As I sit here working on the BluesNotes for the June issue, I recognize that today (May 14) marks the one year anniversary of the passing of BB King. Arguably BB was the most important bluesman of his generation, if not of all generations, right there alongside the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, or Stevie Ray Vaughan — whomever your personal tastes may like. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about BB. Nor is there a day that passes that I do not hear his music at least once on the radio or play it myself.
When I first started listening to the blues it was BB King who I first purchased. There were two discs which I bought almost at the same time. They are not unusual, I am sure that a lot of blues listeners cut their teeth on these recordings. Live at The Regal and Live at Cook County Jail. It may be strange as this was where I first discovered the blues, not through rock acts like Eric Clapton or The Rolling Stones. I love those guys, too, but it was BB King first. It led to others like Muddy and Elvin Bishop. And those albums that I purchased I could at the time recite each lyric, word for word.
Over the years I was able to see BB well over twenty times. I saw him in large venues and small. The same held true, perhaps maybe five or six times less for John Lee Hooker. But I never had the chance to meet either of these two heroes face to face. There was a number of occasions that it was supposed to happen with BB and at least one time with John Lee. But it seemed fate always stepped in one way or another and all good intentions by management and friends who were setting up the opportunity got sidetracked by others. But these missed chances never dispelled my love for his music.
I admit it grew harder to watch him the older he got and was no longer able to stand and play with his earlier fury. But it was still BB. This was a legend and it didn’t matter. I would give anything to be able to see him again. I will relive those memories and cherish the moments as I grow older.
It reminds me of my friend Hawkeye Herman as he tells younger students about his encounters with people like Lightnin’ Hopkins. Someone will always stop him and say, “You saw Lightnin’ Hopkins?!” I am sure that I will experience from younger generations in the future when they’ll say to me, “You saw BB King?” Or Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Big Walter, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison or a vast number of so many others. And wait until I tell them, not only did I see them, but I had the chance to meet several, work directly with them at events like the Blues Music Awards or the Willamette Delta Showcase, and even made friendships with the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Robert Lockwood Jr, Gatemouth Brown . . .
And life still goes on. We reflect on those we have seen and those we’ve met. And just this past week, another good friend moves on to the hereafter as Candye Kane finally succumbed to her battle with cancer. Over the years I lost count of just how many times I had to see Candye on stage or elsewhere. She was a good friend who never missed the chance to say hello and sit and chat, even when she was feeling at her worst. Believe me, it doesn’t matter if it is BB King or Candye Kane, the feeling of loss is never easy. And I will never forget any of them.