Tag Archives: Lucille

The Loss of a King

BB RAH

The Loss of a King

I was awakened last night by the news…the distinct and jarring tones of the BBC News World Service alerts. One of only two that I allow my phone to chime.  When it goes off, I know it’s likely important.  (Except the day the royal baby was born…I silenced my phone that day)

I got the chime around 10pm PST.  It simply read “BB King, legendary blues singer, dies in his sleep at 89 confirms manager.”

I talk a lot about parenting, loss, home all that here.  It is no small thing, no subtle metaphor to say that this man was a hero of mine.  He was, without question, an icon – a uniquely American form of royalty that spread throughout the world.

I grew up with Mr. King playing in my home.  His records played all while I was growing up in Nebraska.  His 1970’s LP Completely Well was completely worn out.  When we would go to the mall and I’d walk out with a Clapton or Van Halen record my father would have a cassette with a live BB King show.  We always listened to it . . . and it first.  None of us ever complained, either.

I went to my first BB King show in high school.  My older brother had procured tickets at Red Rocks Amphitheater and it was a triple-bill: Taj Majal, Stevie Ray Vauhan, and BB King, with BB being the headliner.  Taj was good as always.  SRV was amazing, but a bit hesitant.  We found out later that he’d spent hours the night before jamming with Jeff Beck and worn off his callouses.  He’d super-glued his fingers in order to get through the night.

But BB King…the man was just brilliant.

Years later I learned to play guitar and it was important to me to learn who the influences of my influences were.  When I looked at Clapton, Beck, Green, Vaughan, Allman, they all did songs I recognized.  They all recorded BB King songs…but yet somehow, not quite BB King songs.

That tone.  That crying . . . that singing tone . . . only he could do it.  I learned from this master of the instrument and musical mediums (plural, lest you be fooled that all he could do was sing in 3 chords) that one note was all you needed if it was the RIGHT note.  You could play 1,000 notes in a single song and he would tell you more by wringing a tone from Lucille than the best of guitarists.

When I met an amazing woman who loved me and cared and treated me well I sang her a song one night on stage.

“I got a sweet little angel…I love the way she spreads her wings.”
I called my wife, Andrea, that all our married life.  Even in death, on her headstone, carved on the back, it says “fly on my sweet little angel…I love the way you spread your wings.”

In the late 1990’s I worked the phones, pushed, screamed and begged until I got the opportunity – during his tour promoting Riding With the King – to interview him.  While he was supposed to give us just 5 minutes in a dark corner, deep in the bowels of Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, the maestro of the blues ushered us onto his bus.  He gave us close to an hour there and we did almost a half-hour interview with him.  He talked about how he had an incessant appetite to learn as much as he could.  He toured with a laptop computer and a library of books he read constantly.

My father was unable to come to the show and I asked, rather sheepishly, if I could bring him my father’s worn-out copy of Completely Well and have him sign it.  He insisted I bring it backstage after the show.

I told King that my daughter asked to see him for her birthday . . . and he insisted I bring her along.

Abbi and BB

My daughter was scared to meet this man . . . this American King.  You can see it in the photo we took with him.  But after we walked into the dressing room – following a stellar show – he said “you don’t have to worry about coming in here, Princess…” and he gave her a hug.  He took her arm in his and sat down on a chair.  He asked her “do you have a brother or sister?”
My daughter nodded.  Her sister was just a baby.  “I have a little sister, Hannah,” she told him.

King tipped over a cup on the counter, filled with guitar picks and plastic pins.
“Grab something out of there for your sister Hannah,” he told her.  She obliged.
“You probably want something in there, too,” he told her.  She nodded.  “Well, I’m not going to give you any of that,” he said, a twinkle growing in the corner of his eye.

My daughter looked at him, crestfallen but quiet.

