In March of 2006, at the age of 80, B.B. King began is “farewell” tour in England at the Hallam Arena in Sheffield. King has been on the road ever since.
There is no mandatory retirement age in rock ’n’ roll, or the blues for that matter. But when he decides to actually call it quits, or the decision is made for him, who will be the next B.B. King? It is a rhetorical question, for sure. Icons such as King, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley can never truly be replaced. But with the rise of each new generation of stars comes the inevitable crowning within the media hype.
So, who in the young blues world has the chops and staying power to match the level of influence King has had on the blues? The late ’70s was a fertile time for offering up blues prodigies. From 1974-ish to ’79-ish, a whole crop of eventual blues guitar gods were born. Let’s take a look.
Jonny Lang was 15 in 1997, when his first major label disc, the multi-platinum-selling Lie To Me, was released on A&M Records. To date, Lang has put out six albums.
Lang is a fluid and dynamic guitar player, moving easily from wailing to delicate single notes from song to song. On the live stage he has stood with the best – the Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Blues Traveler, Jeff Beck, Sting and so on.
His voice, however, sets him apart from the pack of young’uns. Lang sings with a tone that belies his North Dakota upbringing. Perhaps Fargo gets its tap water from Chicago?
Despite his initial launch to stardom, Lang hasn’t found himself in the limelight very much over the past few years.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
In 1995, at the age of 18, Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s first release, Ledbetter Heights, hit number one on the blues chart. His second release, Trouble Is…, holds the record for the longest-running album on the Billboard blues chart.
While Shepherd can swap deep, bluesy licks with the best of them, his M.O. has primarily been heavy-driving blues rock and Hendrix flair. Shepherd rarely acts as the lead singer in his band, opting to put his talents solidly into his guitar playing.
In 2007, Shepherd released an adventurous CD/DVD set called 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads. It was a pilgrimage through the southern U.S. to meet and perform with some of the few players left from the early days of the blues: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, B. B. King, Jerry "Boogie" McCain, Cootie Stark, Neal Pattman, John Dee Holeman, Etta Baker, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Pinetop Perkins, among others.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Shepherd has the roots of the music within him, but his forays into mainstream rock ’n’ roll don’t lend to the potential for becoming the king of the blues.
Derek Trucks, nephew to drummer Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band, first came to prominence in 1996, at the age of 17, with the Derek Trucks Band.
Trucks’s road to the top has been virtually non-stop as he has toured almost continuously for the last 16 years. The Derek Trucks Band has been on the road in support of seven discs, from 1997 to 2010. Between tours, he was a regular member of the Allman Brothers and recorded on four of their discs. Trucks did a world tour in 2007 as a member of Eric Clapton’s band. Since 2010, Trucks has teamed up with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, to form Tedeschi Trucks Band, releasing two discs and touring regularly.
Two Grammy wins in the past three years have put Trucks on top of the blues world. He is currently number 16 on the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists list.
It says something about the prowess and potential of an artist when his first real studio session, at the age of 18, is playing slide guitar for Junior Wells. If there is one true contender to be the next B.B. King, Trucks is pretty close to the real thing.
Guys like Jack White, Dan Auerbach and John Mayer certainly have the blues chops and soul. They have each done yeomen’s work, bringing the genre to the ears of the uninitiated. Their true hearts may lie in the old school, but their success lies too far outside hardcore blues to give them such an illustrious title as the next B.B. King.
Given King’s longevity, however, it might be in a whole new crop of up-and-comers that we will find the next B.B. King.
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