Albert King, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sam Chatmon, Memphis Minnie, Charley Patton, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Reverend “Blind” Gary Davis, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Ma Rainey, Elmore James, Sister Rosetta Tharp, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, Dave “Honeyboy” Edwards, Eddie “Son” House, Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, Chester Arthur Burnett, Willie Dixon, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, R. L. Burnside, Albert Collins and on and on and on……….ALL BLUES GREATS!
But as remarkable as all those listed above, when the majority of people think of “The Blues”, likely most will think of one man, first and above all. If there was a Mount Rushmore for Blues Greats, B.B. King would certainly be among those carved into that mountain of granite.
B.B. King performing in Indianola, MS at the Annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival. This would be his last. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
On Sept. 16, 1925, the legendary bluesman/musician, Riley B. King, a.k.a. B.B. King, was born in a cabin on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. This one of a kind region of the South, has brought us a countless number of illustrious and renowned blues musicians. The Mississippi Delta is known for stories riddled with truth and folklore, sites that can only be found there, the celebrated Blues Highways 61 and 49, an infamous crossroad, and the occasional memorable juke joint where some of the best music in the world can still be heard. The Delta’s own, B.B. King, is widely regarded as one of the most influential blues guitarist of all time. He, without a doubt, is instrumental in helping spread the Blues to the entire world as its foremost ambassador.
The B.B. King mural located in downtown Indianola, MS in the Mississippi Delta. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
The Blues is more than just a style of music. It has risen above the ashes of pain and suffering and evolved into a celebration of stories, people, places and life – “bridging together” people from all walks of life, all races and color, rich and poor. So deeply associated with many legendary Southern black men and women, it is enriching to see today all races throughout the world performing and attending shows in record numbers.
B.B. King performing live at his last Homecoming Festival in his hometown of Indianola, MS. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
Prevalent as never before, it is gratifying to see that the bluesmen from their humble beginnings are being shown the honor and respect they so rightfully deserve.
B.B. King’s final performance at his beloved Indianola Homecoming Festival (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
In recent times, the number of young black and white musicians who perform The Blues with such respect and honor for “those who set the pattern” from the past, is truly amazing. “The Blues” could have gone the way of the dinosaur as many of these older performers passed on, but far from that has happened as its influence has reached musicians the world over. This special form of American music has always found its way to survive. In the 60′s some ‘young white kids from Europe’ embraced “The Blues” and gave it a renewed life.
Notwithstanding, B.B. King toured with artists like The Rolling Stones, knowing that it would take young musicians from England to reintroduce America to something special with origins from the Deep South and The Mississippi Delta. Although this unique art form had long before made its way to cities in the north like Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and New York, this resurgence was like a breath of fresh air and was embraced by fans and musicians alike. Since then there has been no sign of it dying out.
Riley B. King’s Mississippi Blues Trail marker at the corner of 2nd and Church in Indianola, MS (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
B.B. King’s official homecomings to Mississippi began in 1973, when he performed at an event acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Since 1980, the community and one-time home of B.B. King has been celebrating the blues with its annual B. B. King Homecoming Festival. Each year, several musicians, including Mr. King, perform for fans in Indianola, MS. A historical marker (a part of the famous Mississippi Blues Trail markers) is placed at the corner of 2nd Street and Church, a location where a young Riley King once played his guitar.
The B.B. King Museum and Delta Intepretive Center in Indianola, MS (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
Located in Indianola, The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center (opened in Sept. 2008) is home to a huge exhibit of artifacts owned by B.B. King and a displayed history of his life. On the grounds of the museum is a restored brick cotton gin mill, where King once worked in the 1940’s. The festival fittingly takes place on the grounds of the museum. This year marked the end of an era, the now 88 year old B.B. King has appeared at this festival in his honor since 1980. Thirty-four years later, it was announced this would be B.B.’s last appearance at this annual homecoming event. So The Southland Music Line felt there was no better place to be on Sun. May 25, 2014.
