Sunday, September 25, 2022

Review: American Masters: B.B. King: The Life Of Riley (Fri, Feb. 12, PBS)

BB King
BB King

*Before Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr. and Bonnie Raitt take the Grammy stage on Monday to honor the late BB King, PBS will pay tribute to the blues icon tonight in its latest edition of “American Masters.”

“BB King: The Life of Riley” (Friday, Feb. 12 from 9-10 p.m.), was originally released in theaters in 2012 as a two-hour film, tracing the early childhood and rise of Riley B. King, the musician christened “Beale Street Blues Boy” (later shortened to BB) during his early stint as a DJ in Memphis.

“American Masters” shaves off 60 minutes – but keeps the narration by Morgan Freeman and the important milestones in BB’s life, including his early experience with segregation in Mississippi, the lasting impact of seeing a black boy dragged behind a car by a white mob, and the influence of preacher Archie Fair, the first person he heard play an electric guitar.

The hour is packed with vintage performance footage, including his 1968 gig at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, where he was billed with a bevy of popular rock stars that helped him cross over to a white audience.

Other footage includes King’s collaboration with U2, and his performance of “Sweet Home Chicago” at the White House (with Mick Jagger as backup and President Obama taking a turn on lead).

Interviews with Raitt, Bono, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Ringo Starr and others are crammed in as well. “You can tell a BB King song from one note,” many of them state in the film, referring to his trademark trills on the guitar.

Watch below:

In the segment, BB goes on to explain how he came to adopt that trill technique, and the story behind naming his beloved guitar, “Lucille.”

King died at age 89 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease along with congestive heart failure and diabetes on May 14, 2015.

Footage from his funeral is included, but there is no mention of the ugly tabloid drama surrounding the singer’s final days. Some of King’s surviving sisters waged various legal battles against his longtime business manager and the eventual executor of his estate, LaVerne Toney, who is interviewed in the film, but sticks only to (and tears up over) BB’s musical legacy. None of King’s surviving siblings were included in the special.

Watch a trailer and clips from “American Masters: BB King, The Life of Riley” below:

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