I’ve had a few days to process and understand what it means not to have B.B. King in our lives any longer. His music is something that will remain, but I have not known a world without B.B. King in it physically. When I was learning about the blues and specifically blues guitar, it was B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan who were my two guys. For some, their King was Albert or Freddie, but for me it has been and will always be B.B. King.
I was fortunate enough to meet B.B. King in 1988, when I was 10 years old. I met him at the LAX Airport. He walked over to my dad and they were talking about a music show they were both on years earlier. At that age I wasn’t able to understand the importance of the person who was standing in front of me. All I knew was that they were talking about boring things and I was ready to leave the airport. The only artists I cared about were Guns N’ Roses and that wasn’t Slash he was talking to. When we develop the technology to go back in time, I have made the promise to return to that moment and kick myself. Although, what did you expect from a 10 year old?
Once they finished talking and we were getting ready to leave, B.B. King reached into his pocket and took out a pin. The pin was of a black guitar that said Lucille above it and handed one each to my brother and me. I was grateful for the gift and thanked him. He shook my hand and this imposing figure of a man was on his way. During the car ride home, my dad explained who this man was and that he was an important person in music. I listened to what he said, but didn’t really process what he said. I was just happy to leave and with my cool guitar pin. He also told me that his guitar is named Lucille and that’s why it was on the pin. I don’t know if he knew that story of why he named his guitars Lucille or just wanted to spare me the details. As I have learned, B.B. King was not only an important person in music, but also an important person in history.
I started playing guitar in 1997, and one of the people that helped develop my musical foundation was B.B. King. He wasn’t the first guitar player to bend a note or add some vibrato, but was the first person to do those things and have the listener feel it in their bones. To be able to evoke such emotion from one note is special and that’s what made him who he was. He spoke so eloquently through Lucille and her tone, her emotion, her sound is something that will forever live on.
The music of Riley B. King has affected me and I am a better person because of it. I was glad that I was able to see him perform in 2013. He played to a packed room in Anaheim, CA at the House of Blues. I remember being upstairs, perched over the side of the wooden rail trying to take it all in. It was a great experience to hear him play and to see him sitting there smiling and telling stories. I had a number of opportunities to see him before that, but I never took it seriously and always thought that I would catch the next show. He toured relentlessly and it didn’t seem like a big deal to miss a show. Now, what I wouldn’t give for that opportunity just one more time.
Thank you, Riley B. King. Thank you for sharing your music and for sharing your time with so many of us. I no longer have that Lucille pin that you gave me, but I will forever have the memory of you.