Once we arrived in Indianola, we made our way to the museum and the festival grounds. One of the early highlights was taking a stroll downtown. We went to the corner of 2nd Street and Church; we also passed by several old buildings that breathed the spirit of what the Delta and birthplace of The Blues really is. We stumbled upon a sidewalk designed from old bricks with historically etched engravings of Indianola, Greenville and Delta. The town is a reminder too of a long lost era, but a fitting commencement of The Blues.
As the day continued, the music provided by many blues musicians, young and old alike, appeared on stage. Stephen and I were fortunate enough to meet others covering the newsworthy story of B.B.’s final appearance at the festival in his beloved Indianola. Photographers, reporters, bloggers and writers all seem to gravitate to one another, but at the same time, in the case of photographers, they are most definitely out for that one special shot. Stephen was able to get hundreds of photos of all those performing, as well as spectators on hand to witness the historical event.
The event’s attendance grew as the time for B.B. King approached. (Photo by The Southland Music Line)
The 90 degree weather with the occasional breeze served as a reminder that we were in the Delta. As the day moved forward, I began to reflect more about the man we all came to see. I thought about the stories heard, the music, the live shows, the name “Lucille” given to his guitars…..and I even thought about his unforgettable 1970s appearance on TV’s Sanford & Son. You know, ‘yall’ remember that one too.
B.B. King Takes to the Indianola Stage – One Last Time
All day long anticipation to see B.B. take the stage was felt throughout, by both locals and those who came miles to see him at this historical event. Even one of his famous guitars was signed and auctioned off, eventually being purchased by a local businessman for $6000.
As the evening sky darkened, B.B. King’s bus pulled up behind the stage. Many, including myself, anxiously awaited nearby to get a glimpse of the King of the Blues as he departed his tour bus.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant honors B.B. King for his many achievements as a fellow Mississippian. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
While standing there with others, I noticed a familiar face pass beside me to make his way to the stage. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, from nearby Moorehead, MS, made the trip to honor the blues great. He had much to say about his fellow Mississippian. He spoke with a genuine appreciation and familiarity of the man he was honoring. He told the audience about a meeting with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones where Jagger had noticed a photo of B.B. in the Governor’s office. (Yes, Mick Jagger had a reason to visit Mississippi’s Governor’s office pertaining to a project he was working on.) Gov. Bryant said the two talked in great depth about B.B. King.
The darkness of the night arrived as B.B. King’s longtime band slowly made their way to the stage to perform prior to B.B. joining them. The size of the audience gradually grew as the day moved along and by “B.B. King Time” it had reached possibly its largest festival size ever. It was quite a nice sight for the small Delta town of Indianola, MS as the whole town showed up to join all the visitors.
“Lucille” (Photo by Stephen Anderson); Below left: “Lucille” on stage prior to B.B.’s performance. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
On this particular day, those on hand were more excited than usual to see B.B. King. All knew it was something special. It doesn’t matter how many times, one hears “The Thrill Is Gone” it’s never enough. Hearing B.B. do it one more time, was well worth the drive, especially in the ambiance of the Delta. This day was a day of honor and celebration. If B.B. King appeared on stage just to do one song, it would have been appreciated and valued by those in attendance. And who should complain, the price of admission was Free! Not that B.B. King can’t sell tickets, because he continues to sell out venues many nights a year. He did this show, because he loves Indianola and his Mississippi roots.
Should the Show Goes On?…….
Recently, a number of journalists have been speaking out against B.B. King’s latest round of live performances. Music critic, Daniel Durchholz, spoke in length following B.B.’s St. Louis show. He reported that some in the crowd were upset over King’s lack of playing and demeanor during his performance. Most writers try hard to make the point that it is their responsibility to report less than stellar performances by artists, regardless of stature. Following the Durchholz review, much feedback came, both in support of B.B. and others calling for his retirement or wanting their money back. I don’t think the writer of this review was wanting to be rude, in fact he mentions many things of praise for the performer. However, controversy does sell papers, magazines and makes online articles readable, an objective of all reporters. This being said, Mr. Durchhoz was doing his job. But I personally won’t remark about a show when I wasn’t in attendance. All I can report on is what I’ve read, heard online or observed myself. I doubt seriously a few negative reports or comments from upset individuals will keep B.B. fans away.
