NEW YORK Guitar legend B.B.
King brought some grit back to Times Square on Tuesday night
as he opened the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill with a blistering hour and
a half of solid blues.
Red velvet covered the walls of the new, cavernous nightspot, located
smack in the middle of 42nd Street, which is currently undergoing a
"I walked down the street today," New York City Councilman Phil Reed
said in welcoming King to the stage. "We have Goofy, Mickey [Mouse]. ...
It's about time we had some soul."
"When I was growing up in Indianola, way outside of Mississippi, we
didn't have paved roads," King said at one point in the evening. "I
heard the words New York City, [but] I never dreamed of coming here."
Thunderous applause greeted the 74-year-old King, dressed in a black
tuxedo with blue lamé on the front and sides, as he walked
onstage. He then sat down on a stool, where he played his beloved black
guitar, "Lucille," for the entire evening and led his nine-piece,
brass-heavy B.B. King Blues Band
through such chestnuts as "Let the Good Times Roll" (
href="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Evv-XXXXXX%2F0211 015_0101_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt
He sang in a richly seasoned voice that still has the force of a man
half his age. And as he engaged the standing-room-only crowd in the
call-and-response of the song's chorus, King threw his head back in the
emotion of the moment.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams to have a club right here on 42nd
Street," he said.
Wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, King then upped the
tempo for the funky "Bad Case of Love," from his Grammy-winning 1998 LP,
Blues on the Bayou.
"I went to see a love doctor to get out of the mess/ He took a look at
me before he cast his spell/ Said you got a bad case of love," King
sang, screwing up his face as he squeezed pungent blues licks from his
Another Blues on the Bayou track, "I'll Survive," followed, along
with more call-and-response on "Caldonia."
The latter was one of several songs drawn from last year's Let the
Good Times Roll The Music of Louis Jordan, King's recorded
tribute to the late jump-blues/swing saxophonist. "He was short-cut a
little," King said of Jordan, "but that's why we made a tribute to
An Accomplished Audience
Along the way, King introduced and shined a spotlight on a number of
celebrities in the crowd, including bluesman
COLOR="#003163">Dr. John COLOR="#003163">Ashford and Simpson COLOR="#003163">Paul Rodgers COLOR="#003163">Ruby Wilson
COLOR="#003163">Dr. John, soul singers
COLOR="#003163">Ashford and Simpson, rocker
COLOR="#003163">Ruby Wilson, whom he called "the queen of
Beale Street." Some of those present would become more actively involved
in the show later in the night.
From his new album, Makin' Love Is Good for You, King performed
the slow blues crawl "Peace of Mind" (
href="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Eggg-XXXXXX%2F025 2289_0104_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt
2289_0104_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt). "I've never had peace
of mind before in my lifetime/ If you're in trouble and down and out/
Then you realize what I'm singing about," he sang as he pounded a fist
in his hand.
"No matter what you do, she ain't never satisfied," King told the men in
the audience. "But we love 'em, don't we, guys?" King asked during
another tune, the jumping "Ain't That Just Like a Woman."
Cigar smoke wafted through the 500-seat club as the packed crowd boogied
in place en masse.
King wound the set down with his classic "How Blue Can You Get?," his
pop crossover hit "The Thrill Is Gone" (
href="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Eoo-XXXXXX%2F0189 361_0101_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt
361_0101_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt) and Jordan's "I'm Gonna
Move to the Outskirts of Town."
"It's about time," 40-year-old radio programmer Ben Green said of the
club's opening. "There are tons of theme restaurants, [but] this is
more. It's history, it's music ... a place to enjoy."
Stephanie Brandt, 44, vice president of the New York Blues Society,
said, "I've been listening to [King] since I was about 2. He's a
beautiful man, very soulful. He can get more out of one note then most
people can get out of a symphony."
A Little Help From His Friends
As the celebration continued, the stage began to fill with other artists
who'd come to pay their respects, including the long-haired, lanky
23-year-old blues prodigy Kenny Wayne
Shepherd, who added some bombast to the mix.
"It's hard to believe how a man so young can play that well," King said
But the joint really started jumping when they were joined by Dr. John,
clad in a black jacket and straw hat, on keyboards, along with Rodgers,
trumpeter Chuck Mangione, Wilson and
Simpson for "Every Day I Have the Blues."
Surprisingly, King made no reference to the just-released Riding With
the King, his collaboration with Eric
Clapton. Fans who'd hoped the acoustic guitar that sat in its
stand onstage through the entire show was reserved for the British blues
great and sometime New Yorker were disappointed. But King
has four more nights to play there this week, with two sets each night,
so Clapton may yet show up.
The Times Square club is the first of a projected seven-bar-and-grill
chain that will offer live music across the United States under King's
name. Under the terms of his arrangement with the club's management,
King will appear there about a dozen times a year. At 74, he's showing
no signs of slowing down his rigorous touring schedule which this
year has him committed to playing 280 shows.