Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Life Of Riley - A Film By Jon Brewer

A barely educated black orphan from the segregated south of the United States overcomes hard times, ridicule and hatred.  Through his commitment to a guitar and the blues he lifts himself from poverty, crosses racial barriers and becomes blues music royalty.  His real name is Riley King and this is his story, a tribute put on film by Jon Brewer, and available on DVD. It is The Life Of Riley. It is the life of the ultimate blues master, B.B. King.  

Brewer chose to tell the story of King's rise to blues royalty through archival footage and interviews with B.B., his relatives, and with those who love, revere and have worked with him.  The result is a love fest and tribute to the undisputed King of The Blues narrated by Morgan Freeman. 

The breadth of people who appear with, and talk about, B.B. is as fascinating as B.B. King's life story.  They are also part of the story.  How is this for a "supporting film cast" of people from your life chosen to speak about you? - Bono, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Ringo Starr, Walter Trout, Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Dr. John, Leon Russell, Joe Walsh, Bruce Willis, President Barack Obama. . . .

B.B. King may not think he is the best blues guitarist - in fact he tells us in the film he feels inferior to most guitarists and that he "don't play chords." Yet, everyone who has worked with him, and those who listen critically, almost always know with one guitar note whether it is B.B. King.  When he sings you know for certain.  That voice, that guitar, come from living the blues. There is universal reverence for the reigning King of the Blues.

If there is one negative side to this film it is that, for all of its 118 minute length, it lacks a full B.B. King performance (although a live performance from the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 (as well as extended interviews) are included as extras on the DVD). However, B.B. King's performances are not the purpose or focus of this film.  Rather, the film tries to find B.B. King, the person, not the legend.  Yet, love for the man and what he represents results in repeated tributes from those who know him best. 

Now that B.B. is up there in age and no longer in the best of health (although he still tours about 180 days a year) you get the feeling Brewer wanted to put on film a chance for us to touch his Highness before Riley gets called home.  I say thank you. Long Live The King.  The thrill is not gone and may it never vanish.

- Old School 

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