Venice

Summer 2015

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The late King of the Blues shone brightly in the Sunshine State. BY BOB WEINBERG PORTRAIT BY TOMAS MUSIONICO 124 Venice B B KING THE THRILL IS GONE For blues fans, the news was jolting if not entirely unexpected. "I am in home hospice care at my residence in Las Vegas," B.B. King announced on his website on May 1. "Thanks to all for your well wishes and prayers." Two weeks later, the sad news came that King, who would have turned 90 on September 16, had passed away. "B.B. King was the greatest guy I ever met," blues guitar giant Buddy Guy wrote on Facebook. "The tone he got out of that guitar, the way he shook his left wrist, the way he squeezed the strings...Man, he came out with that, and it was all new to the whole guitar-playin' world." A tearful Eric Clapton released an online video statement about his dear friend and mentor. "I want to thank him for all the inspiration and encouragement he gave me as a player over the years and for the friendship that we enjoyed," Clapton said, noting that King's classic 1964 concert album Live at the Regal was an early influence. "This music is almost a thing of the past; there are not many left who play it in the pure way that B.B. did. He was a beacon for all of us who love this music, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart." Maintaining a tour schedule of 250 dates a year until he was in his 70s, King earned the affection and adoration of generations of music lovers. During his 70-plus years of performance, he brought his signature sound from his hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi, to Tel Aviv, and seemingly everywhere in between. King was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes more than 20 years ago, and the disease had taken its toll. He canceled a concert tour in October 2014 and was hospitalized in April for dehydration. King was no stranger to Florida audiences. In recent years, he performed here annually—sometimes more—at venues such as Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, where he rang in 2013 with a New Year's Eve concert. Until recently, there was a blues club in West Palm Beach that bore his name. But the man whose influence flowed through rock gods such as Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield; whose universal appeal expanded blues audiences across racial and geographical boundaries; and whose generosity of money and spirit flowed to rural towns in the South and into the prisons where he'd perform for inmates, had been a fixture in the Sunshine State for decades. "I got all my pointers from B.B. King," says veteran Gainesville soul singer Little Jake Mitchell, who toured with King in the 1950s when he was just a young teenager. "B.B. King was my godfather." As a young boy growing up in the projects in Tampa, Mitchell, now 71, competed in monthly talent shows sponsored by the Holsum Bread Company and routinely won first prize: a dozen loaves of bread. Among the tunes he sang was King's "Woke Up This Morning," a song with decidedly grown-up lyrics—"Woke up this morning, my baby was gone..."—that must have had the judges in stitches coming from a 5- or 6-year-old boy.

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