May 14, 2015 - BB King, the most-legendary blues guitarist and singer of all time, passed away quietly in his sleep in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the age of 89.
I had the pleasure of seeing BB King live about a dozen times. In fact, I remember the first time I ever saw him was on the Johnny Carson Show back in the early 1980s. Even as a dopey, young kid who listened to radio hits at the time, I was glued to the TV. His mannerisms... his facial expressions... his sense of humor... his soul... his true feelings... and the way his index finger planted itself to a single note while the rest of his hand flapped around to ring that one note out until the end of time if he wanted it to. But he would always end the note perfectly and at the perfect time: when the audience felt it with him.
Not only did I see BB King many times, he also introduced me to several blues artists that I otherwise would have never seen nor heard of: Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, Koko Taylor, Susan Tedeschi, Dave Hole, Derek Trucks, Nathan Cavalieri (who wasn't even a teenager yet when BB King brought him on stage), Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tommy Castro...
Then there were the superstars that came along with BB King and rode on his coattails at blues festivals all over the world: Buddy Guy, Etta James, Robert Cray, Al Green... heck, I even saw one of John Lee Hooker's last performances thanks to him being gracious (and respectful) enough to join BB King on stage on, last time.
The list goes on and on and on - I can't remember half of the bands I saw play with BB King, but I remember BB King and how he mastered his shows. I remember watching him play concerts standing up until, suddenly, one year, he was sitting down for the whole show. That was when I started to worry: "How much longer will he perform live?"
But BB King went on to perform for several more years after that, sitting down throughout his shows. Somehow, the king of the blues went on mastering his stage presence, even while never leaving his chair except to come on and off the stage, and to toss signature guitar picks into the crowd at the end of every show.
And, of course, I remember the last BB King concert I ever saw: it was on New Year's Eve in, of all places, Stockton, California, at the Bob Hope Theater downtown. It was the smallest venue I ever saw him play, and we had some kickass seats about 30 rows back from the stage. Even then, in his mid-80s, the show was spectacular. A bit slowed down from the early days of revving up the crowd at The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but that was to be expected. In fact, it was nice to see him slow it down a bit. We knew Stockton probably wasn't his first choice for a New Year's Eve show, but he did it and you would have thought he was playing Madison Square Garden - the show was as good as anyone else would have put on in any huge arena in the biggest city on Earth.
If you have memories of seeing BB King, please feel free to share them with us. I'll carry my memories with me the rest of my life, and BB King is one of the reasons why I started playing guitar in the first place. Don't get me wrong: I'll never be as good as BB King ever was, and I'll never have the same, pure soul and emotion pouring out of me when I dare bend a note in a simple blues solo. But I'll always remember the times I saw BB King live because they were the best concerts you could ever see. There is no match for showmanship for BB King, forever the King of the Blues.