For decades, acknowledged as one of the greatest electric guitarist ever, is the legendary American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter B.B. King – winner of everything the music industry and governments can bestow on an artist – including 15 Grammy Awards, the American Presidential Medal of Freedom … and my youngest daughter’s enduring adulation.
Now this legend had come to town and was soon to be on stage, with me anxiously sitting in the audience. But, this was no ordinary outing for me … having had a ‘family’ connection to the event. In fact, I was on a mission that had started earlier in the day.
“Do you think he would?” The incredulous look on my daughter’s face was filled with expectations mixed with apprehension. With an optimism conditioned by experience, I said, “Well there’s only one way to find out”.
I happen to know the nightclub owner, Ben, through work and enjoyed a good business relationship. I was pretty sure he’d be at least 50/50 in favour of my idea of getting her guitar signed … but as for BB himself…?
My daughter and I quickly turn off the highway at New Hamburg to buy a permanent marking pen for Mr. King to sign. (Remember, we’re going for broke on this project!) Coming home we get the guitar; and as a last minute bit of inspiration, I suggest that she write a personal note to him – which she does – sealing it in an envelope.
I explain all this to the owner who seems so-so about this, but he calls in his manager who, after hearing the story, just rolls her eyes.
“There’s no way!” she said, as she explains that during the show he might throw out some souvenir guitar picks or after the show, autograph some official photos; but as to actually placing his signature on someone’s guitar …?
Her voice trailed off; but I knew she was probably right. It just seemed too commercially crass, even if I knew our intentions were honourable. And because of that, I pressed on explaining who was asking – a young girl with a dream.
“Well, all we can do is to try.” I offer – to which the owner nodded to the manager, who patiently secures the guitar and leaves.
Later, as I was nursing a drink in the club, I asked myself what was I thinking? “50/50?” It now seemed like a one-in-a-million long shot!
Suddenly, my concentration was broken as the opening rhythm and blues ensemble had finished and the B.B. King orchestra started playing. Then it happened! From somewhere off the stage … a soul-bending, guitar wailing sigh, the likes of which I’ve never heard before. As I scanned the stage, I can see that Mr. King has walked from the wings to centre stage. Was this what people must have experienced when they first heard Jimi Hendrix’s play? From his first reverent bow to his stellar musicians, the audience was never released from a magical spell all night long.
The next day, the manager explained when she tentatively presented it to him back stage after the show; he just raised his eyebrows and looked dubiously at her and the guitar. Reading his mind, she suggested that it was from a young fan and that maybe he could read her letter. He did. Asking for the specially supplied pen, he reflectively signed it … never saying a word.
I asked my daughter what she had written in the letter; she could only recall that, in addition to telling him how much she admired his music, her only other wish was to be old enough to attend one of his concerts when he returns.
Slipping the letter into his shirt pocket, he patted it down as if he had found something of immeasurable value – and himself, being a father, indeed he had. For me that night, the music only played in the background to the real magic between B.B. & B. – two very special people, who hit the right note with me.