Friday, May 15, 2015

B.B. King will long be remembered

After a lifetime of playing the blues and thrilling fans with his powerful performances and wonderful personality, B.B. King is gone. It truly is hard for blues fans to imagine a world without the iconic singer-songwriter-guitarist who carved out a career like no other. The King of the Blues died at his home in Las Vegas last night (May 14, 2015) at the age of 89.

There will likely be a feeling of sadness hanging over the faithful at this weekend's Doheny Blues Festival (where King performed several times), but I hope to hear some wonderful tributes celebrating King's 70-year career at the event being held in Dana Point.

I had the chance to review the great Riley B. King a number of times dating back to the early 1990s and was always reminded of his role as both blues ambassador and enduring artist. Here is a review that ran in The Orange County Register on January 4, 2008:

B.B. King still thrills at Anaheim Show

By ROBERT KINSLER / Special to the Register.

Blues guitarlst B.B. King wow fans with the licks he
played on his trademark Gibson guitar "Lucille"

in early 2008. Photo: Kelly A. Swift
B.B. King's well-deserved iconic status among fellow musicians and music lovers was long ago set in stone, but the superb shows the Mississippi-raised bluesman has been giving in recent years have added an emotional warmth to his legacy that outdistances fellow blues and soul greats that have been lost over the past decade or so (Robert Lockwood Jr., John Lee Hooker, Wilson Pickett).
Watching King, now 82, perform for close to two hours on Thursday night at the House of Blues in Anaheim was to rekindle a listener's joy for music, and even life itself. 
With the Mouse House at full capacity upstairs and down, King was given a thunderous ovation when he walked out on stage. He was greeted by affectionate applause and cheers throughout his set.
Anyone who has seen King this decade likely knew the songs in his set; the rousing "Let the Good Times Roll," confessional "Everyday I Have the Blues," a breezy take on the Bono-penned "When Love Comes to Town" immortalized 20 years ago in his performance with U2 in "Rattle and Hum" and his chilling cover of Roy Hawkins' "The Thrill Is Gone." 
Truth be told, King's shows are equal parts music and entertaining chat. On Thursday night, King noted early in the evening he suffers from diabetes and has bad knees and a bad back (into the 1990s, King performed while standing. He now sits through the majority of his shows).
He also continues to get chuckles for his humorous advice about how to treat women, and tales about his medical care (noting that it comes courtesy of Doctors Viagra and Cialis).
But witty insight was only a part of his storytelling. He also spoke at length of growing up in the segregated South and in the end noted "I want to thank you that have made the world much better today."
That story and poignant experience was the perfect segue into the joyous "Bluesman."
King continues to possess a larger-than-life baritone voice able to deliver songs with power or with nuanced emotion. Armed with his Gibson guitar named "Lucille," King played with his usual grace and style throughout the night. And his backing band, including a forceful horn section, made everything that much sweeter.
In short, King remains a fantastic concert experience. 
The good news for those who haven't yet seen King - and those who have - is he promised to be back. 
As good a headliner as King was, opening act Mason Casey failed to deliver anything approaching the magic that was to come. The 30-minute set featuring the singer-harmonica player and a four-man band came off as a sort of Fabulous Thunderbirds, but without that Kim Wilson-fronted outfit's rollicking Austin roadhouse gusto.

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