B.B. King is more than just an aging musician, he is an important part of music history. He ranks alongside Elvis, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams and the like. If any one of those complaining had a chance to somehow miraculously see Elvis, Lennon, Sinatra brought back to life, perform even one song live again…..they would gladly dish over big bucks to see them. During the last days of Elvis Presley, when he became extremely large and often his shows would have odd moments, no one complained. They were there to see “The King of Rock & Roll” and knew well, Presley wasn’t in his best shape. Then there’s Bob Dylan, arguably the greatest songwriter ever, who often delivers many crazy live concerts. It hasn’t, nor should it, stop anyone from wanting to see him.
True music fans know full well that not every night is going to be a good night, but it’s always an honor and privilege seeing these national treasures. If B.B. King wants to continue performing, he has every right in the world. Those of us who want to see him, while we have a chance, should do everything possible to do so. Sure, it’s not the kind of show we would have seen from him years ago, but anyone in their right mind shouldn’t expect it. And now, sadly, those chances are limited and passing before our eyes.
It was a real honor to be at B.B. King’s Final Homecoming Show. I saw Elvis on June 20th, 1973 and it’s been forever etched into my memory. Therefore, seeing B.B. King again, and of all places, The Mississippi Delta town of Indianola is one of those never to be forgotten experiences.
CLICK HERE for The B.B. King Photo Album by Stephen Anderson. SEE ADDITIONAL PHOTOS AT SECOND PHOTO ALBUM. (see below).
Those who performed prior to B.B. King’s performance:
- The event was hosted by Big LLou of B.B. King’s Bluesville, who provided a continued non-stop introduction and flow to the entire day’s event.
- W.A. Higgins Rock Ensemble – A talented group of students from W.A. Higgins Academy of Performing Arts and International Studies in Clarksdale, MS.
- One of the Delta’s most popular blues acts, David Dunavent and Evol Love (from Sumner, Mississippi) provided those in attendance with great music.
- Casey Roberts and the “Bowie Kinfolk”- a group of touring and session musicians who kept the day of music alive and kickin’.
- Southern Halo – A Mississippi teen-trio made up of sisters: Natalia, Christina and Hannah. Born and raised in The Delta, now providing fans with a unique blend of Blues, Southern Rock and Country.
- Edward Antoine aka King Edward – Louisiana-born and self-taught guitarist known to many as “Blues Picking King.” King, who has a long history associated with The Blues, was a fixture at the famous Subway Lounge in Jackson, MS for a number of years. He was later featured in the must-see documentary, “The Last of the Mississippi Jukes”.
- The highly entertaining performer, Grady Champion (from Canton, MS), provided the day with one of the most exciting performances. Grady’s energy is amazing and crowd pleasing. During his performance, he often left the stage and entered into the audience. He has ‘championed’ the ability to show up beside you at any given time. It’s easy to see how he was The 2010 International Blues Challenge winner. He has performed far beyond Mississippi connecting with audiences in more than 180 shows a year.
- Jesse Robinson with “Mickey Rogers and the Soul Blues Band” – Mississippi-born/longtime blues musician, Jesse Robinson, has performed all over the country, giving college lectures and spreading “The Blues” to many. Mickey Rogers has many distinguished honors, including Blues Musician of the Year, awarded to him by the The Mississippi Delta Blues Society. Mickey has also been honored with a stone on the Musicians Walk of Fame in Greenville, MS.
