Arts & Culture

From the archives: For bluesman King, the thrill is still here

B.B. King plays to a packed house at Billy Bob's Texas in 2008.
B.B. King plays to a packed house at Billy Bob's Texas in 2008. Special to Star-Telegram

Editor’s note: It was announced Friday that influential, legendary blues musician B.B. King died at the age of 89. From the archives, here is music critic Preston Jones’ review of King’s 2008 appearance at Billy Bob’s Texas.

“I’m 82, but I’m not dead.”

So said Mississippi native and bluesman B.B. King upon sitting down and settling into his relaxed, rewarding set at Billy Bob’s Texas on Saturday night.

There’s a wholly appropriate air of reverence before King takes the stage, an air of reverence that is subsequently and completely dissipated by the man himself. He’s a certifiable legend, closing in on six decades of making music, but he’s far from ready for mothballs.

Backed by the sparkling octet known as the B.B. King Blues Band (which included some punchy horns and a couple native Texans), King ambled through a 100-minute set featuring the staples — show opener Let the Good Times Roll, When Love Comes to Town and the timeless finale, The Thrill is Gone — and plenty of crowd-pleasing banter.

A pleasant surprise was King’s generous treatment of the steady stream of well-wishers who laid flowers, notes and memorabilia at his feet throughout the night. He’d certainly be within his right to dismiss fans approaching the stage, but, displaying pure class, he took time between songs to read a few notes aloud and thank those who came forward.

People in the deeply appreciative crowd — there were standing ovations before the first notes and after the last — weren’t shy about sharing their feelings. Shouts of “We love you!” mingled with the often-searing solos. King’s art relies on a raconteur’s charm and a preacher’s soul. After all, this is a musician who can deftly move from the cheery innocence of You Are My Sunshine to the raw pathos of How Blue Can You Get.

I’ll admit to being frankly surprised by the gusto and grit that King displayed. Most elder statesmen of the blues don’t seem nearly as engaged (or as engaging) as the man known as “Blues Boy.”

One by one, the generation of musicians who prize substance over style is disappearing. For his part, King is not going quietly into that good night.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones