Guy, who turned 79 today (July 30), had already recorded the track “Flesh & Bone” with guest Van Morrison for his new album, Born To Play Guitar, when he got word of King’s death in Las Vegas. “I had finished the album and was in Arizona when they called to tell me,” Guy tells Billboard about the track, which is premiered exclusively below. The veteran bluesman’s thoughts immediately drifted to “Stay Around a Little Longer,” a song from his 2010 release Living Proof that was his last recording session with King. “I had him help me sing on the album, thank the Lord,” Guy recalls. “I looked in his face when he was talking to me, and he told me it won’t be that long before he was pushing up daisies. I shed a few tears at that, but then I said, ‘Well B, I don’t think you can push up daisies anymore. They put you in a vault know,’ and he just laughed, which was great to see.”
Dedicating “Flesh & Bone” to King was a no-brainer for Guy. “Y’know, every time I go in the studio now my mind is on all the great blues players that have passed on before B.B.,” Guy says. “We used to talk about it — Muddy (Waters), (Howlin’) Wolf, (Little) Walter, (Little) Sonny, all those guys. They were my teachers, y’know? When I got to know them, they would always wind up saying, ‘If I go before you, boy, keep playing those blues.’ The last words Muddy Waters told me was, ‘Man, just keep playing those blues;’ I didn’t know how ill he was, and two days later I got a call he was gone. I’ve got a song on the album for him (“Come Back Muddy’), so when we heard B.B. was gone I said, ‘Let’s put one on for him, too.'”
Guy credits Tom Hambridge, his producer since 2008’s Skin Deep, with bringing Van Morrison in for the “Flesh & Bone” track and for recruiting the album’s other guests, including ZZ Top‘s Billy Gibbons, Joss Stone on a version of the Brook Benton/Dinah Washington song “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes”) and The Fabulous Thunderbirds‘ Kim Wilson on a pair of tracks. “Tom’s produced my last four albums, and the guy’s almost like Willie Dixon,” Guy says. “He can feel what fits you and he brings the best out of you. You’ve got to give him most of the credit for most of the songs on these albums, even though I did co-write a few songs on all of them. But he knows how to get the best out of you.”
Guy is currently on the road with dates booked into December, and he’s looking forward to incorporating more of the Born to Play Guitar tracks after its release on Friday. And with King’s passing he feels an even more urgent charge to follow the marching orders of his forebears.
“It’s not easy for me because I don’t think anybody can fill the shows of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter…I could go on ’til tomorrow,” Guy says. “Those guys were unnatural, man. You don’t fill shoes like that; you just keep playing the music and talking about them. It’s tough because radio doesn’t play (blues) no more, y’know? They say the blues is too slow or something, but I don’t know if I buy that. So what Tom and I do is we go in the studio and we’re like, ‘Let’s play some funky blues like those older guys, the ones that taught me, and hopefully we can hit a note that will get people to pay attention.”