B.B. King has always been a part of my music life, so I still can’t quite believe that he is dead. B.B. was a huge influence on me. I remember desperately trying to get the sweet tone, the perfect bends and the trembling vibrato when I was a young electric guitar hopeful in, then Communist, Poland. I never had any of BBs records; in fact hardly anyone had them, since you couldn’t buy them in the shops. But I had a Russian-made reel-to-reel recorder and I taped some of his tunes from the radio broadcasts. Despite endless practice, I never got B.B. King’s guitar tone. Initially I blamed it on my Egmond electric guitar, but much later in 1975, after I came to London and had an opportunity to try a Gibson ES-345 in a shop in Denmark Street, I realized that B.B. King sounds like B.B. King because he is… B.B. King.
I had one opportunity to come near to B.B. King, but I never did meet him. Sometime in the mid 1980s, I was working with a fantastic jazz blues singer Carol Grimes. One day Carol received a call from a promoter asking if she and her band could do a sound check for B.B. King. His plane was late, so he and the band would have to drive from Heathrow straight to the Royal Festival Hall and immediately start playing. Carol called the band and we decided to do it. I was quietly hoping that I might get a chance to meet the great man. It wasn’t to be: after hanging around for hours in the RFH, we got to finally play The Thrill Is Gone, but got stopped 15 times for sound adjustments and told to go home.
I will never meet B.B. King, but he will stay with me for the rest of my days.