By Todd Beebe
B.B.’s passing really hits home for me.
I spent so many years studying the man and his music, literally note for note. I have so many memories going through my mind, especially my early learning years.
When I started playing guitar, as a kid, I was instantly drawn to specific players. I quickly found out that some people were iconic. Everyone who played learned from them, even if it was indirectly and they were getting that influence from a second or third party. B.B. King was definitely one of those guys. Even if you didn’t listen to the man’s music, maybe you were influenced by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, maybe it was a player that they influenced. But when you trace the tree back to its roots- there is B.B. King.
One of the best ways to learn what guys like B.B. were doing was to sit right at their feet, watch and learn. Being young and eager to learn, I spent several summers following B.B. King around. I learned something new every time. I saw him in many small clubs. Often I would sit about 3 feet in front of him and Lucille and get a guitar lesson. Show after show after show I absorbed what I could like a sponge. I remember sitting right in front of him one night, and he was having amp problems. No one ran out to help- B.B. just sat right there and messed with the amp until it was doing what he wanted. That kind of devotion amazed me. I would go see B.B. many times through the years, even later in life. Counting up those shows, free or otherwise, I saw the King of the Blues 87 times. Having the King reach out and hand you his guitar pick was like winning the lottery.
Through the years, I was lucky enough to spend time with the man on numerous occasions. He was a class act all around, and always treated me, and everyone around him- including his staff- like close friends and family. Through the years, B.B. and his then manager, Sidney Seidenberg, gave me old albums that B.B. had signed to me, set lists from the shows that B.B. had written out, guitar picks- so many great things I’ll treasure for life. Sid was a great guy too, and deserves a ton of credit for standing behind B.B. and his career for many years. R.I.P. Sid, you’re missed so much these days too.
Often I would join others to sit next to B.B. as he talked about his life and career. When you’re in a situation like that, you shut up, listen and learn. It’s very emotional for me right now, to remember sitting there, especially being very young and hearing these awesome stories. But he also had a great way of getting everyone around him involved in conversation, and he would often ask me and others questions about their lives. These conversations are things I will carry throughout my life and treasure forever. It was during that time I realized I was not only learning the art of the blues from B.B., but I was also learning how a great human being interacts with others. B.B. was one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet.
There are 3 conversations with the man that really stand out in my mind.
1- I asked him about having confidence on stage. He told me, “When you get on that stage, you’re KING KONG! The stage is yours and you should own it and protect it. You are the best! The minute you leave that stage, leave that ego and that attitude right there on that stage. Don’t ever take it with you. It’ll be there, waiting for you next time! Cause no one wants to deal with someone who carries that ego around.”
2- He told me he found it funny and amusing that people would ask him over and over about when he would retire. His said he would play the blues until the day he died, and he did just that.
3- We were talking once about trends in music, and how many try to chase them and be whatever the current thing is at the time. B.B. told me the great Muddy Waters once told him that a musician is like a horse on a track. It might look like the others are leaving you behind, and they will for awhile. But soon, they’ll all come back around and be right where you are once again. So- don’t chase trends. Just do what you do, even when you have to wait it out for sometime.
B.B. King was indeed, the last of his kind: true to himself, true to his fans, true to the blues. From his humble beginnings as a cotton picker to world-wide acclaim, he earned it, every step of the way.
Thanks so much for everything B.B. Thanks for the Music. You will live on forever, every time anyone picks up a guitar and plays. But most of all, thank you for the way you treated me. If everyone conducted themselves like you, we’d live in a perfect world. The word “gentleman” was created for you.
Thanks B.B. I’m sure gonna miss you. –
Your Friend, Todd Beebe