King of the Blues

B.B. King passed away last night. As I’ve mentioned before, I have seen literally hundreds of concerts. B.B. King was one of the ones I got to see a couple of times, and I have never seen a more gracious performer.

He was already about 80 years old when I first saw him. Definitely not a young guy anymore, but he still played over 200 shows a year. When I saw him, the band would start playing and after a few minutes he would ride a Jazzy to the edge of the stage, then slowly walk out and sit down before letting his guitar Lucille join in with the band. At the first opportunity, he would apologize for sitting during the show, since diabetes made it difficult for him to stand for very long. The shows were short, and it seemed that half of the show was B.B. telling stories in between the songs.

Had almost anyone else done a show that way, I’d feel ripped off. Not so with B.B. King. His stories were as captivating as his music, and I felt as though I were listening to a Grandfather I never had. Each time I saw him I knew that I was looking at a living legend, but it always seemed like HE was the most grateful person in the room just because people came to see him. When he walked off of the stage he seemed to have been energized by the experience. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing the same job for 66 years and still being so deeply in love with it.

The last time I saw B.B. was in 2007. A friend had toured Red Rocks in Colorado and taken some pictures there. I got it into my head that I wanted to see a show there so I kept my eye on the concert schedule. When I saw a show on Labor Day weekend with B.B. King, Etta James, and Al Green, I snapped up tickets right away.

Now all I had to do was figure out how to get to Colorado.

If you ever get a chance to go to Red Rocks, do it. It’s still the best concert venue I’ve ever been to. Al Green rocked the place. Etta James is a legend in her own right, and someone I’ve been fortunate to see a couple of times. Then came B.B.

Understand, 2007 was not a very happy time in the USA. There was a lot of negativity and cynicism. We were stuck in a war in Iraq that seemed to be getting worse, the economy was going downhill, and every piece of news seemed worse than the last. At least we had a clear, cool September night watching B.B. King on the most beautiful stage I’ve ever seen. At some point during the show, he started to tell a story.

He talked about being a little kid in Mississippi in the 1930’s. He talked about segregation, and how the black and white people of the town never really mixed. The one place where they would gather together was at the town park on Sunday’s after church. He told us about the time that he snuck a drink from the water fountain that was for white people, and then he knew the secret that the white people were being conned, because he knew that their water wasn’t any better than his.

B.B. Paused. He looked out over the crowd, and he finally said: “Thank you all for making this a better place.”

It was a dose of perspective. As bad as things seemed at the time, this man had seen worse, and was grateful to have witnessed the change. As stupid and as petty as we can be, we can still move forward, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I suppose that’s the heart of the Blues. Young, old, rich, or poor, we all have to pay our dues at some point. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep moving forward.

I’ll miss you B.B. I wish you could know how much this song helped me out when I was paying my own dues.

Posted in music, thoughts