The thrill will never be gone. Not for me. Not for the legion of 1,700 loyal B.B. King fans who gave the legendary blues artist a royal welcome, a thunderous burst of applause and a fabulous standing ovation.
Now 81, the King of the Blues remained seated for most of his performance Tuesday night, maybe he chatted too much on stage and never quite finished any of his cornucopia of hit songs. None of that matters.
He is, after all, the great B.B. King.
And the crowd loved him.
My own love of blues music goes back to a little Ottawa night club called Le Hibou at a time when Beatlemania was red hot but the arts crowd liked cool blues. I kept hoping B.B. King would grace the capital or the campus where I was a student. Instead we got Yoko Ono and John Lennon. I know, I know. But when the blues beat beckons even they can’t soothe the soul in quite the same way as B.B. King does. Just ask the crowd at CN Centre. They know what I’m talking about. Mr. King is a musical marvel on stage, even for a man half his age. His skillful guitar playing, his silky, still strong voice, his notable charm, his charisma.
He has all of that.
His strong suit, however, is his signature gift of gab now taking the form of “old man” jokes and self-effacing humour designed to keep the place and the pace hopping. Still, the showman stole my lines and my lead and its hard to forgive that.
“I know what the [news] paper is going to say tomorrow,” he said, sort of apologizing for talking so much. “‘B.B. King was pretty good but he talked all night long. And that is true.'” The octogenarian made his age an issue but the crowd was there to rejuvenate him.
“I was 10 years old before we got our first TV … Since I turned 75, I keep reading everywhere I go, that this is my last performance … so lately I’ve been asking myself, do they know something I don’t? God willing, I expect to be back in Prince George some day. I plan to keep on doing this [performing] until I die.”
At that, the crowd cheered and whistled. Born Riley B. King in the Mississippi Delta in 1925, Mr. King tells the audience he and his band have toured 90 countries. Most people can’t even name them, he’s played them.
His songs? I know I heard, Let the Good Times Roll, Blues Man and Nobody Loves Me But My Mother. I’m pretty sure he did You’re Losin’ Me and Never Trust a Woman. With B.B. King, it’s hard to tell because he drifts from talking to singing and back again between guitar chords.
The musicianship of the band and himself was incredible. Wish I’d heard him sing more.
Back in my blues bars days, I kept a diary. Today the entry would probably have read: Saw B.B. King at the CN Centre last night IN PERSON. Lucky, lucky me.
He may have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, the highest civil award in the U.S. but to many of his fans, B.B. King will always be King of the Blues. When you consider the grueling pace of this latest cross-country tour and all the ones before it B.B. King’s heart and soul performance Tuesday is even more remarkable.
Two women waiting in line at the door said the tickets were pretty pricey at $65 plus, a princely sum to see the King of the Blues. I don’t know. All I know is B.B. King took my lines, stole my heart and reached my soul, all in one evening. I think that’s worth the price of admission.