It’s been almost five years since Riley B. King passed away in May of 2015. Be it his diabetes awareness ads or his early endorsement of Sirius satellite radio, B.B. always seemed to be the perfect ambassador for almost anything. However, he truly was the last living of the great bluesmen, a title he has now left to Buddy Guy. His final year included charges of elder abuse by his one-time business manager and the war over his estate was described as “totally haywire” by the Hollywood Reporter.
So while now might seem a strange time to hold a tribute concert to B.B., maybe it’s the perfect time to redirect attention to the man who did it better and longer than almost anybody. John Brewer’s Life Of Riley documentary, released a year after King’s passing, did a great job of telling the man’s story. Bono, who famously dueted with B.B. King described his voice “as they say in New Orleans, some other kind of shit.”
As cool a quote as that is, I doubt calling a concert “Some Other Kind Of Shit” would have sold that many tickets: so “The Thrill Is Gone” seemed appropriate. The February 16th concert at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY was originally scheduled to be the first of two distinct shows with different lineups. However, it collapsed into one night, but that just meant more music for everybody who had tickets for the first night. No one in attendance could say they were cheated. Wavy Gravy came out shortly after eight o’clock to tell the story of how he first met BB at the Texas International Pop Festival and the final notes of “Everyday I Have The Blues” rang out after 1 AM. In between, the audience was treated to stories, songs, and a fantastically good time.
It was clear that the show was the product of the two proposed nights fused together. It was a little ragged, and a little shambling at times, but the emotion shone through all the way. Little Steven sang “Let The Good Times Roll” and his Jersey counterpart Southside Johnny kicked in with “Beautician Blues.” BB’s famous guitar Lucille was in attendance on a stand in front of the drums and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram picked it up and absolutely destroyed on “Everybody Wants To Know Why I Sing The Blues.” Ingram also joined Jamey Johnson on a fantastic duet of “Take It Home”
Steve Jordan served as a fantastic emcee for the second part of the show and it seemed like Warren Haynes once again used his influence to put this event together. This wasn’t announced, but it could be inferred by some of the stories told from the stage. Haynes was fantastic as always on “So Excited” and “How Blue Can You Get?” Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi similarly shone on “You Don’t Know” and “Three O’Clock In The Morning.”
Shameika Copeland and John Scofield performed a fantastic duet of “Stormy Monday.” Other standouts were Robert Cray’s “I Like To Live The Love,” which also would have made a good name for the show. Ann Wilson stood in for the aforementioned U2 frontman on “When Love Comes To Town.” Buddy Guy, curses and all, came out for “Sweet Little Angel.” He avoided his usual trip through the crowd since this was a tribute to his fallen friend, after all. Buddy led the majority of the artists through a full tribute-style “Thrill Is Gone” and finished with “Everyday I Have The Blues,” with he and Bobby Rush sharing the job of frontman. There wasn’t evidence of professional recording or filming during the show but Steve Roche on Youtube shared some fantastic videos of the evening. If you couldn’t make it out to honor B.B. then feel free to put on 1965’s “Live At The Regal” and crank it up.