B.B. King at Roy Thompson Hall. - more photos... photo by clint gilders - staff photographer
B.B. King carries himself with a kind of quiet class. In fact, his entire band and entourage do. From the gentlemen who escort him on and off stage to the road manager, everyone is dressed to the nines. B.B. himself explained that he doesn't know anything about the ghetto or the "hood." He was a Mississippi farm boy who plowed fields and picked cotton, who went on the become one the most successful R&B and blues musicians still living today.
B.B., now 81, made a stop in Toronto on May 11, and I sure am glad I was there. The show started with B.B.'s band performing two instrumentals, and then they were joined on stage by the man himself. The band by itself is phenomenal. Horns, guitar, bass, drums and keyboard make up the group. All these men are seasoned musicians, and none what we might call young (unless we compare them to B.B.).
B.B. King at Roy Thompson Hall. photo by clint gilders - staff photographer
This was reinforced when, in introducing the band, B.B. explained that the keyboard player was filling in for "the man we buried yesterday."
B.B. sits down to play now, and this contributes to the intimate nature of his live show. He also spends a lot of time telling stories and interacting with the more jovial members of the audience. Between (and during!) songs we were treated to stories of boyhood trips to town, later trips where after a "beer and half" he'd venture across the tracks to see if the "white water" tasted different from the "colored water." B.B. can laugh now about the repercussions if he'd been caught on the wrong side of the tracks in the segregated south of the 1930s and 40s, but admits that at the time it was no laughing matter. The audience also sustained a good hearted ribbing when they failed to join in during "When Love Comes To Town," which was written for Mr. King by U2's Bono.
The evening's highlight for me was when the horn section left the stage and B.B., with the guitarist and bassist seated on either side of him, played some great blues and told more of his stories. The legend's guitar tone was to die for, and I loved watching him let loose on occasion with some delicious runs and his trademark otherworldly singing vibrato. "You Are My Sunshine" was incredible!
At the end of the perormance, Mr. King strolled to the front of the stage, where he greeted the grateful fans, and handed out guitar picks and necklaces. It was during this meet-and-greet that a small boy dressed in his Sunday best was passed up to the stage to get a hug from B.B.
Hopefully that boy will someday realize what a special moment that was.
Deborah Cameron has been producing B.B. King shows in Canada for the last 18 years and she is at the helm of the 2007 Canadian tour. She was kind enough to allow me a rare opportunity to photograph the show. Special thanks to Deborah, the staff of the Roy Thompson Hall (that includes you Christina), and B.B. King's management and staff.
B.B. King at Roy Thompson Hall - more photos... photo by clint gilders - staff photographer