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This article was originally published in issue #35
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You may ask why the key of Bb? B.B.King was very much influenced by Jazz as he was by Blues and many Jazz/Blues pieces from the 1930s onwards employed keys favoured by horn players as big band Jazz was the pop music of the day.
May 2015 saw the sad death of BB King - probably the most famous Blues guitarist the world has ever known and an inspiration to millions. Stuart Bull completes his two-part tribute BB King Tech Session.
Hi folks and welcome to the second chunk of wonder in the two part B.B.King Tech Session. These two pieces of work have somehow followed the path of a New Orleans funeral, where on the way to the event, sadness is the main theme and where, post burial, celebrations break out for the passing of a dear friend or family member. I personally felt a more emotional piece should come first followed by something more upbeat in part two. The more upbeat version is the Bb Shuffle you see before you.
You may ask why the key of Bb? B.B.King was very much influenced by Jazz as he was by Blues and many Jazz/Blues pieces from the 1930s onwards employed keys favoured by horn players as big band Jazz was the pop music of the day. The bands had many horn players and generally one, or sometimes two, guitar players, making the flat keys the more frequent choice.
The first part of the solo uses what is sometimes referred to as the B.B. Box. This is a collection of what I would say are five notes, in the key of Bb these would be G Bb Db Eb and F. With bends/slides etc. more notes are added and you can decide for yourself how many notes the "Box" contains.
One of the main differences with the box is how the root note (in this case Bb) is approached. Very commonly in Blues vocabulary the root note is preceded by the minor third (in this case Db) or alternatively the major third if the key is major. Most times if the major third is used it will be slid into from the minor third. With the box the major sixth (G) is used to approach the root note. This gives a sweet sound also used by players such as Larry Carlton and Robben Ford (both B.B. fans). This position also lends itself to bending with the first finger, minor third bends, use of major and minor thirds / flattened fifth etc. The B.B. Box is a super useful tool for sweet sounding Blues and beyond.
One more component of the opening section is the use of what I call the "Brass Stab". Big bands often use single hit brass stabs for punctuation within a tune, B.B.King takes this idea and plays a one note hit with a slide off which can be a perfect way to end a phrase.
Moving on to the second chorus (second time through the chord progression) the solo starts with a chromatic line. Here we are moving into the Jazz influence of B.B. as is the following diminished arpeggio idea that follows shortly after. B.B. King didn't use a ton of this stuff he just put in the right amount to catch your ear. As we move to the four chord (Eb) a more standard pentatonic idea is used which adds a nice grounding effect to the solo.
We also have the punctuation idea appearing again where the 3rd and fifth of the one chord are approached from a semitone below to provide a lower version of the previously mentioned "Brass Stab".
B.B. King used a lot of down strokes, I believe this is to really lock in the timing and provide a good solid feel to the solos. You may also notice where the accents reside within the lines. Generally speaking they are on the off beats and not the 1 2 3 or 4 as usual with B.B.King nothing is set in stone but these accents are often too great for great effect especially in the more Jazz flavoured lines.
Well that wraps it up for this issue. Mr King will be sadly missed. History often pronounces "The King Is Dead, Long Live The King” but this type of crown has to be earned with blood, sweat and a life time of hard work and I can't think of anyone who could take his place, so I say long live the King. His music will and his playing will never die - 'nuff said.