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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

B.B. King in the USSR, 1979

B.B. King toured the USSR in the spring of 1979 and played to huge and very appreciative crowds in Moscow, Leningrad, Baku, Yerevan, and Tbilisi. King loved the Soviet audiences and the reception.

"At every concert in the USSR the people were beautiful. From the start my audience seemed aware of the type of music I play and stayed with me. On recognizing a tune the audience would burst into spontaneous applause."

Soviet Life 1979:

BLUES singer and guitarist B.B. King , with his 10- piece band and vocalist Mildred Jones, introduced Soviet audiences to his very special style of fusing blues, jazz and popular music . All 24 concerts on his four- week tour, covering five major Soviet cities, were sold out.

B. B. King's reputation preceded his arrival in every Soviet city the band visited, and he had an even larger following after he was gone.

Soviet audiences got their first taste of the blues from Duke Ellington in 1972. Ellington explained that the blues is always "a result of a romantic triangle with the odd one left to suffer...or rejoice." In "Beale Street Blues Boy's" ( the musician's radio name) case it was the guitar he tenderly named " Lucille " that told the story first . Then followed Mildred Jones's deep, mellow vocal interpretation with an earthiness and a conviction all its own.

The " King of the Blues" was always surrounded by young Soviet musicians, musicologists and music lovers. Often his dressing room would become the scene of lively debates on the future of music, generally, and his kind of music, in particular. A group of young reporters from a youth magazine had seen a film on Soviet television about Louis Armstrong and noticed that most of the blues musicians weren't young. "Is it something that comes with age?” they asked. Mr. King responded willingly. "No," he said, "it's not that way altogether. Old people have what you can't buy, and that is experience. Young people get into their own groove of music for which they can't be blamed either."

"Is jazz a temporary thing?" someone continued to probe. Mr. King gave us his broad, winning smile and said: “That's what they predicted, that it would last for only a short time, but it's been lasting most of my life."

King went on to tell his audience how much he had gotten from the jam sessions with Soviet jazz musicians in Tbilisi and Baku, the capitals of Georgia and Azerbaijan. In fact, he thought the opportunity for the American and Soviet musicians to play and improvise together was the highlight of the visit. He said: "I think the Soviet Union has great musicians. I was pleasantly surprised that they played with a depth of feeling I didn't expect. I thought they would be great technicians but would not play with soul. I found that a lot of them do, and I was happy to hear it. It was a great pleasure for me to find the people in the Soviet Union to be warm and human -- just great people."




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