A serious bout with the flu kept him from the scheduled concert. It would be a year before he was able to make his way into our small East Texas town, but he did. He honored his commitment and the venue honored the tickets, so we gathered to see "The King" at Cowen Center on the University Of Texas campus in Tyler Texas.
Let me say from the outset that it was a great concert for several reasons, and on several levels.
The music was awesome, as one would expect from one of the great blues guitar masters. He played the obligatory "great ones" from the industry standards, as well as his own masterpiece, "The Thrill Is Gone", a song that evidences the nuances that set him apart from his fellow blues men. I mean by that, not that he was greater or lesser than his blues peers, but that there was always a slight stylistic difference. B.B. King was his own man, with his own distinct style!
Okay, let's admit it: There is a little something to be said for having been able to see a live presentation by a legend! King is a legend! There is no doubt about that. His album sales, his discography, his sold out concerts, and his distinctives all prove this.
When we saw B.B. King, the audience was, I think, a little older than average. That means they were mostly my age or older. When he said that he was going to do a song that had been written for him by Bono of U 2, there was only a mild response from the audience. For most of those who were of the generation that listened and still listen to U2, legend status was automatically conferred! This audience was largely beyond that age group. He responded to that semi silence by acknowledging the age and location of the crowd, and then performed "When Love Comes to Town" which I believe, ended in a standing ovation!
The audience, as mentioned earlier, was mostly older, but it was also largely white. I am not certain why. I am not certain that it matters. The King told a story that I think connected with the crowd almost as well as the music. The story was from the time of segregation and had to do with a water fountain on the black side of the street, and one on the white side of the street, and a late night trip across the street to drink from the white fountain. "The water tasted the same." he said.
Most of us remembered the shiny porcelain fountains labeled white, and the usually poorly maintained fountains or hose spigots labeled black, or something far more offensive. They were the visible symbols of the problem beneath the surface. Times have changed. Are we free of the bigotry and bias of those days? No! We will deal with bigotry in one form or another forever I suspect, but the audience on that night in East Texas, got a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have to go. For that I am thankful.
Rest In Peace Sir!