B.B. King Opens Club With Boost From Dr. John, Others

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Chuck Mangione also help pack Times Square nightclub for its unveiling.

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

Disney-ization.

"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

guitar.

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

[him]."

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, soul singers

COLOR="#003163">Ashford and Simpson, rocker

COLOR="#003163">Paul Rodgers and

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). "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) 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

of Shepherd.

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.