Riding With B.B. King #2: Lessons From The Masters

Tommy Castro Band members are like kids in a candy store as they tour with blues legends.

[Editor's Note: Blues ambassador B.B. King is leading a package tour, the B.B. King Blues Festival 2000, on a string of 41 dates across the country. The shows also will feature sets by Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, Tommy Castro and Corey Harris. Castro band drummer Billy Lee Lewis has agreed to provide sonicnet.com an inside view of the tour as it progresses.]

Aug. 2, 9:20 a.m.

We're rolling up Highway 805 on our way to the Santa Barbara [Calif.] Bowl. A couple of the guys have their hearts set on bowling a couple of frames when we arrive; I don't have the heart to tell them that it's actually an amphitheater and not a bowling alley.

The big buzz on the bus this morning is how great Buddy [Guy] and B.B. [King] were last night. Needless to say, Tommy [Castro's] in hog heaven, getting to watch two of his greatest heroes and biggest guitar influences up close every night; he's all lit up like a little kid.

As busy as TCB stay, we rarely have the opportunity to check out other bands; festivals provide us with the pleasure of hearing several bands in one day. Often we get to catch up with our friends, watch their shows, stand in front of their horn section and suck on lemons, throw bottle caps at the rhythm section, yell out requests for "Mustang Sally" and generally show our support.

I think, however, we'll save that sort of behavior for next year on this tour, since we're still trying to give the impression we're well behaved and courteous so that there will be a next year for us.

After reviewing last night's set, we decided to change the order of songs slightly: Since we are only allowed 30 minutes, we had to formulate a set that will showcase the various styles we play, i.e., Memphis-type soul, blues, funk and rock 'n' roll, and arrange them in the most effective order.

For those of you familiar with our repertoire, our set is as follows: "Right as Rain," "Like an Angel" (RealAudio excerpt), "How Long Must I Cry?," "What You're Doin' to Me," "Nasty Habits" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Can't Keep a Good Man Down." Basically, we decided that "How Long" and "What You're Doin' " were a little too similar, so we've moved "How Long" to just before "Good Man."

Last night, after "Angel," Tommy reminded the crowd that we were all there to forget our worries and just have fun: "There's nothin' serious goin' on here!" as he always says, then we immediately launched into "How Long Must I Cry?" (RealAudio excerpt), a slow blues tune that laments the hopeless inequities of society and the dire state of the world in general.

As soon as we started the song, Tommy realized what he had said and turned around to me and [bass player] Randy [McDonald], with one of those eye-rolling "Oh, sh--" looks on his face. Hilarious moments like that serve to remind us that there is nothin' serious goin' on here and that we should never forget to have fun while we're up there.

I only got to see about 15 minutes of Buddy's set before we had to leave, but I did hear enough of the Buddy Guys to tell you that they smoked, however, and I could see what the other guys meant when they talked about Buddy's charisma and power onstage.

I'll tell you what I found to be immediately apparent: This guy is a genuine, old-school, real-deal player who has been a heavy influence on countless guitarists (including Tommy) for about 40 years. His voice and his phrasing are unmistakable, and the guy knows how to work a crowd.

Aug. 5, 11 p.m.

Home, sweet home ... for a couple of days, anyway. I have to admit that there's nothing better than sleeping in my own bed (except maybe sleeping in Uma Thurman's bed). It'll be the last time until September, and even then we'll just be home for a short time before we go back out on tour with our pals Coco Montoya and his pack of reprobates.

Friday night at the Shoreline Amphitheatre I finally got to see both Buddy and B.B., and all I can say is he's not named "King" for nothing. I commented earlier on Buddy's ability to command the stage, and man, he does, but I was absolutely delighted to watch B.B. King share the stage with his band.

This guy is truly, for my money, the benevolent patriarch of the blues. With sweeping gestures, he introduced his bandmembers, who soloed with seasoned proficiency and a palpable joy. I've seen countless performers in my life who take the stage with a "showbiz smile" on their faces, but these guys really made me believe it. If you watched carefully, you could see them joking around with each other, laughing, cutting up and just enjoying themselves and each other — never, however, at the expense of the show.

I got the impression that these guys are serious pros who know that the crowd is totally behind them and that everyone there, B.B. included, is there to have a great time and experience the pure happiness that great music can deliver — so let's play our butts off and have some fun! I stood in the wings and looked out at thousands of illuminated faces — people who were visibly touched and freed for that short time B.B. was onstage.

I saw this guy bring honest-to-God, no-B.S. happiness to several thousand strangers, and I swear, I was one of them. I realized that B.B. King is a healer. He may not change your life forever or bring you some long-awaited salvation, but for 90 minutes, at the very least, he will bring to you the exhilaration and release of real music played by an original master with a butt-kickin' band. You should see him if you can; he's among the last of the old-school blues guys who still really delivers, and you owe it to yourself to experience an artist who has developed and remained true to a unique, individualized style and who has profoundly influenced generations of musicians and music lovers.

Tomorrow, I have to get up at 6 a.m. to meet at Tommy's for a 7:30 [a.m.] departure. In another triumph of inscrutably illogical routing, we're going back to L.A. (where we just from came yesterday — 1,200 miles in 48 hours) to do a show at the Universal Amphitheatre.

The hometown shows like the ones we just did make us feel genuinely appreciated, and there's nothing like the enthusiasm and affection of our homies, but tomorrow will present us with the challenge and opportunity to reach out and hopefully connect with more new people and potential fans. Like I always say, there are no strangers, only people who haven't bought our T-shirts and CDs yet!