I learned about the blues and B.B. King in a rather unusual way. Back in high school, I did odd jobs and radio repairs to make a little spending money. We had a local jukebox operator who heard that I could repair electronics. He called me and asked if I could fix his jukeboxes. I had never worked on a jukebox, but I had worked on audio amplifiers for my father's music store where he sold Magnavox stereos.
I started fixing those old tube-type jukeboxes, and it was a decent source of spending money in the late 1950s. This guy had quite a few old 78 RPM jukeboxes in the many juke joints around this little Mississippi town. These were filled with blues and R&B records, which this guy would change out every two to three months, and he would give the old ones to me for free. By the time I graduated from high school, I had about a thousand of these old R&B/blues 78s, and had repeatedly listened to them all—including the early "Blues Boy King" records on the RPM label. (Later, they dropped the "Blues Boy" and simply called him B.B. King.)
I had attended a Bo Diddley concert a couple of years earlier, and was trying hard to be a guitar player, so B.B's music was a HUGE influence on me along with lots of other blues artists on Vee-Jay, Excello, Kent, Chess, Imperial, Ace, and many other regional labels. Being such a big B.B. King fan, I had a chance to go hear him live in Memphis in 1961. I will never forget that electric moment when B.B. came out and started playing. I got goosebumps!!!!
I finally got to meet B.B. in person many years later. What a wonderful guy. A few years later (when they were doing the B.B. King Museum up in Indianola, Miss.), they were looking for old original records by B.B. I still had 13 of the old "Blues Boy King" 78 RPM records on the RPM label. All those old RPM records of mine are now hanging on the walls of the B.B. King Museum.
He will be sincerely missed, and there will never be another like him. He told me a few years ago that the first time he thought he might have made the "big time" was when he did a show at the Fillmore West. He said, "I went out and played my first set and the lights on stage were so bright that I couldn't see the audience. When I left the stage, the house lights came up and I could see that the audience was mostly white folks, and it was then I realized that just maybe I had made the big time."
We will miss him terribly. I think he's now somewhere in a better place, and still playing "Lucille."