B.B. King is the godfather of the blues, one of the most integral figures in shaping the genre and creating rock ‘n’ roll as we know it today. Although he played such a pivotal role in creating that sound, the late guitarist was exceedingly thankful for The Rolling Stones adopting his early work and taking it to new horizons.
The Rolling Stones, in their formative years, found themselves criticised for gentrifying or commodifying the sound that Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Little Richard and other black American artists had created during their early years. However, The Stones never claimed to be originators and were honest about wearing their influences firmly on their sleeve, a factor that helped recognise the aforementioned artists. It’s an unavoidable fact that the Stones were a group of white guys from England, making them more palatable to the masses, an undeniable aspect which aided their bid to become stadium conquering stars. On the other hand, their songs acted as a gateway drug into the world of rock ‘n’ roll.
The Stones were more than happy to help give the likes of King and Berry the love they quite rightly deserved and, in return, B.B. was forever grateful for how their success helped aid his career. The one album that he pinpointed as a turning point moment for the blues was 1968 effort Beggars Banquet, a record which helped confirm their status as one of the world’s premier acts and truly made the blues a mainstream phenomenon.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2008, King named that album as the record that broke down people’s prejudices. He fondly said: “The Stones were superstars. I supported them on tour in 1969 and to be able to do something with them was a godsend for me. It probably didn’t mean much to them, but it meant a lot to me. Keith [Richards] was always playing something and looking at me as if to say, ‘You can’t play this!’
King continued: I loved working with them and I’d work with them tomorrow if they’d let me. The Stones opened a lot of eyes – white and black – because many people didn’t know about the blues. I wanted them to think of it as music in the same way as I wanted them to think of us as people.”
After flirting with psychedelia on their last two records, Beggars Banquet was a homecoming to blues and definitive proof of what they were on this earth to do. Through enlisting King as their support in 1969, The Stones ensured that each night was a conquering celebration of the blues and for many fans in the audience, their first time seeing a black rock musician even though, King was a pioneer of the genre.
Following King’s death in 2015, Mick Jagger poignantly remarked: “I was just looking at a picture of me and B.B. backstage at Madison Square Garden [in 1969]…He played with us at a lot of gigs on that tour. We last played with him at a Blues concert in the White House. It’s sad. He had such a huge, long career. It’s sad that we won’t be listening to him live anymore.”
Keith Richards also movingly noted: “He was one of the greats. Great style. B.B. was a great guy. He was one of the true gentlemen, and I shall miss him a lot, we always had a great time with him when our paths crossed,” he said. “At least we have his records. Farewell, B.B.”
King was one of Richards’ great heroes and the admiration being reciprocal says everything there is to say about the impact that The Stones’ music had. Even though their backgrounds couldn’t have been anymore disparate from one another, they both lived and breathed rock ‘n’ roll — which they both helped spread the word of far and wide, making it the behemoth that is still is today.