“You know why,” he asked her?  She shook her head “no.”
He pointed to his lapel, where an enamel pin of Lucille hung…gold-embossed with her name on the headstock and his on the pin.
“I’m going to give you this one,” he told her.  He unpinned it and put it on her collar.

On the way home my daughter just repeated, in hushed tones, “BB King called me Princess!”

My daughter marks the 3rd generation of my family to love this man and his music.  For an American King to call her Princess is simply beyond description.

We saw him several more times…each time floored by the energy, tone and warmth this man projected.

When I put the phone down tonight I could only think . . . a beautiful woman is silent tonight. Lucille cannot cry, she cannot wail, she cannot shout for joy.

She cannot sing.  The man who says his only love is Lucille left her behind, and she will be silent.

But for years they made music together, sang together, were sad and angry and sarcastic…and joyous.

And what an amazing body of work they left us.

A tuxedo and a shiny 335
You could see it in his face, the blues has arrived
Tonight’s everybody’s getting their angel wings
Don’t you know you’re riding with the King!

You Upset Me Baby . . .

You Upset Me Baby – BB King – Live at the Regal

Well, not really upset so much as . . . I used to be upset.

There were a number of things that used to bother me the first year after losing my wife.  For new readers . . . I lost my wife, Andrea, in March of 2011.  It was unexpected, fast, and like the song says . . . like being hit by a falling tree.

I used to have the hardest time with the smallest things in that first year.  Little things . . . she stole little things away from me.  I used to have the greatest love for the guitar because of the King of the Blues, BB King.  It’s funny, too, because I called Andrea my “Sweet Little Angel” and people always assumed it was because of a song I’d written for Andrea of a similar title.

It wasn’t.

The Live at the Regal LP
The Live at the Regal LP

I called her that because of the King of the Blues.  In that same concert from the song up there Riley B. King had a song called Sweet Little Angel that simply said “I got a sweet little angel.  I love the way she spreads her wings.”  That was her.  His lyric, his line, it inspired me to write my own song for her.

But when Andrea passed away there were a lot of things I couldn’t face and, to be brutally honest, it pissed me off.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight because it was her favorite song of his.  I also couldn’t bring myself to listen to BB King’s Live at the Regal, which bothered me almost more . . . because it’s one of the records that got me wanting to play the guitar.

But unexpectedly, the other day I stumbled on an old interview I was lucky enough to do with BB when I worked in Omaha.

It also led me back to Live at the Regal.  To my complete surprise, I was listening to the album . . . the entire LP, including Sweet Little Angel and I realized that it wasn’t affecting me the way it used to.  Sure, there are memories with it, and many of those involve my late wife.  Many don’t.

It isn’t as hard as it was in the beginning, to see these things come to pass.  In the first year it was like small pieces of Andrea were floating away, like the drifting, wafting embers that float around you when you’re at a campfire.  Each memory that left floated away, you think, never to be seen again.  That’s a hard thing to come to terms with.  You dread sleeping because you’re alone . . . then you dread it because you don’t know what memories your mind is going to purge.  You grasp at them and chase them like Frankenstein after his imaginary butterflies.

But then that thinking changes.  Some take years to do it.  Others never find the peace of mind.  I seem to have gained a different perspective in the last year or so.  The memories aren’t gone, not forever.  They’re just tucked away somewhere.  I also realized, to my surprise, that I know my life wasn’t defined by marriage.  It was part of me, and a part I was sad to leave behind, but it doesn’t – and it didn’t – define who I am totally and completely.  I was still a musician, a writer, a journalist, and a Dad.  I lost a lot, I know that.

I also have a lot of times that hurt.  March 26th will likely never be a pleasant day.  It’s the day I married Andrea and the day I lost her.  October 30th, her birthday, that’s hard.  She took a lot of things with her I thought were mine alone when I brought them to our relationship.

But it seems, just a little, like I finally got something back.  A piece of myself and a piece of my past that gives me a whole lot of joy.

Even if it is from the King of the Blues.