It’s not very often that one gets the opportunity to see a living legend. So, a few months ago when I had the chance to get tickets to see B.B. King, I seized the opportunity. Through fortuitous circumstances, I was able to buy tickets at the pre-sale through the local arts association. I had my assistant order them for me and she came back and told me that it was done and that I had REALLY great seats — 3rd row, Center.
Now, Mr. D. is usually not real excited about going to concerts as it’s generally too loud for his delicate ears. However, since we lived in Memphis and had been to B.B.’s club dozens of times, I figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to convince him to go, particularly since we had such good seats. I waited for a strategically good time to break the news. Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to accompany me and we were set. I received the tickets in the mail about a week later and put them in my purse.
When we got to the concert, we went to the bar and got a couple of drinks before the show. Since there were about 1,000 little old “ushers” all around, we whipped out the tickets to find out where the best entrance for us would be. Low and behold, our seats weren’t on the 3rd row…..they were FIRST ROW!!!
We were both ecstatic. I had my camera in my purse and I knew that I was going to be able to get some good shots. I have a fairly high resolution Canon point and shoot, but it generally gets the job done. See?……
The opening act started promptly at 8:00pm. Wes Jeans is an up and coming hard rock blues man from Texas. With just he, a bass player and a drummer, he put on a very tight set. He reminded me very much of a young Duane Allman.
A very amiable and personable young man, he had quite a bit of monologue for the audience and let us know several times what an honor it was for him to open for, and be on the same stage as, Mr. B.B. King. While his blues style has a harder rock vibe to it, he was able to produce a very fine version of Muddy Waters’ Champagne & Reefer. He also jumped down off the stage and went all through the audience, which was quite a crowd pleaser. Go out and check this dude out at www.wesjeans.com. Good stuff.
After getting the set just right and 20 minutes later, nattily dressed musicians in slick tuxedos took the stage. The B.B. King band, in all it’s glory, began to play. The heavenly horn section showed off it’s immense talent on about 9 different brass instruments. They were divine.
I saw Melvin Jackson (bottom right) years ago in Memphis at B.B. King’s (sans B.B.) and the beautiful sax that he plays is just as beautiful sounding. About 10 minutes in, Melvin announces B.B. King to the stage (as he has in over 90 countries), to a standing ovation.
He was magnificent looking in an irredescent patterned tux coat with black satin vest. He took a chair and Melvin “strapped him into” Lucille, the beautiful black Gibson, custom made for B.B.
On the handle, the inlay reads “B.B. King 80”, evidently given to him by Gibson to celebrate his 80th birthday a year and a half ago. Now, we are close….I mean like 15 ft. max. As he’s sitting down, he can’t see deep into the audience because of the low lighting, but he spots me with my camera and looks dead at me.
I click and I smile and I give him a “thumbs up” (I know, gooberish….but heartfelt.) He’s happy to be here. You can see it. You can feel it.
What an absolute delight this man is. So much talent and so much life. He explains to the crowd after a short guitar intro that his diabetes takes a toll on his knees and ankles and that standing to play causes him too much discomfort and he wants to be able to play as long as possible for his folks, so he is going to sit tonight….and, was that ok with us? Of course, the crowd goes wild and many people were throwing “We love you, B.B.” out all over the place. B.B. crosses his hands on his chest, making a humble gesture of appreciation. It was officially a LoveFest.
While I can’t recant the exact set list (as I was sitting there in slack-jawed awe, mesmerized by the stories, voice and fingers on the strings), I can provide some of my favorite moments. The first was Blues Man.
I was struck by the fact that B.B. looks like a plump Morgan Freeman (a talented blues man in his own right). The passion with which B.B. plays and sings is infectious. You “feel” him. And the guitar is simply an extension of his body.
In between songs, he told anecdotes and stories about songs and situations, developing an immediate and intense kun-NECK-shun ™ with the audience.
My favorite was his recollection about growing up in the country and going to town once a week. He joked about seeing an indoor toilet for the first time when he was in his ’20s. Then, he talked specifically about going into town and having a few beers on “the dark side” of the tracks. After a beer and a half and starting to feel 10 ft. tall and bulletproof, he’d sneak over to the “white side” of the tracks to drink out of the “All White” fountain, then run back across the tracks. He said he never understood what the big deal was regarding that “white” water as it tasted the same as the “colored” water. Folks roared with laughter but the moment was not lost on a theater full of Alabamians listening to a black man from Mississippi who has come a long way since having to sneak across those tracks. He made his point exceedingly clear and everyone absolutely loved him for it.
The set included some of B.B.’s best. You Can Have My Husband, Nobody Loves Me But But My Mother, Ain’t Nobody’s Business, How Blue Can You Get and Let the Good Times Roll (complete with crowd call back).
You can definitely see B.B.’s influence on these prodigys. Somewhere in there, he “tagged” in some Night Life guitar pickin’. He had the crowd thoroughly engaged with Ain’t That Just Like a Woman.
I am particularly fond of I Need You So.
He was particularly proud to do U2’s When Love Comes to Town, written by Bono specifically for him.
He even did a jig in his chair, much to the delight of the crowd.
He led everyone is a sweet version of You Are My Sunshine (written by Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis), before finishing up with The Thrill is Gone. After an hour and forty-five minutes, he finished up and took a fierce, proud and appreciative bow. The crowd responded with a three minute standing ovation.
At the very end, he threw just a few guitar picks out to the audience, and my knight in shining armor ran up there and got me one, along with a necklace commemorating his 2007 World Tour. Got to give the man credit….once he’s there, he certainly participates. I lerve Mr. D. It was an absolute fantabulous evening and Mr. Riley B. King was superb. I can actually say that this is a highlight of my musical life.
B.B. King is such an awesome talent, great artist and genuine human being. His music showcases his evident emotion in each song, note and phrase. The art of music is in the effectiveness of conveying the emotion. B.B. King is a master of this art.