Tony Coleman drummed with blues legend B.B. King for decades. Here are a few of the things he learned from the man who was like a father to him:
“He taught me not just how to play the blues, but how to be a decent human being. It came across in his music that he always wanted to please people. It wasn’t about pleasing himself, it was about pleasing the audience. And musically, he liked the drummer to push him to be like a heartbeat, a pulse. For instance, in the song [in this video], B.B. liked to feel like the heartbeat was inside of him, not just behind him. The shuffle had to be consistent. He didn’t like the shuffle to drag and to pull. If you’re on a horse riding, and it’s galloping, he didn’t like the gallop. He liked the run. People say well, did he like to play behind the beat or in front of the beat? No. Play on the beat, play the beat on the beat. Don’t drag it, don’t pull it don’t push it, just make it consistent. That’s what he always liked, even in slow blues.
“He taught me not just how to play the blues, but how to be a decent human being.”
“He always wanted the musicians in his band to be about the music, not about your personal feelings. All he wanted you to do was playing the music to the people and don’t think about anything else.
“I played with B.B. King for over 30 years. When he hired me, I was like 23, 24 years old. I was young and didn’t really want to listen. B.B. was like a father to me – my dad and B.B. were good friends. B.B. wanted to teach me and I rejected everything he would say. He fired me five times! But he hired me six. Because he believed in me, he loved me, and he wanted me to be the best I could be playing the music.
“He used to always say, ‘Well, son, one of these days I’ll be dead and gone. You’ll still be here, so play it like I taught you, son. Teach the people. Don’t forget about us.’
“B.B. was very sincere about teaching me and all of us that ever played with him, how he wanted to be presented as a blues man. Not drunk, not acting ignorant and stupid. Because it’s not just about the music, it’s about black American culture. The blues is the black man and woman’s gift to the world. And it’s about the culture of the music, not just how to play technically. This is like an indigenous art form, the blues, and he wanted me to share it with you.”
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