BB King passed away last week at the age of 89. We asked local musicians Dave Galluzzo and Rick Nielsen to share some memories of the legendary blues guitarist.
“We opened for BB King at show at Boylan High School in 1970 or ’71. I was 16 years old and in a band called Flight at the time. The story goes like this: We had played a couple shows opening for Rick Nielsen and Tom Peterson’s band Fuse both at Sherwood Lodge and then again at the Mothers Day concert that keeps popping up on the Rockford Rocked Facebook page. Because we did well at those gigs we were invited to do the show with BB King.
“I don’t remember who put that show on but it was at a transition when Fuse was breaking up and Rick was in some configuration of Fuse/Sickman of Europe. I think it may have been around the time of Stewkey and Thom Mooney from Nazz. Anyway, as I remember it, they had another gig or someone had to be somewhere so they played first and packed up and left which meant we went on right before BB King–which was seriously cool for a bunch of 16 year old Rockford kids to do.
“BB King was out touring and still riding the huge mainstream success of his hit “The Thrill Is Gone.” As we were getting setup and ready to play we discovered one of our guitar cords was shorting out and this was the days of one guitar, one cord and one amp–no spare anything, at least that’s the way it was for a young band like ours. Rick and all those guys had packed up and were gone so we couldn’t get one from them, so that only left BB King.
“So off we go to bang on the dressing room door and mooch a cord from one of our blues heroes and already a true living legend.
They opened the door–BB was sitting in a chair in the middle of the room surrounded by a bunch of other well dressed (suits) players and entourage. The dressing room was tight as I remember it, about the size of a large broom closet.
“All I can say about BB King is you could tell instantly that he was a gentleman and that he loved what he did. He smiled, looked quizzically at us and asked what he could do for us. So then like a bunch of dopes, we stuttered out, ‘Can we borrow a cord? One of ours shorted out.’
“He laughed a little, smiled a big warm smile and told one of his guys to get us one of his cords. He asked if we were going to put on a good rock’n’roll show and then said he’d be listening. We played and then watched his entire show from the side of the stage. He was a truly gracious guy and a huge star.
“If anyone ever wonders how cool Rockford was back then think of this: a 16 year old kid gets to open up for an internationally loved and respected blues god, BB King. Rick and Tom play and then go on to be international acclaimed rock gods in their own right. The other kid that played drums for us that day, John Darby, went on to become the current Director of NASCAR.
“Not a bad group of guys to hang around. Rockford really did Rock!”
-Dave Galluzzo, former frontman of The Names
“I first met and played with BB in 1969 and we remained friends. ‘Hey Mr. Rick!’ everytime we’d see each other.
“The last time I was with him was just two years ago. I brought my ‘Lucille’ and asked, almost embarrassingly, him signing for a third time his BB King autograph for me. ‘Hey Mr. Rick, OK.’”
-Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick
Special thanks to Todd Houston of Rockford Rocked for talking to Dave.
Read how BB’s early days in radio shaped his musical career.