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Jeff Moehlis: Long Live the King of Blues

Legendary bluesman B.B. King performs at the Chumash Casino Resort

After the slow blues song “You Know I Love You” at the Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday night, as he was about to start another, B.B. King laughed and said, “That’s the funny thing when you get to be 87, sometimes you forget the words.”

This was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the audience, who were thrilled to see the legendary bluesman — forgotten words and all — still at it a whopping 63 years after his first recordings in 1949.

The show began sans King, with the band warming up themselves and the crowd with a couple of blues shuffles and lots of hot soloing. When King emerged, he was greeted by a standing ovation, then he took a seat at stage center, threw a handful of guitar picks into the audience and was handed a guitar.

King proceeded to play a few notes before a relaxed and playful introduction of the band, which includes his nephew Walter King, band leader James “Boogaloo” Bolden, whose “sister makes the best gumbo in Texas”; and saxophonist Melvin Jackson, who happened to be celebrating his 77th birthday.

Things took off with “I Need You So,” which King described as his favorite song, and which he dedicated especially to those in the audience who are in love.

While King’s guitar playing has understandably lost some of its firepower with age, he still can wow with his warm tone and signature string bends, and his singing is still first-rate.

Next up was “Everyday I Have the Blues,” a song like a few others on the program that he has been playing for decades. This was followed by blues classics “Key to the Highway” and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” and then the newest song on the program, “When Love Came to Town,” which was originally a duet between King and U2 on the latter’s album Rattle and Hum.

A bit of a flirt, King followed with “one for the ladies,” namely a marathon version of “You Are My Sunshine,” which included some rambling but endearing storytelling. Not one to leave out the rest of the audience, the classic “Rock Me Baby” was performed next “for the fellas.”

After “You Know I Love You” and a clip of whatever he forgot the words to, King played “The Thrill Is Gone,” arguably the highlight of the evening, with his singing and guitar, and Jackson’s saxophone all meshing together in a, well, truly thrilling way.

King got lots of love from the audience, and shot it right back.

When a young woman in the row in front of me yelled out, “I love you B,” he responded sweetly with “I love you, too.” He was also amusing — when someone whooped out “Yee-haw,” he responded with a shocked look and said, “I’m from Mississippi, not Texas.” He also did some playful dancing in his chair, which brought a smile to the face, and showed that he’s still got it at age 87.

Following Chumash Casino tradition, at the end of the show the audience was allowed to leave their seats and go up to the stage to see the legendary King up close. Before leaving the stage, he threw out trinkets to the adoring crowd, prized souvenirs for some lucky fans of the night they saw the still reigning King of the Blues.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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