Top five reasons to see B.B. King perform Saturday at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.
1. He’s a legend: The term “legend” is to music journalism what “literally” is to everyday language: an overused, often misused annoyance. For blues artists, it’s as if reaching the age of 50 automatically makes you a legend right up there with Paul Bunyan. But here’s the thing, the 88-year-old B.B. King, whose journey takes him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the White House, really deserves the legendary status; and his guitar Lucille is every bit as important to the American fabric as Babe the Blue Ox.
2. “Live at the Regal” (1965) and “Live in Cook County Jail” (1971): Blues albums don’t really get any better than these live documents, which show that King is not only a guitarist of string-bending brilliance and a sonorous, emotive singer but a gifted entertainer. Incidentally, these albums contain the definitive versions of “The Thrill is Gone,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “How Blue Can You Get?”
3. Influence: From hit recordings with Eric Clapton (the Grammy-winning album “Riding with the King” to U2 (the hit single “When Love Comes to Town”), B.B. King’s influence on blues and rock artists is incalculable. Most famous for his electric guitar solos that majestically mimic his singing, Buddy Guy said, “Before B.B., everyone played the guitar like it was an acoustic.” King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and Rolling Stone magazine has him ranked No. 6 on its latest list of “100 Greatest Guitarists.”
4. “Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011”: Sure, this latest live album by the blues legend has him surrounded by such greats as guitarists Slash, Derek Trucks, the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood as well as singer Susan Tedeschi, but the main attraction remains B.B. King, who is in fine voice, sounds great engaging the audience between songs and still rules on a run of superb guitar solos.
5. He’s a nice guy: B.B. King is, by all accounts, one of the kindest stars you will ever meet. I’ve heard this first-hand from promoters and opening acts over the years and even have my own anecdote. Back in the early 1990s, my parents took me and my three younger siblings to see B.B. King perform a free, outdoor show in downtown Tampa. I was about 13 years old and loved the performance but the most memorable time came after the show. King hung out for about a half hour signing autographs and chatting with everyone including our family. As for souvenirs, my sister Elizabeth went home with the cast on her arm featuring a sweet message and signature from King.
8 p.m. Saturday; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $55-$75; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.