Jon Brewer’s documentary feature film, B.B. King: The Life of Riley, tells the story of blues legend B.B. King. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film paints an impressive picture, utilizing archival footage, music and photos of King’s life, coupled with contemporary interviews with King, his friends, family, band members, historians and other celebrities and musicians, such as Bill Cosby, Eric Clapton, Bono and more.
If you’re looking for skeletons in the closet, or gossip about King’s life, this isn’t the place to find it. When the potentially controversial topics of marital strife are mentioned, they’re dismissed as the touring life being painfully incompatible with marital success. Likewise any conversation of womanizing is addressed with King admitting that he loves all women, just a statement of fact, and that’s that.
If you’re looking for a pretty exhaustive biography of B.B. King, what inspired him and how he became the legend that he is, and the influences he’s had on music throughout history, then this is certainly the place to start. It’s incredible all that has occurred in King’s life, and even more incredible when you stop to ponder just how much has happened historically in one man’s lifetime. For example, when King started touring, segregation was still alive and thriving.
But the hard-working musician transcended the limitations and obstacles set in front of him, and became an influential legend to countless others, all the while keeping to his own personality and idiosyncrasies. King is the first to mention that others can play better than he can, that he doesn’t do chords, but that the success he’s found over the years is because he is who he is. It’s both remarkably humble and impressively wise.
Overall, if you have any interest in B.B. King or the history of the blues, then give this one a look. It’s a long film, coming in just under two hours, and sometimes it seems to stray on a tangent or two a bit longer than it should, but it remains interesting regardless, and gives B.B. King his deserved due. Ultimately, I would hope you’d watch this and then go listen to as much B.B. King as you can find.