Assuming necessity is in fact the mother of invention; wouldn’t you think that depression could actually be an opportunity to find actual happiness?
The fact that B.B. King, perhaps the most famous blues musician, just died May 14, 2015 at the old age of 89 and lived a fabulous life of musical acclaim, makes me wonder. Did he begin playing the blues because he was actually depressed? Or was he simply reporting his thoughts and reactions to his surroundings and the natural progression of his life?
Interviews and photos of B.B. King advertise the man behind the music as a happy bluesman, but not only outwardly happy. He appears grounded and fulfilled by the ability to have made a living with his talent. Even as he sang, “The Thrill is Gone,” a deep satisfaction in spite of the pain rings out in a most undeniable way.
“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” King said in his autobiography, Blues All Around Me (1996), written with David Ritz. Mission accomplished.
Born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 in Indianola, Mississippi, King learned to love music in church. At 7, he heard the blues of Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, at which time he became hooked in the healthy sense. When he attempted to make a life as a cotton-picker on a farm, he struggled and figured out that it paid more to play his guitar on the street corner. The turning point in his early life as an artist happened when he moved to Tennessee, home of Brookhaven Retreat LLC, where women’s mental health issues and addictions are addressed head-on but with compassion and honesty to fashion a “life worth living” that can be sustained after returning to one’s life outside the residential treatment center.
B.B. King’s life worth living truly began when he found his mentor in Memphis. He was blessed to have a bluesman for a cousin, whose name was Bukka White, who took B.B. under his wing and showed him what it meant to be a bluesman. After a short time, he developed the confidence in his talent to march up to Sonny Boy Williamson and ask him for a spot on his radio show on KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas. The same day he was invited to sing one song. He did well, so Sonny sent him on a job in his place. He made $12 including room and board, which he said was “a lot of bread” compared to the 75 cents a day he had made picking cotton. “That was a real good job,” he said in a BBC interview. “I loved it and I didn’t want to lose it.”
For obvious reasons, he landed it as a steady gig playing six nights a week, entertaining the women who came to this small club while their men gambled in another room.
Beyond that, RPM Records released his song, “Three O’Clock Blues” in 1951 and by the following year, it topped the Billboard R&B charts for five straight weeks. It wasn’t long before he became known as the “Ambassador of the Blues.” In 1969, he opened for the Rolling Stones during 18 U.S. concerts and appeared on The Tonight Show. His accolades that date up to present day are too many to mention, and he is worth a listen if you’ve never taken the time before now. I am inspired by the way he expressed the finer points of his craft and his experiences.
Though he owned the blues and so convincingly and beautifully portrayed them through his music, he also rejoiced in the fact that the immediate universe clearly supported his authentic self. Beyond that, he was able to continue giving the people what they wanted because the tunes and lyrics were his truth. Musically and otherwise, he seems to have always stuck to his truth. From his voice came the vibrations of commonplace feelings and desires, many unquenched. From his guitar, every emotion under the sun had been expressed at one time or another, with many witnesses over the years. And that’s what makes him a legend.
Info for Chris & Paul: Title: Happy Bluesman Down | Women’s Mental Health Treatment at Brookhaven Retreat, Knoxville, TN Meta Description: Happy Bluesman Down – a Brookhaven Retreat blog about the life of the legendary BB King by guest blogger Yolanda F. Meta keywords: depression, depressed, Brookhaven Retreat, mental health issues and addictions, residential treatment center