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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2008/03/22
by Mike Gruenberg

B.B. King

In My Life
There is no substitute for wisdom gained through life experience. Certainly, we have all encountered challenging situations as we trek through the bumpy road of life. Yet all these experiences help to hopefully shape us into better human beings with a more accurate perspective on what is really important during our short stay on this earth.
Early in March, I had the pleasure to watch an 82 year old man captivate an audience with his life stories, musical prowess and enchanting personality. Seldom are there people who can continue to live their lives productively as the years wear on as well as BB King. Watching him perform his polished act made me realize that old age is simply a state of mind and that you can still be incredibly productive as you get to what once was called your declining years. His only accommodation to age is to sit on a folding chair during his performance. There certainly is recline, but theres no decline in this guy.
BB King performed at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland on March 3rd. This is a beautiful theater with comfortable seating, incredible acoustics and not a bad seat in the house. BB was backed by an eight piece band. Every member of that band, can aptly be described a virtuoso musicians in their own right. It was clear that they liked playing for BB and BB liked playing for them. In between his story telling and band member solos, BB covered all his hits, referred lovingly to Lucille and kept reminding us how he liked the ladies.
For those of us who grew up in the 60s in the New York area, the Fillmore East was the musical venue of choice, the Holy Grail where every type of music was presented by rock impresario, Bill Graham. Attending concerts there was quite an experience as Graham often paired a rock act with a blues group along with a jazz combo. Or a heavy metal band would be paired with a folk act and somehow it all worked. Given Grahams propensity to bring the most popular and unique music of the day to the Fillmore, blues acts became a staple of his offerings. It was at the Fillmore East that BB King first came to my attention.
Since my memory is sometimes lacking in clarity especially from those heady days of the 60s and 70s, I went online to Wolfgangs Vault and much to my comfort listened to a BB King concert from the Fillmore East that was recorded in 1971. And much like the concert I attended 37 years later, BB sounded incredibly great both times. Like fine wine, he seems to age gracefully as he gets older.

In preparation for the concert at Strathmore, I went to my music collection to seek out any BB King albums on vinyl. As it turned out, I have two LPs from BB, one of which has always been a favorite. The first one (my favorite) I listened to was Indianola Mississippi Seeds on the ABC label recorded in 1970. One of the reasons I originally bought that album was because of the inclusion of the song Nobody Loves Me but My Mother of which the next line is, but she may be jivin too. And thats the extent of this 1:26 second song. Pure and simple blues.
The entire album is a classic. It was produced by Bill Szymczyk who later became the long-time producer for The Eagles. In addition to Symczyks flawless production, guest artists like Carole King, Leon Russell and Joe Walsh appear. Widely used LA session man, drummer Russ Kunkel is present on the entire album. Walsh and Symczyck will later reunite for fame, fortune and glory with The Eagles. This album has been released as a CD and I would highly recommend it. You can purchase it through BBs website.
The other LP I have from BB King is L.A. Midnight on the same ABC label which was released in 1972. Joe Walsh once again appears, but on only a few selected cuts on this one. On a BB King original tune, I Believe Ive Been Blue Too Long, producer Ed Michel has positioned the performance of legendary blues man Taj Mahal on the right speaker, guitarists Randy Wolf and the late Jesse Davis on the left with BB King who plays all the guitar solos in the center. Great production work by Ed on this tune and on the entire album.
Even at his age, BB continues to tour and he performs approximately 250 dates a year. He actively records music and now has four clubs throughout the country that bear his name. Lucille is still an integral part of his act and he tells the story of how he came to call his guitar by that name. BB has recorded hundreds of albums and a countless number of songs. His recent collaboration with Eric Clapton, resulting in the album Riding with the King has become an immediate classic. Clapton and King have truly formed a mutual admiration for one another becoming close friends. His touring schedule would wear out musicians half his age and through it all, the joy of his work is apparent. Abraham Lincoln once said And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. Just put a picture of BB King next to that quote.

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