My favorite stories about B.B. King can’t be told in public. Buddy and I laughed about this last week…about this very fact. About how all my heroes turned out to be real human beings. I didn’t know B.B. very well. I met him many times, toured with him in the 90’s and had the extreme honor, privilege and pleasure of sitting in on visits between he and Buddy (which is where I get many of the stories that can’t be told in public) .
B.B. was an artist, an innovator , a healer but most of all, a kind, humble gentleman. He carried the weight of his fame gracefully. I asked him for three autographs in my life and he granted each of them (2 for me and one for my daughter). I only asked for two photos with him, both of which he graciously agreed to. My favorite story that I CAN tell is this; we were on a package tour, B.B. was the headliner, Buddy was next and we had Eric Johnson and the Alligator All-Stars (Junior Wells and Lonnie Brooks). We were in an airport, early morning…EARLY morning, waiting on a flight. I’m sitting at the gate and suddenly B.B. and his crew arrive. B.B. sits right next to me and as a young bluesman, I’m in heaven! We say “good-morning” and for me that was enough. B.B. King looks you in the eye and says’ “good morning, young man”, I’m good! One of his aides comes up with a styrofoam platter filled with bacon, eggs, gravy and biscuits. B.B. turns to me, holds out the plate and says; “you want some food?” “Oh, no sir! Thank you!” I ain’t about to take B.B. King’s biscuit and gravy! The thing was, He WAS SERIOUS! At that moment, he was a southern gentleman who had some food and the guy next to him had none. I’ve never forgotten that.
When I toured with him he was still in his prime. I watched from the side of the stage, every night as he was B.B. KING! He “reached”, musically, every night. He played stuff that he hadn’t played the night before, he pushed. Tone. Phrasing. Execution. Regal. Exactly like a KING.
I mustered up my courage once and told him that I’d love to play on stage with him sometime. He said “well, I usually just call up the headliners, but if you want to come up, that would be alright.” I held out for my moment to be when I was “one of the headliners”, it didn’t come.
B.B. King gave his life to his art. He toured more than any other artist, for longer than any other artist. His discography spans decades. His recordings stretch from Sun records to U2 to playing for presidents, prisoners and popes. His influence is every musician.
I was born in a world with Elvis, the Beatles, James Brown, Ray Charles and B.B. King. Now we have none of them. It just feels out of balance. Buddy always said “every guitar should have 2 ‘B’s on it for what he’s given us.” I feel exactly the same way. No B.B. = no Buddy, no Jimi, no Clapton, no Stevie, no Van Halen, etc. His influence won’t be truly recognized for a while. The accolades will come, the tributes, the beautiful words, passionate oratories…and then…the silence. The unbearable, unforgivable, un-negotiable silence that reflects the absence of an artist, an icon, a force…
As a guitarist and a blues fan I mourn the loss of a hero, a guide, an emissary and an artist…but I really miss the guy that signed my daughter’s picture while we sat in the back of his bus watching a cowboy movie, I miss the guy that traded dirty jokes with Buddy while I sat there, jaw agape! I miss the guy that offered me his breakfast one morning in Texas, while we waited on a plane. Thank you Mr. King.