LAS VEGAS (KCBS)—Blues legend B.B. King, who died Thursday In Las Vegas at the age of 89, was known throughout his career as a prolific performer, but he was once hesitant about playing in the Bay Area, according to his biography.
“He was committed from a very early point in his life to be a traveling musician and to have that kind of intimacy with an audience even if it was only fleeting,” said Wall Street Journal Music Critic Jim Fusilli. “In 1956 they did 342 one-night-stands in a single calendar year. He was kind of a model in a sense that he was relentless in the pursuit of his art. You could tell that it was the most important thing to him.”
Still, King was not eager to play one proposed date in San Francisco, according his biography, which includes a great anecdote where legendary promoter Bill Graham wanted to book him at the now-defunct Fillmore West, the city’s second Fillmore-branded venue on South Van Ness Ave.
“He was a little uncertain. He really felt that white audiences didn’t know him, and he didn’t think hippies cared very much about the blues,” said Fusilli.
He did play the show, and Graham introduced him in 1968 at Fillmore West to a roar of applause.
“B.B. King said that was the first time he’d ever got a standing ovation before he played a single note,” said Fusilli who expressed his appreciation for King’s work ethic.
According to the New York Times, King considered that show to be the moment of his commercial breakthrough. And he recalled in 2003 that the applause brought him to tears.
“He always presented his music with great taste and great verve,” Fusilli stated. “It’s amazing King lived as long as he did for as hard and as he worked…There’s a lot of easier ways to do what B.B. King did, but he didn’t do it the easy way – getting on that bus after the show, driving to the next show, hiring and paying all those musicians, I really admire that.”