Reposted from Aldon Nielsen's Heat String Theory:
Been thinking a lot about Riley B. King since hearing he's in hospice -- I had hopes that somewhere on the web I'd find a photo taken of him at one of the many shows I attended -- The Cellar Door -- The Howard University Blues Festival, etc. -- But it seems none of the many people I saw taking photos at those events has uploaded anything. In one case, that's because of a tragic photographic accident in the course of an otherwise amazing afternoon.
Here's the story.
1969 -- The posters said that B.B. King was to open for Canned Heat at the Alexandria Roller Rink. You can't tell the program order from this ticket you see, but it was clear on the posters -- CANNED HEAT at the top of the bill -- B.B. King opening -- Rather like having Bach open for Walter (Wendy) Carlos.
Still, there was no way my friend Larry Sammons and I were going to miss this show, so we went. Showtime arrives and nothing is happening, not a rare thing at concerts -- But more time goes by and eventually we learn that King's band has been held up by February weather on their way from the previous gig. The King himself was on hand waiting, but the band was still on the road. Which led to this:
|1969 Feb 16||Canned Heat|
|1969 Feb 16||BB King(solo)|
|1969 Mar 1||The Jeff Beck Group
This is from the official record of shows at the Rink that season. Note the "(solo)" after King's name. It wasn't supposed to be that way, but what a show. As time passed, eventually a stage crew member came out and sat a little practice amp on the stage, directly in front of the massive wall of amps set up for Canned Heat. King then walked out accompanied by Lucille. He made his apologies to the crowd (I wonder if anybody out there has a recording of this show), thanked Canned Heat for loaning him this little amp, plugged in and started to play all by himself.
This was amazing. B.B. King playing several of his most important songs solo -- Had this ever been seen anywhere? Then, one by one the members of the band showed up, snow melting on their coats, set up behind the master and fell in with whatever he was doing at the moment. I think the organist was the first to get there -- if memory serves he still had his coat on as he began to play. By the end of the set, B.B. King and his band were blowing like never before and the crowd was going crazy.
Through all of this, Larry was snapping away with his camera, and we were close! I couldn't wait to see what he was capturing. But then I saw him frown, hold his camera next to his ear, turning the advance lever . . . I got a really bad feeling. "I think the film has slipped off the gears," said Larry. Turned out he was right. Not a single shot to show for his efforts.
We stayed long enough into Canned Heat's set to hear part of "Shake N Boogie" and then left, working our way through a crowd that had mostly come to see the Heat.
But for one cold, February day in 1969, it was B.B. King who brought the heat.
We'll all pray for the man.