, Malcolm Stuckey (bass) and Osi Brathwaite (drums), are jaw dropping musicians and the crowd is enthusiastic and devoted.

The beauty of the open mic blues jam is you never know what you’re going to get. From one Thursday to the next, it is a different scene, different vibe, energy, gestalt. My objective is simply to draw from the energy of the moment and do something different, by inspiration alone – something I’ve never seen my fingers do before. It doesn’t happen that often, but it keeps me coming back.

Two Thursdays ago, during my “time” on guitar, there was a moment during a lead break of a slow blues number at which I spontaneously ripped off a string of textbook B.B. King riffs. These are riffs I’ve studied and practiced, but not ones I would typically play. They just happened to come into my fingers at the moment.

On my way home from The Next Page last Thursday night, I reflected back on the jam and wondered what inspired me at that moment to use those B.B. King signature riffs.

I learned the next day (with the rest of the world) that Mr. King had died Thursday night, right about the time those old riffs infiltrated my fingers. That was quite a Thrill!

Anyway, this was a lovely example of how and where we get our inspirations.

It’s no different from reading Cormac McCarthy novels and then dropping dialogue tags, is it?

Mr. King’s iconic guitar work, McCarthy’s ironclad prose. One style so simple, the other deep, both pushing different buttons.

I once had a conversation with Duke Robillard, one of the genuine guitar icons. I told him he was one of my main influences, and “I’ve ripped off so many of your riffs it’s embarrassing.”

He chuckled and said, “That’s the kind of compliment I like to hear. I probably got them from somebody else myself.”

UPDATE: My friend Ron Rudy reminded me of an important coda to this story. The following Thursday (last week), I made the horrendous mistake of trying to play a B.B. King song. I murdered it. It was awful. Which goes to show, inspiration cannot be forced. It either comes or it doesn’t.

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2 Responses to “B.B. King and the source of inspiration”

  1. Beautiful. I don’t play guitar, although I’m still trying to learn, even at my age. But it’s very true in writing.

  2. 2 Kyle Toomey

    I expected to see something from you on BB King. RIP to the King.


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