It’s not every day one of the most prolific musicians of the modern era performs in East Texas. Living legend B.B. King performed Thursday night in front of a crowd of hundreds at Tyler’s Caldwell Auditorium.
Fans were treated to a trip through decades of musical magic from the moment the 87-year-old strapped on his guitar named “Lucille,” an instrument that has become a celebrity itself. King’s stage presence commanded the audience’s attention from the very first riff. The performance wasn’t simply a mix of blues, rhythm, jazz, and pop. This master of his craft included stories of life experiences and past performances in between sets, including a little humor.
Thursday’s selected song list exposed fans to a sampling of some of King’s most recognized and favorite hits, including “The Thrill is Gone,” the 1970s single that made Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs.
After more than two hours of smooth guitar, grooving bass slaps, and wailing trumpets, the concert came to a close with wild applause. The Governor’s Blues Revue was the opening act for the night.
B.B. spent some time backstage with my co-anchor and I after the concert, sharing stories during a brief interview. His quick wit and humor kept us on our toes the entire time. Our conversation was filled with laughs.
He told the fabled story about the naming of “Lucille.” In the earliest days of his career, a fight broke out in a club he was playing and a fire spread through the building. King ran back inside to retrieve his guitar, managing to escape unharmed. He later learned the two men that started the commotion were fighting over a woman named Lucille.
My aunt’s parents lived in the same building as B.B. for some years in New York City’s Central Park West, the same one where John Lennon was killed in 1980. B.B. said he had fond memories in that building, but moved because it wasn’t his style.
Speaking of style, we asked him about his trademark tuxedo jackets. He says they are handmade in Japan, specifically for his performances.
King and his road crew were treated to an elaborate spread of East Texas barbecue on his tour bus, served up by Stanley’s Famous BBQ of Tyler. Plenty of fans were waiting for him outside the venue and he stayed for quite some time to sign autographs, guitars, records, and other memorabilia. He seemed to be the consummate gentleman, even tipping his hat to women as they passed.
King told us he has played multiple concerts in East Texas and first visited the area when he was in his 20s, according to King.
The “king of the blues” is currently on a nationwide tour that includes more than 100 performances each year. While today he treks across the country in a comfortable motor coach, he told me he was still flying himself to performances in a Cessna, well into his 70s.