I'm going to take a departure from my review postings for a few moments. I need to tell a personal story of how I came to the Blues and how they have saved me.
When I was 19 I began to struggle with severe depression and anxiety. I had finally reached a point that I was truly suicidal. Having grown up in the conservative southern United States and being very much an outsider in so many ways, I felt very isolated and had lost hope for so many parts of life.
I never learned how to be truly social and comfortable with it, nor did I learn how to have a relationship beyond friendships. Somehow I missed all of those steps in the grades between 6th and 12th. I still struggle with this and can only hope that if people see me being quiet or standing off it's only that I'm unsure of how to handle or carry myself in that moment and that I am simply being present and TRYING to move forward into an alien situation for me.
I grew up in the church, and one that didn't accept me for all of me. And I gradually drifted from religion entirely. A move which did help to improve my life, but the church is still a painful part of my past.
At this point I was listening primarily to just the usual teenager pop music and house electronic dance. (Which I do still listen to on occasions.) Obviously I knew of the Blues. I knew of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Otis Redding. I knew of Aretha, Koko Taylor, and Mahalia Jackson.
But, I had never truly LISTENED to these giants. I'd never truly let the meaning and emotion of it get past the radio speaker.
In April of 2001 I entered one of the darkest periods of my life. I moved through the motions and mostly kept up the facade of everything being ok, though I'm sure some suspected something was wrong. Using that much energy to keep a wall up and fight the demons at the same time is one of the most draining things of life for me.
It was at this point that I found out that I actually suffer from Bi-Polar Depression with an added bonus of anxiety as the cherry on top. At this point I have to explain that not every person that deals with Bi-Polar hears voices or thinks they can fly, hallucinates or takes off on violent sprees of mentally disturbed rage that are depicted in the media. Many many people deal with one that is much quieter, and in some ways more dangerous because it is more easily hidden. Dangerous to the patient, not others.
I fall into the second category.
At the point I was ready to take my own life a song happened to hit the alarm clock that just started going off to wake me for school. I was already long up because in a bout of insomnia and soul crushing tears, I'd yet to even lay down.
B.B. King came on the radio singing Let The Good Times Roll. It seems incongruous to me that it wasn't more of a blues song speaking specifically of pain or recovery or pushing through, but it was a song just celebrating the good times and having fun. It was like a hand reaching out, touching my shoulder, and pulling me back from the edge of that cliff.
I didn't make it to school that day. Instead I was home and listened to more of Mr King's music. And as I did I began to explore and listen to more artists in the genre. For once the music got past the speakers on the radio.
That was the day that I finally started to understand how people truly found a community in music and how it sustained them in a deep and meaningful way.
When I tell people that my heart lives in the Blues, I mean it in the most serious way.
While I never got the chance to thank Mr King personally, I did get to see him live a number of times after I moved to New England. And I have to say, these were not concerts... They were an audience with The King. To hear his stories and his good humor and his free disclosure of his history was a unique thing. Something that I've seen where he instilled that style of community with other artists, but none will ever be like B.B. King.
The many artists who have been mentored by Riley B King have all had the same to say, he was a genuine and humble man. Someone who was honest and kind with a sense of humor.
When you see the band that he traveled and performed with you could clearly see that he had reached the point that he wanted when he saw the well dressed and classy bands, like Duke Ellington and his orchestra, all dressed impeccably and ready to stand out with style.
A man in his 80's he still played like a man half his age. He might have had to sit, but he and Lucille were one and he could take her to the heights and drop down to the darkest depths; and then pull you right back up to daylight.
He tells a story of how Lucille saved his life when he was a very young man in a car accident. And that in fact he named his guitar Lucille because that was the name of a woman that was at the center of a fight in a bar, in Twist Arkansas where he was playing, where two men turned over a pail of fuel that was being used as a heater on a cold winter night in a fight. So it seems fair that when he ran out at the start of the fire and he ran back into the crumbling wooden building to rescue Lucille, and then Lucille saved him from a car accident.
There's something in that connection that carried him from that moment in 1949 until the day he left this world and returned to the stars. He could strike a single note and pull an emotion out of you so strongly that it could knock you off your feet. It was that connection that hit the chord that saved my life. And has saved me a few times over the years.
I don't normally discuss this in such detail in public, but today I feel like there are enough islands of stranded souls who feel like they are clambering alone in the dark, that should know... YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
I've struggled recently more than I have in a long time, and I've clung to the music for my life. And when my grip has slipped, my long time friends and new friends that I've made through this community have reached out and caught me.
There have been a few artists and bands that have been there in that darkest moment for me, even when they didn't know it.
Bobby Blue Bland, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Nick Moss, Dennis Gruenling, Taylor Streiff, Patrick Seals, Michael Weston Archer, Anthony Gomes, Tyler Morris, Jason Ricci, and Tab Benoit.
Whether in person at a live show, in a friendly text chat, or just hearing their songs come up on the playlist while I'm home or driving... They've all saved me at least once, and some more than twice.
I can't help but to see the legacy of B.B. King when I see how he carried himself in kindness and imparted that quality to the artists he helped bring up. A style that moved from the Delta Blues to Chicago to Memphis to Texas and even down in New Orleans. He created an image of a kind and grateful man who valued his fans and the love and support given to him from fans and friends. And with that blueprint, of never taking things or people for granted, he created the gold standard for all who follow.
In that community I've found friends and support. I've become friends and acquaintances with people who I would never have had the nerve to even talk to before without the community that exists within the Blues.
If I were able to talk with B.B. King I would have to say:
"Mr. King, thank you for your kindness and talent. Thank you for working all the years paying those dues. Thank you for bringing a music into my life that has saved me from the abyss. You forever will hold a place within my heart and continue to sustain me through the darkest nights.
I hope that you have found your peace and I hope that the stars carry you through. I will forever work to bring the Blues, and especially live Blues, to more and more people so that it might help someone else the way you helped me. You've given me something to have a pure and complete passion for in my life and I will never be able to properly thank you for that gift. "
This post is not a full and normal review. This post is a measure of gratitude to the artists and the community that work so hard and that care so much about anyone from any walk of life. That compassion and camaraderie will continue to ensure the longevity of the Blues and will continue to save more and more people even if you never know you've touched someone.
With my deepest sincerity, I thank you all.
I'll leave this post with a phrase that came to me many years ago:
"The Blues shall carry me through, and the stars will carry me home."