Eddie Hazel turned me onto guitar. He and Ernie Isley shredded that raw dog angularity that got my 6 year old self to convince my mother to take me to loud venues decibels above her nerve’s endurance. By the time we returned to Los Angeles, Parliament was still in command but my love for Lucille and B.B.’s conjoined efforts stayed with me and propelled me forward. Bootsy, Drac, Hendrix, Fulson, Hooker, Hopkins, etc. had that swamp throb… a gait that pushed transcendence with loping menace. Riley’s guitar vamped you in and laid the entire history of the blues on your forehead. An entire bag of notes couldn’t match the one note King would play at the precise moment. He held it and stretched it out. He was the blues and the gateway to the blues. He led me to a deeper appreciation of music.
I remember buying his “Six Silver Strings” album and not liking it much. I remember disliking the hyper clean production and the saccharine arrangements. A lot of people through the years tried to dismiss him because he didn’t immediately seem to represent the cotton picking image that some other blues people emanated. It was like considering someone not having street knowledge because they weren’t banging.
He was fluid and sophisticated. He was the son of sharecroppers and born on a Mississippi plantation. Around the point of that album, being a young musician, I felt that he and his contemporaries were abandoning themselves by jumping on trends and modern practices. I still don’t like the album but I understand now. You have to change and try new things. Do you really want to do the same thing everyday until you die? Some people do. B.B. King changed his diet to vegetarian, opened clubs in his name and lived 89 years in a society hostile to his existence. In my first band’s gig, despite all the Hazel influence imbued in me, a dude in the audience yelled during the first few bars of my solo, “Go ahead, B.B.”! …I didn’t know but I’ll remember.