Originally created 09/17/99

King of blues returns



Some musical royalty comes calling Thursday at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.

The B.B. King Blues Festival, which begins at 7 p.m., features Mr. King and his designated heir apparent, Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Also appearing will be the bands Tower of Power and Indigenous.

The eighth annual blues festival tour began Aug. 3 in Salt Lake City with about 50 concerts scheduled. It will end Oct. 3 in Austin, Texas.

Born in 1925 in Mississippi, Riley "B.B." King's career began in the 1940s in the clubs on Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. He also was a disc jockey and performer on radio station WDIA, where he was known as the "Beale Street Blues Boy," which he later shortened to B.B.

In 1951, his first hit, Three O'Clock Blues, topped the rhythm and blues charts for 17 weeks and launched him on a national tour playing venues such as New York's Apollo Theater.

With his Gibson guitar "Lucille," Mr. King has made more than 50 albums and plays in more than 250 concerts a year. His distinct sound has influenced guitarists Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mr. Shepherd, among others.

Mr. King was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in 1987.

Mr. Shepherd, 22, taught himself to play the guitar after his father, Ken Shepherd Sr., a concert promoter in Shreveport, La., took him backstage to meet Stevie Ray Vaughan when Mr. Shepherd was 7 years old.

At the age of 13, he took the stage with Bryan Lee at the Old Absinthe bar on New Orleans' Bourbon Street. By the time he'd released his debut album, Ledbetter Heights in 1995, he had performed on CDs by blues singers Willie Dixon and Albert King.

Ledbetter Heights stayed on the top of Billboard's blues charts for five months. His next album, Trouble Is ... was released in 1997.

His next work, Live On, is scheduled for release Oct. 12, after which his band will go on its own tour.

His sound has earned praise from many respected musicians, including Mr. King and Augusta's James Brown.

"B.B. told me, `You could possibly be bigger than all of us.' And coming from him, that meant everything to me," Mr. Shepherd said in a 1997 interview in the San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle.

However, he has had his share of critics, who say he can't sing the blues because he has not seen enough of life or paid his dues.

"Stevie Ray began playing when he was 14,` Mr. Shepherd pointed out. "What everyone forgets is that these blues legends weren't always in their 60s and their 70s. You get that from the older blues community. I met B.B., and he accepted me; that was enough. I've been to the mountaintop. He's the man. I don't care what any of the other ones say. As long as he says it's OK, it's OK."

"You see, it's like B.B. is the judge of the blues. He can send you to jail or let you go free, and he let me go free."

The Blues Festival promises more than five hours of music. Tickets are $26.50 and $31.50 and can be purchased at the civic center box office, TicketMaster locations, online at www.ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 828-7700.

On stage

What:

B.B. King Blues Festival, featuring B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tower of Power and Indigenous

When:

7 p.m. Thursday

Where:

Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, 601 Seventh St.

How much:

$26.50-$31.50

Phone:

828-7700

REACH Charmain Brackett at (803) 441-6927 or czbrackett@hotmail.com.