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

grueling

concert schedule and a prolific output of new recordings? What is

the secret of this man’s seeming never-ending well of youthful

vitality?

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

reinventing

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

wherever

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

the mid-1950s.

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

Records.

Despite an album discography that numbers more than 70 releases, King

has never before recorded a Christmas album. This year, "A

Christmas

Celebration of Hope" offers such B.B.-ized standards as "Merry

Christmas Baby," "Please Come Home For Christmas,"

"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

assistants

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

times.

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

B.B. King, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial,

West Lafayette Street, Trenton, 609-984-8400. $42 to $72. Tickets

online at www.tickets.com Thursday, January 24, 7:30 p.m.

B.B. King, Count Basie Theater, 99 Monmouth Street,

Red Bank, 732-842-9000. $28 to $100. Friday and Saturday, January

25 and 26, 8 p.m.


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