Riley Ben King is undoubtedly one of the most important blues musicians of all time. Without him, Keith Richards’ guitar playing wouldn’t be the same, nor would John Lennon’s early adventures in songwriting have sounded the way they did. In his long and varied life, King influenced the world of blues in a way that only a handful of musicians have managed. And because he lived to the ripe old age of 89, King had the chance to meet a number of the artists he had directly inspired. One of these was the great Stevie Ray Vaughan, who bought the blues back into the mainstream at a time when it was slipping from view. Unlike King, Vaughen’s life was tragically short. But before his ill-timed death in 1990, the pair developed a strong bond, a father-son relationship if you will.
Six years after Vaughen died in a helicopter crash along with four others, B.B. King took part in an interview for the TV special A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, in which he made his affection for the blues guitarist abundantly clear: “Stevie had many ways of showing you that he had not only talent but he had the feel for playing Blues,” King said. “His hands seemed to be flawless the way he moved with it.”
King went so far as to admit that Vaughan had something that he himself lacked: “When I play, I play sort of like talking, you know, syllables, you say a sentence here, a sentence there and then, I’ve to stop and think for something else to keep my conversation going. But his didn’t seem to be that at all. It was fluent, he flowed when he played. He could get something going and it was like a song and it would just go on and on. Ideas continuously flowed, I don’t have that. There is not a lot of people that I hear that have that but Stevie had it.”
But King and Vaughan’s relationship went beyond mutual artistic admiration. As King recalled: “When I first met Stevie I met him with his brother and after meeting him our communication started to be more like a father-son relationship. So we were very close, very, very close. He used to come to me when he had problems, he used to call me and we talked. I loved the guy.”
This strong bond saw Vaughan and King collaborate on numerous occasions, notably for a performance alongside Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Etta James, Paul Butterfield, Chaka Khan, and Albert King – the latter of whom spent his early career trying to convince his audiences that he was the brother of B.B. King. Clearly, everyone wanted to be part of B.B.’s artistic family. Only a few, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, ever really were.