Thank you, Riley ‘Blues Boy’ King

Poster worthy

Poster worthy

It was his time.

B.B. King passed away Thursday at the age of 89 after a lifetime of delivering a world of wonder to anybody who opened their ears to the blues.

With the famous guitar he named Lucille, Riley “Blues Boy” King rang out notes of beauty that struck you that second, hung out for delicious moments, and stayed with you forever. He sang with a deep tone, genuine knowledge and universal appeal.

His music, the blues, grew from the south and spread through America and the world. His songs — “Everyday I Get the Blues,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Let the Good Times Roll” — affected musicians then and now. The tributes will be many. Turn on your TV and scroll your favorite search engine after you read this piece.

People whose lives he touched will say this and that.

B.B. King touched my life, personally. When I became the music writer and critic for the big daily in 1991, that made me one of the fortunate ones.

A tour brought Mr. B.B. King, as his traveling manager always announced him on stage, to Syracuse, to the pretty Landmark Theatre. I was stoked. I’d seen him perform there already with a group of newspaper friends when I was still working in the sports world, so I was ready to talk to him on the phone for an advance.

B.B. had recently published an autobiography, so he was ready to talk to me, too. So with that trademark voice of his, I heard stories about his troubled youth and his marvelous Lucille and his way with women. Bit of swagger from the 70-something there, yes. He was a spokesperson for a diabetes medicine, and I had been diagnosed with Type II. I mentioned that, and off he went with concern and personal stories and advice. The clock ticked and I typed and when it was all over, I had one hell of an interview and respect for a legend that would give a writer from Syracuse a whole lot of phone time.

He played the hell out of Lucille when the show date rolled around.

It was the first of many of his shows I reviewed in my 22 years at that job.

Alas, I witnessed what age can do, culminating in last year’s headlining performance at the M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest at Onondaga Community College.

B.B. King in Syracuse in June, 2014.

B.B. King in Syracuse in June, 2014.

The legend struggled mightily during his set. There were several moments when he hit his stride, yes, there were.

And in those passages, the guitar work of B.B. King, the voice of B.B. King, brought back memories of all those wonderful things the man had provided for all of us all of these years.

The rest of the time, we wondered why he was still going out on stage with his band when he could get so confused and make things feel so awkward.

Today I look at that show through a different prism.

How lucky we all were to see B.B. King that one last time, to appreciate those moments when it all came together for him as they had for more than 70 years of performing.

Today, the amount of people in Syracuse, N.Y., who said they were on the campus of Onondaga Community College that night in June 2014 may have just doubled. A year from now, when people are talking about the magic of the music of Mr. B.B. King, it may triple.

What a gift B.B. King gave the world. And now that “The Thrill Is Gone,” and it’s up to us to make sure to “Let the Good Times Roll.”

Did you ever see B.B. King in concert, and if so, what are your memories of it? What’s your favorite B.B. King song, and why? Which music legend passed do you miss the most, and why?

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63 thoughts on “Thank you, Riley ‘Blues Boy’ King

  1. I did see him, but I don’t remember where. It was an outdoor forum and there were other musicians before him and I remember preferring them at the time. I was a child. It wasn’t until later, maybe middle school?when he was on an album with U2 that I really got interested. (Same with Johnny Cash, even tho he was played at home as well!) I can remember running to my mother to tell her B.B. King was on my new cd! I think she said something like, “That’s nice, Dear One.” lol — but at least she gave me the music connections to begin with πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that is nice that your mother passed it down to you, Joey. At our jazz fest last year, the teens got to see older generations of music, not just B.B. The fest director always programs a diverse mix of ages on the stage, as well, to help that educational process, too. Do your kids listen to your music with you at all?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. He was a huge influence on me and every other guitar player that I know. Live At The Regal is a case study in the art of the blues. He was a gentleman and an ambassador, and we were lucky to have him as long as we did. Rest In Peace Mr. B.B. King.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for gracing my space with your tribute, Mark. You now can say you played at the same jazz fest as B.B. King’s final Syracuse show. Sad and memorable all at once for you, I imagine.

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    • Thank you for your kind words, and for adding to a tribute to B.B. that I hope will build here with comments from around the world, like yours, with a reach as far as his music.

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    • I am fortunate to have had these opportunities and to have this platform to get them out in the world still. Unfortunately, this is a sad time for this particular memory, my friend. Thank you for joining in to remember B.B.

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  3. A sad day for the music world Mark. It is amazing that you got to talk to the great man and discuss his life’s work. I have never seen him live but I like his music.

    Nice tribute.

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  4. I had the pleasure of serving his back-up singers, support crew and band, but that’s as close as I got to the man himself. But his music has always been ambrosia to my ears.

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    • It’s pretty neat that his whole entourage stayed at your hotel, Hook. They are a neat bunch, too, as far as I can tell. James “Boogaloo,” his nephew, seems like a load of fun as well as a great trumpet player. And, oh, the music, as you say.

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  5. I never saw King in concert and I am sorry to hear of his passing. His music transcends generations. Dad loves him. I love him. And I’m sure I could convince my daughter to love him.

    ❀ RIP BB King ❀

    Diana xo

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  6. i love your personal connection to b.b. and have never seen him live, though i’m sure it would have been unforgettable. his passing will leave a huge hole int he music community, but his legacy continues on in so many people who he inspired and continues to inspire.

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  7. What a lucky guy you are to have crossed the path of such a legend. I didn’t know his name was Riley. Such a long, rich life he was blessed to live, entertaining right up until the end. Great tribute you have here, Mark, thanks for sharing your memory. The thrill is indeed gone. Van (I wonder what will happen to Lucille ??)

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  8. I was lucky enough to see him twice at Jazz Fest in the 90’s. The best was at one of the Friday night after fest concerts at the UNO arena. He was joined on stage by Bonnie Raitt. It was magical.

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  9. You know you.would have the right to share your interview and all BB King told you. This was so respectful of you to listen and learn everything he would tell you. I am glad to know he had concerns for you, Mark.
    He sounds like a true deserving legend and down to earth, too. Thanks for this really special share.

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