The first time that I saw B. B. King live, I was standing in a driving rainstorm at an outdoor concert in Pompano Beach, Florida. Fortunately, on my second "visit" with the "King of the Blues," I was indoors at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, Arizona and did not have to deal with any bad weather. The venue's revolving stage and "theater-in-the-round," offered an ideal place for an evening of music by the 74-year-old B. B. King.
The added bonus for the evening was a 40 minute solo set by Charlie Musselwhite. Musselwhite performed a number of tunes from his 1993 recording, "In My Time," and generally wooed the crowd with his down home delivery and some interesting blues related storytelling. This was the third time I had seen Musselwhite perform as a solo act, playing guitar and harp. Interestingly, "Memphis Charlie" began his work in the blues as a guitarist before making his mark on the blues as a harpmaster.
Musselwhite's performance included a number of stories about the blues men and women that he has been acquainted with over the years and a bit of humor due to some microphone problems that caused him to request some "duct tape and Crazy Glue" to keep the vocal microphone steady. After opening only on guitar with, "Lonesome In My Bedroom," Charlie strapped on his harp (to the delight of the audience) for "Call On Me."
Prior to playing "Brownsville Blues," by Furry Lewis, Charlie spoke fondly of Lewis and told the audience that Lewis had taught Musselwhite a great deal when he was a "student" of the blues. Musselwhite, as always, displayed a keen sense of blues history. He suggested to the audience that anyone who loved the blues needed to make a trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi where the feeling of the blues is so strong that "you can grab it out of the air and put it in your pocket."
Following this performance of one of my favorite solo numbers, "Stingaree," Musselwhite ended his set with "Down In Clarksdale"; receiving a fine ovation from the crowd for his set. It was a fine start to the evening and a prelude of the good things to come.
After auctioning off a guitar autographed by B. B. King for a local charity (It raised $4,500!); the B. B. King Blues Band took the stage for the start of King's 90 minute show. The band, led by Musical Director, James Bolden, was very tight. In addition to Bolden on trumpet, the eight-piece band included Leon Warren (guitar), Michael Doster (bass), James Toney (piano/organ), Melvin Jackson (alto sax), Stanley Abernathy (trumpet/flugelhorn), Calep Emphrey, Jr. (drums) and B. B. King's nephew, Walter King, on baritone sax. Decked out in black tux pants and blue tux jackets with black lapels, the band opened with two instrumental numbers that allowed nearly every member of the band to showcase their solo talents.
When B. B. finally made his long awaited appearance, the audience erupted into the first of several standing ovations that greeted King during the evening. Slowed down some by the effects of diabetes and age, King sang and played the entire show sitting down. However, even seated, King quickly had the crowd in the palm of his hand with his opening number, "Let The Good Times Roll". Following with "I'll Survive" and "Bad Case Of Love" from "Blues On The Bayou," King continued to spur the crowd on, singing with King on the chorus to "Bad Case Of Love" and several other songs.
The show also featured several songs from King's most recent CD, "Let The Good Times Roll," a tribute to the songs of Louis Jordan. King spoke very highly of Jordan and offered his gratitude for Jordan's numerous contributions to music as a crossover artist and a tremendous showman. In addition to "Let The Good Times Roll," King performed other Jordan songs, including "Caldonia" and "Ain't That Just Like A Woman."
For a period midway through the set, King played several songs without the horn section and the remaining band members playing seated along with King. It was during this time that King really made it clear to everyone that he still possesses the well-honed guitar skills that have made him one of the most recognized performers in the music business. On "Outskirts Of Town," "I've Got To Love Somebody" and the classic, "The Thrill Is Gone," King's guitar burned, bringing the audience (ages one and up) to their feet time and time again.
Ending the show with his encore, "Making Love Is Good For You," B. B. King left the stage with the audience begging for more and a promise from King that he would make a return visit to "The Valley Of The Sun" in the new millennium.
As the consummate showman, gentleman and one of the elder statesmen of the blues, King shared the stage well with the other members of the band, even suggesting that he had been well taught in guitar by band member Leon Warren. He also gladly shared his talent and love for his music with everyone in attendance. Clearly, although age has slowed him down, the thrill of what he does definitely ain't gone!
This review & photography is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.