That’s the ticket
Who: B.B. King
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center
Tickets: $35-$75 general, $17.50-$37.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787
Talk about a bio. B.B. King was born on a plantation in rural Mississippi in 1925, and at age 12 purchased his first guitar for $15. He eventually migrated to Memphis, where he played on live radio — ultimately earning a show of his own on a popular station — and in clubs.
He also picked up the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which ultimately got shortened to “B.B.” He began recording songs and toured constantly on the “chitlin’ circuit,” then began releasing albums in 1956.
The legendary blues guitarist will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. Tickets are $35-$75 general, $17.50-$37.50 for students, available online at www.mondaviarts.org or by calling 530-754-2787.
Among his many famous recordings are the blues standard “The Thrill is Gone.” King released his version in 1969, which picked up a Grammy Award in 1970, and was honored again with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998. He’s also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year, King performed at the White House, where he coaxed a shy member of the audience (President Barack Obama) onstage to sing “Sweet Home Chicago.” When King asks, even presidents listen.
King made what was described at the time as a “farewell tour” of Europe in 2006, but then he changed his mind about retirement. Now 87, he’s still touring and performing, and he’s one of the last remaining living links to the generation of artists who grew up in the rural segregated South, working in the fields on cotton and other crops; he once picked cotton for 75 cents a day.
A biographer once asked King, “How can you play in 90-degree heat in a three-piece suit?” To which King replied, “I used to work all day in the hot sun in Mississippi.” The biographer expressed some amazement and said he’d pass out under such circumstances. King observed, “Well, you’re white.”
There’s a story about how King named his guitar “Lucille.” He was playing a juke joint in the South, and there was a fight between two men, one of whom knocked over a container of kerosene, which was used to fuel the building’s heating system. A fire broke out, and everyone fled the building.
But once outdoors, King realized he’d left his guitar inside, and he ran into the burning building to retrieve it. King later discovered that the fight between the two men had been over a girl named Lucille. “So I named my guitar Lucille, to remind myself not to do something like that again. And I haven’t,” King told a biographer in the British documentary released earlier this year, “The Life of Riley.” (King’s birth name is Riley B. King.)
During the early years of his career, King toured many cities where segregation was still common practice.
“I’ve put up with more humiliation than I care to remember,” King wrote in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me.” “Touring segregated America — forever being stopped and harassed by white cops hurts you most cos you don’t realize the damage. You hold it in. You feel empty, like someone reached in and pulled out your guts.”
Decades ago, King stayed at the Gaston Hotel in Birmingham, Ala., on a night when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also was staying there. “They bombed the place,” King recalled in his biography. “The bomb rocked my room.”
However, “the racists couldn’t legislate musical taste,” King observed. In the 1950s, his albums became popular with white audiences — not only in America, but in Britain. British rock stars like Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton became great admirers, and King toured on a double bill with the Rolling Stones.
King’s style with the guitar is unmistakable. In the documentary “The Life of Riley,” Clapton told an interviewer, “I can tell B.B. from one note. Most of us can. (He has a) certain melodic sense unique to himself.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.