No way to treat a King

The news that blues great B.B. King is now in hospice is a painful reminder that when you have a chance to see a legend, don’t miss it.

I’ve been a B.B. King fans for decades, which puts me in the minority of most people in the radio business, judging by the refusal of radio stations to play the blues with any regularity. For some reason, it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Neither did B.B. King when I saw him at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in 2010.

He was on the bill with Buddy Guy, leading us to believe the two legends would appear together. Guy did a blistering open, which I later came to learn is exactly the same show, including ad libs, he’s done in every appearance here since. No matter, though. He’s a legend.

King’s a legend, too, but there was a sadness about the performance. He didn’t play much. Then 83 years old, he had to be helped to a chair where he mostly told stories, mixing in a few notes here and there.

The concert ended abruptly, in the middle of one of his stories, when he muttered “they tell me I have to get off” and up he went, led off stage confused while his band director tried to give him a Las Vegas-style send off to mask what we all knew was happening.

But we stood and cheered, because that’s what fans of legends do. We thank them for what they’ve given our lives. As far as we were concerned, it was the day love came to town.

So I was disappointed the next day when the Star Tribune music critic disrespected him so much as to declare he was no longer a bluesman, and was washed up.

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. But while I understand a journalist’s responsibility to call them as he sees them, there must be a way to show a little respect when declaring someone a dead man walking. It seemed to mirror the disdain that radio has for the blues, too.

There are still a few old bluesmen around, but not many. The next generation of blues artists — like other music artists — have the luxury of not needing radio airplay to have an audience. The genre will survive.

Presumably, there will be many respectful tributes to King when he passes soon. Radio stations might even play some of his music.

But I wish he could’ve gotten a little more respect here while he was alive and (sometimes) playing.