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Originally Published November 24, 2000
The King of the Blues is 75 years old. B.B. King still reigns as the ultimate ambassador of the Blues.
Believe it or not, even though I own (and love) about a dozen of his albums, I had never caught B.B.’s live show — until now. I was not going to pass up my opportunity to see him right here in my own town. The fact that rising star, Shemekia Copeland, was opening the show, only made my conviction that much stronger.
Thanks to some generous friends, we were blessed with good seats at the Greater Des Moines Civic Center on Nov. 7th. What this modern facility lacks in juke joint ambience, it makes up with a phenomenal stage, great lighting, and excellent acoustics.
Shemekia warmed things up in a hurry with her personable and engaging stage presence, not to mention a voice that could topple a mountain. She was playful, and interacted with her talented guitarist throughout her set. The highlight was clearly her homage to her daddy, the late Johnny Copeland. She began to sing one of his songs, “Ghetto Child”. After bringing the band down to a low simmer, she stepped away from the microphone, strutted to the edge of the stage and belted out the lyrics in an emotional manner that was stunning. This dynamic young diva of the Blues did not need the aid of a P.A. system! Chill bumps, baby…sumpin’ else!
After a brief intermission, B.B.’s large band of talented sidemen started up, signaling that it was almost time for the star of the show to make his way out on the stage. B.B. came out to tumultuous applause, everyone clearly enjoying the mutual love affair between listeners and artist.
Celebrating his 75th birthday on this tour, B.B. is no spring chicken, so as has been the custom of late, he was seated center stage throughout his performance. He was in great command of his voice on this night, singing his heart out to his fans. His trademark guitar licks reverberated through the large room, soaring above the band.
The always gracious Mr. King let everyone in his band have a chance to shine, as he surrounds himself with the best. I must admit, however, that longtime drummer, Caleb Emphrey, Jr., seemed particularly excited this night. He was constantly pushing things fast and strong, when some subtlety and finesse would have been more appropriate at times. (Some “de-caf” might be in order, Caleb.)
My favorite part of the evening was when B.B. and band did a long medley of songs from King’s tribute album to Louis Jordan, Let The Good Times Roll. He leaves everyone feeling they were witness to something special. God bless you, B.B.
Don “T-Bone” Erickson
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