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B.B. KING
the KING OF THE BLUES

 

The first time I met B.B. was when he first played his club in Memphis, Tennessee, September 22, 1991. I was still in my twenties. It was an extraordinary event with many local celebrities in attendance, including Albert King and Rufus Thomas. Amongst the who's-who audience, it seemed I should hardly fit in, yet I was probably the person who had travelled the furthest to join the celebration.

After B.B.'s two sold-out performances that night, I met him at his tour bus which was parked outside the club on Second. I was the only person waiting to meet The King, except for one passer-by who stopped when King appeared. I let the passer-by go first. B.B. reached into his tour bus where some promo photos were wedged into the windshield and signed a photo for him. Then, B.B. King greeted me.

We stood on the sidewalk for nearly fifteen minutes, having a conversation. He was so kind and took a genuine interest as we spoke. He then signed a CD that I had brought with me from Canada and wished me well as we parted.

I have since met B.B. King a number of times, thanks mostly to Canadian promoter and mutual friend, Deborah J. Cameron, who often brought his tour to Victoria and usually saved the front and centre seats for me and my guests. Deborah would always make sure I was able to meet Mr. King. I had met him often enough that he became quick to recognize me, welcoming me with his precious smile. Even as others were asked to leave, he would invite me to stay just a little bit longer.

The last time that I saw B.B. King perform in concert was at the University of Victoria's Farquhar Auditorium on March 6, 2013. Now at 88, I observed his age was becoming most-ever apparent. In fact, he missed nearly half of his signature song, 'The Thrill Is Gone'. The energy in his guitar, Lucille, was no longer sustained. There was a sense of 'good-bye' in his manner that was evident to me, and it was with mixed-emotion that I watched on, along with his adoring audience. He led the audience in a lengthy sing-along rendition of 'You Are My Sunshine', taking the time afterward to thank the audience for extending him the pleasure and personal enjoyment of the song. Few, if any, knew it was the first song B.B. ever learned notation of.

After the show, I was near his tour bus when the promoter came off the bus and walked toward me. He singled me out from the group of nearly twenty and said, 'Mr. King would like to meet with you'. I was escorted onto the tour bus and led to a familiar seating area where B.B. King was. He welcomed me and offered a soda. I expressed my pleasure to be seeing him again, fondly addressing him only as 'B'.
We began to talk.

'B' loved to story tell; to recollect. Our conversation meandered through memories of his life. He told of living on the plantation, where he only had an acoustic guitar because there was no electricity. He spoke of losing his Mom at an early age, his wish to be married again, the joy of opening his club on Beale Street in Memphis, his museum in his early hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, the challenges of being a young coloured person in the entertainment industry and of his pride of wearing suits and being well dressed. We spoke of both Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt and many other blues musicians we mutually admired.

When I spoke of having and old National resonator guitar like Bukka White's, 'B' laughed and corrected my pronunciation of Bukka a few times. Bukka was his mother's first cousin. At one point he directed my attention to a narrow closet near where he sat. 'Lucille is right in there', he said. An urge to ask his permission to hold his guitar was curbed only by my manners and respect, and an apprehension that he might well expect me to play for him.

There were four other guests seated with us. Although most of the conversation stemmed from points of interest that 'B' and I shared, he would always ensure that the others felt very much included in his personal attention. He has always been a true 'King of Gentlemen' and this evening together was no exception.

Nearly two hours had passed; his entourage patiently tolerating his need to visit with us, but it came time to go. I asked 'B' if I might have an autograph before I left. I had brought an original menu from when his club first opened on Beale Street in Memphis. He was delighted and admired the memorabilia on the menu artwork. It became the last keepsake I was to ever receive in person from 'B'.

My collection of B.B. King memorabilia is uniquely mine, each being a treasured memento of our meetings; a Gibson pickguard framed with museum quality, many discs and booklets remaining protected in their CD case, the blues club menu in my kitchen and my muddy guitar strap always ever-present in my home office.... 'See You In Memphis Dave' written on it from when we once spoke of meeting there again one day. It didn't seem to matter how many times I had already met and spoke with 'B', the thrill to see him each time was never diminished.

Today, I humbly wish my friend Mr. King a safe passage to wherever his soul and spirit next travel, knowing that his spirit, so large and so giving, will always remain, in part, with those who loved his music or ever had the privilage and honor to meet or know him.

....with love, 'B', I say good bye.

A FIRST
The first time I saw B.B. King perform was the night he first played his club on Beale Street in Memphis. The club manager reserved the best table for me and I was served a filet mignon steak dinner as Mr. King took the stage.

 

TWO FIRSTS
The first 45RPM record of B.B. King's that I collected and
my Live At The Apollo CD, the very first keepsake B.B. King signed for me.

 

MUDDY STRAP
Not quite the color of the muddy Mississippi River, B.B. King once signed this
guitar strap for me as he reflected on our plans to rendezvous again in Memphis.

 

TWO GUESTS
Here's a couple of discs that B.B. King made guest appearances on;
U2's When Love Comes To Town and Primitive Radio Gods'
Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand.

 

SIGNED TWICE
In February, 1994, I met up with B.B. King and he was happy to autograph a Gibson pickguard,
even though it wasn't from his ES-355 model. I told him I wanted to frame in for my music room. When I met him on New Year's, 1995, I took the framed pickguard along with me.
B.B. gladly signed the back.

 

LIVE AT THE REGAL
According to B.B. King, most critics point to LIVE AT THE REGAL as his best release, but sometimes I'm certain that his best release is the one I am listening to at the time.

 

THE LAST AUTOGRAPH
On my last visit with B.B. King, or 'B' as I fondly called him, he signed this menu from his Memphis Blues Club. In between the pre-printed signatures in white and black, is his golden
To David
B.B. King

 

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