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.
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?