B.B. King’s eight decade career sadly came to an end yesterday. While driving down the West Coast from Portland two weeks ago, I had heard B.B. was in hospice care. I stopped in Ashland, Oregon at one of my favorite record stores, The Music Coop and picked up two choice CDs of his very early recordings, and listened to them all the way back to Los angeles.
Still active on the concert scene until a short time ago, the legendary Indianola, Mississippi “Blues Boy” started his long and influential recording career in Memphis back in 1948. His early records were a combination of great guitar work, and a soothing voice.
Actually, that sums up B.B.’s entire career, although he did constantly change with the times. In 1967, after a 20 year career being hugely successful with black audiences, B.B. played the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. His smooth style was an immediate hit with a much younger, almost exclusively white audience that (fortunately) also included me. In 1969, he cut the song that became his signature, “The Thrill Is Gone.” It won a Grammy in 1970, his first of 15, and B.B. was now a household name.
The following decades we heard B.B. perform with Eric Clapton, U2 and countless other superstar acts that idolized him. A national chain of B.B. King’s Blues Club opened across the US, with the original still kicking it at 143 Beale Street in Memphis, where it all began long ago.
It was back in those days that B.B.’s famous Gibson guitar was coined “Lucille,” in memory of a woman B.B. saw two men fighting over. The men kicked over a kerosene lamp and burned the nightclub down. B.B. ran back in to get his guitar, and decided if he named it “Lucille” he would “never do anything that foolish.” Check out the Blu-ray of B.B. King’s life story, “The Life Of Riley,” narrated by Morgan Freeman.
I was barely 18 when I played “The Electric BB King” album all night long one New Years Eve. It was my first discovery of B.B., and it influenced me to pull out of school and get into radio.
I saw B.B. King in concert many times over the years, most recently at The Hollywood Bowl. I met him in 1976 at The Boarding House in San Francisco. This is the same club (now closed) that Bob Marley appeared, and Steve Martin recorded his first three comedy albums.
I wish I could find the picture of B.B. and I having a Miller Beer together. B.B. was truly one of the nicest performers I have ever met. He was both humble, and open in discussing his long and influential career. Always reflecting, B.B. told CBS anchor Charlie Rose if he could be remembered for just one song, it would be “Peace To The World.”
I will miss B.B. greatly!