Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the January 23,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Busy as B.B.
What drives B.B. King, at age 76, to maintain his
concert schedule and a prolific output of new recordings? What is
the secret of this man’s seeming never-ending well of youthful
Maybe it’s King’s fundamental curiosity about people and things. On
those rare occasions when he’s back home in Las Vegas, his mind is
kept active. On his tour bus, he carries a computer with Internet
access, several hundred CDs that he listens to, and an assortment
of books and magazines.
King’s touring bus is his home away from home. He likes to keep
his music, which is what all great musicians should be doing. He’ll
produce new arrangements of his classic "The Thrill is Gone,"
or a changed lyric on the "Three o’Clock Blues" to suit
he happens to be, whatever audience he finds himself in front of,
whether its Dubuque or Dublin.
Owing to King’s chosen two-album-a-year schedule, he and his band
are forced to work up arrangements on new tunes all the time. This
keeps the music fresh. In the process, it keeps B.B. expanding his
mind and continuing to deliver shows with much the same enthusiasm
he had when he started touring the South with a band and a bus, in
King’s two most recent albums are ample proof of his ability to keep
pushing himself in new directions: "A Christmas Celebration of
Hope" and "Here and There: The Uncollected B.B. King,"
both released within the last six months on Universal Music/MCA
Despite an album discography that numbers more than 70 releases, King
has never before recorded a Christmas album. This year, "A
Celebration of Hope" offers such B.B.-ized standards as "Merry
Christmas Baby," "Please Come Home For Christmas,"
Comes But Once A Year," and "Auld Lang Syne."
"The Uncollected B.B. King" is perhaps more a reflection of
the kind of man he is. It’s a collection of duets with famous and
not-so-famous musicians whose albums King has guested on, including
Willie Nelson, Albert Collins, jazz vibist Gary Burton, jazz Hammond
B-3 organist Jimmy Smith, and the late saxophonist Grover Washington,
Jr. He also joins Arthur Adams, a Los Angeles-area bluesman with a
knack for writing good songs, on a song Adams wrote, "Get You
Next To Me."
The point being that although he keeps a schedule that still involves
around 200 shows a year, B.B. King always makes time for his friends.
That same philosophy is reflected at his live shows, where King won’t
leave the theater until every last autograph seeker or well-wisher
is greeted. King surrounds himself with a small entourage of
who see to it that no fan cuts in line or no one gets unruly while
waiting for their minute or two with the blues icon. In the mid-1950s,
King was nearly stabbed by a deranged person after a show, so he’s
learned to keep a small security detail on the road with him at all
Now battling diabetes, we cannot know how much longer King will be
able to keep up his peripatetic pace. Music fans around the world
know he can’t last forever, and so does he.
So in a New Year, when many around the New Jersey and New York area
were reminded not to take important people in their lives for granted,
we shouldn’t take King for granted either. That’s all the reason we
need to get out and see him this weekend.
— Richard J. Skelly
West Lafayette Street, Trenton, 609-984-8400. $42 to $72. Tickets
online at www.tickets.com Thursday, January 24, 7:30 p.m.
Red Bank, 732-842-9000. $28 to $100. Friday and Saturday, January
25 and 26, 8 p.m.
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