My Uncle passed away and it breaks my heart. When it happened, I was recording in Los Angeles. I'm certain he'd be happy knowing I was in a bar with my friends and flirting with girls. I was happy to know he passed away in his sleep, painlessly. Still, it hurts like hell.
The sorrow comes in waves because I'm used to seeing photos on the Internet; only this time when I go to call him, I know he's not there. My grandmother died a few weeks earlier and I didn't put it on social media so I could deal with it privately. This time I was overwhelmed by the support and condolences from friends, acquaintances and exes I hadn't spoken with in years. It was a lot at the time and I've still yet to read the obituary in the New York Times.
I have no doubt the obituary will focus on his musical accomplishments and 'rags to riches' story, but that's not the Uncle B I will miss. That BB King will live forever in records, video clips and books (as he should). He inspired generations of musicians and touched thousands of hearts. I can only hope to be so lucky. But the Uncle B I am going to miss is the one in the back of the tour bus telling jokes and in the hotel room wearing flannel pajamas, watching the discovery channel and telling stories.
Most of the interviewers who asked me about him were hoping to hear stories about learning to play guitar on "lucille" or how to sing with feeling but I learned much more valuable things than that. Some of it was verbalized but most was by example. He's been the role model for my stage show; blending humor with feeling while keeping the focus on the audience. A live performance is a tricky thing because while you are an "artist" with feelings to convey, people paid to see you. I watched him include the crowd in the journey he took on stage without losing the message. He said "never try to replicate what you did the night before," a reminder to stay in the moment.
Perhaps the biggest lesson came when I was 8 years old and put on the phone with him. I remember an older husky voice saying "Son, always be a gentleman." This was exemplified on stage in his live show and in his interactions with the staff at venues off stage. No diva fits or refusals to come on stage. Every single person he encountered was treated with the utmost respect and he understood that his presence brightened everyone's day. That in itself was a responsibility he took very seriously.
The older I got, the less I talked and more I listened during our visits. I used to read the occasional ignorant comment on the Internet about how "I paid $$$ to see B.B. King and he barely played any guitar!" They missed the point. In his later years, we watched a living piece of American Entertainment history that folks would now give their left arm to see. You would have been fortunate to hear him speak for 90 minutes, let alone play and sing. Not to mention the obvious question: What are your 80-something relatives doing right now? Ok then.
There's a million things I will miss about him and probably a million more I'll think of later. At the same time, he left me stories, advice, inspiration and a mission to do him proud. Reflecting on him has caused me to be more honest, more ambitious, and more focused. I'll forever be humbled, grateful and changed by knowing him.
"I hate to go but I've got to. I love you, son."
"I love you too, sir."
I love you too, sir.