- Lil Ray Neal – The Neal Family is considered as the First Family of Louisiana Blues. He has performed with the likes of James Cotton, Lil Milton Campbell, Bobby Rush and Bobby Blue Bland. Lil Ray Neal, Kenny Neal and entire The Neal Family are an amazing part of the blues music scene.
CLICK HERE for photos of these performers and more!
Before listing a few facts about B.B. King, I want to thank the people of Indianola, MS; The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center including Executive Director, Dion Brown for their cooperation with The Southland Music Line in making the whole day such a rewarding one; the local Police Department of Indianola, which happened to be next door to the park where the concert took place. All went smooth for most of the day, surely in part, because of them; the festival vendors – I tried my best to get around to most of them since we were there from 11 a.m. to “Into the Night” (B.B. King song). Also it was a privilege to work alongside some nice people such as Prof. Karen Hayes-Thumann from The University of Oklahoma. She is presently in Mississippi working on a book pertaining to next generation of blues artists. Finally, we want to thank the good town of Belzoni, MS for having a ‘something’ open, so we didn’t run out of gas on that long stretch of road in the Mississippi Delta.
Some Interesting Facts About B.B. King, His guitar, His many honors and more:
- His name: Riley B. King, while performing and working as a disc-jockey at Memphis WDIA radio, gained the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy”, later shortened to “Blues Boy” and finally shortened to just “B.B.”.
- B.B. ‘s Nickname(s): “King of the Blues” and one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” (along with Albert King & Freddie King).
- B.B. King has performed more than 15,000 concerts. Many years the number reached near 300 (1956 saw that number at 342 shows.).
- “Lucille”: One winter night in 1949 while performing in Twist, Arkansas, a fight broke out between two men fighting over a woman. As the fight pursued, the men knocked over a burning barrel used to heat the venue, causing the place to rise into flames. Once escaping, B.B. realized he had left his guitar inside. He rushed back in to save his instrument, barely making it out alive. Afterwards, he was told the two men were fighting over a woman named “Lucille”. From then on, that guitar and each one since, has been named “Lucille”, serving him as reminder to never do something as stupid as rushing into a burning building to save something replaceable as a guitar.
- His guitar of choice: The Gibson’s “B.B. King Signature” is a luxurious take on the popular ES-355 model.
- Connection to the other King, “Elvis Presley” – both born in Mississippi and once worked with legendary music man and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips. So in fact, Mississippi gave birth to two Kings of American Music.
- Sirius XM Radio’s Bluesville channel was renamed B.B. King’s Bluesville in 2008.
- B.B. King’s favorite singer is Frank Sinatra; He credits Sinatra for making it possible for several black performers to gain access into white dominated venues, including the ones in Las Vegas as early as the 1960’s.
- B.B. King holds the record for most Grammy wins in the Blues category (15); one additional Grammy for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to him in 1987.
- B.B. King’s biggest hit single: “The Thrill Is Gone” (1970) was written and originally recorded by Roy Hawkins in 1951.
- B.B. King has received the following honors: Blues Hall of Fame (1980), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), The National Medal of Arts (1990), National Heritage Fellowship from National Endowment of the Arts (1991), Kennedy Center Honors (1995), Presidential Medal of Freedom (2006) and has received doctorate degrees from both Yale and Brown Universities.
*Note from the writer: B.B. King and I actually share some things in common – BOTH OF US ARE FROM MISSISSIPPI AND BOTH WERE BORN ON SEPTEMBER 16TH.
CHECK OUT THE LATEST DOCUMENTARY FILM RELEASED IN MAY, 2014 – “B.B. King: The Life of Riley” Narrated by fellow Mississippian Morgan Freeman. (Now in limited release).
W.A. Higgins Rock Ensemble
David Dunavent and Evol Love
Casey Roberts and the “Bowie Kinfolk”
Mickey Roger and the Soul Blues Band
Lil Ray Neal
Sirius XM Radio’s B.B. King’s Bluesville
The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Mississippi Blues Trail
© The Southland Music Line. 2014. All rights reserved