Eric Clapton first became attracted to Mississipi Delta blues while growing up in working-class England. He admired the blues' toughness and honesty, as did many other English musicians, from Jeff Beck to the Rolling Stones. Even John Lennon once said he wished he could play guitar like B.B. King.
Friday evening, blues guitarist King brings his brand of honesty to the Huntsman Center (rescheduled from Red Butte Gardens due to predicted rain) for a sold-out show. Because King combines rural and urban sounds, critic Peter Watrous said his music was "the perfect sound of post-war America: that of rural culture moving to the city, sophisticated and urban with mud on its boots.""To be a black person and sing the blues, you are black twice," King said in an interview with Ebony magazine. And if anyone has lived the entire black American experience, it's King. Born on a cotton plantation in Tennessee, he worked in the fields from the time he was 7 years old. He learned his first guitar chords from a preacher, and his first taste of blues came from phonograph records of Blind Lemmon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson.
King has been on the move for much of his life, touring rigorously for the past 40 years. His shows feature the same songs he's sung since the '50s and '60s. His many live albums, such as "Live at the Regal" and "Live from Cook County Jail," even have some of the same between-songs banter.
While he's now known as the "chairman of the board of the blues," King waited a long time for his current stature. He watched Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and later, Stevie Ray Vaughn, steal his thunder. While many famous musicians noticed and appreciated him, King remained largely unknown until his 1970 crossover hit "The Thrill is Gone."
In his autobiography, he recounts getting booed off the stage by a largely black crowd in the '60s. King attributed the young crowd's rejection of him to its association of blues with black oppression, and he never felt bitter about it.
Now the blues have a liberating influence and King graciously brings the same message to more appreciative crowds.