A cadre of guitar heroes was on hand at the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, on Saturday (June 5) to help christen the center’s new 4,500-square-foot wing, and the first exhibits added to the museum since King passed away in 2015.
Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Gary Clark Jr. and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram headlined a tribute concert that followed the ceremony on Second Street in front of the complex, playing selections from King’s songbook to an estimated 1,500 attendees.
In the spirit of the dozens of free homecoming concerts King played in Indianola during his lifetime, the performance brought together musicians who played with and were influenced by King to perform a free show in his honor.
Longtime King drummer Tony “TC” Coleman served as bandleader for a revolving cast of guest guitar players – most of whom used variations of the Gibson ES-335 and ES-355 models King himself played – including Mississippi bluesmen Ingram, Vasti Jackson and Mr. Sipp, as well as Lil’ Ray Neal and D.K. Harrell, who played in the house band.
The new expansion covers the final years of King’s life and tells the story of how he made his living on the road by averaging more than 300 concerts a year for three decades. Whereas other displays in the permanent collection show some of King’s tour ledgers and a mess kit that belonged to one of his band members (segregation forbade them from dining-in at many towns they played in the early days), now visitors can see a few of his actual rides for themselves.
The collection includes his customized Rolls Royce and El Camino cars, as well as a tour bus he purchased new in 1987 and traveled more than 12 million miles in – enough for 25 round trips to the moon.
Here are five other cool things we saw in Indianola at the BB King Museum celebration.
1. BB King now rests in bronze
While his namesake museum tells his incredible life story and the shared experiences of many of his relatives and neighbors who lived in the Delta, his final resting place at the museum was simple and unadorned. No more, though.
A pavilion and garden now surround his grave, with the names of his songs engraved into slats along the walls. The centerpiece – a life-size King rendered in bronze – keeps eternal watch from a nearby bench.
2. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram got personal with his fans
One of the best-known members of the Mississippi guitar contingent, 22-year-old Clarksdale native Christone "Kingfish" Ingram played a set of originals with his own band during the afternoon, then returned after nightfall to take on King’s 1953 single Woke Up This Morning (My Baby She Was Gone) with the all-star backing band.
During his own set, though, Ingram hopped off the stage and brought his greasy Delta licks to the streets – and even serenaded one lucky young fan.
3. Gary Clark Jr. was as impressed with the band as they were with him
Gary Clark Jr. mingled with fans along Second Street during the casual afternoon sets, stopping to chat, pose for photos and even sign a young boy’s bottle-cap guitar replica.
That goodwill followed him to the stage, inspiring a crowd chant [GAR-Y! GAR-Y!] after his rousing version of Whole Lotta Love. He followed with a slow-burning, 11-minute take on 3 O’Clock Blues, and gave the spotlight to house-band guitarists Lil’ Ray Neal and D.K. Harrell between his mesmerizing solos.
4. Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks brought down the house
After stepping onstage to a warm birthday greeting from the crowd, Trucks strapped on one of King’s personal Lucille guitars and joined Tedeschi, who was playing a borrowed Fender Stratocaster.
The band tore right into You Don’t Know with support from a horn section and keys, plus a slide solo from Trucks. How Blue Can You Get also included Trucks, and featured an extended Tedeschi solo.
5. 10 guitarists took part in the concert’s finale
Every guitarist returned to the stage for the final two songs. On Everybody Wants to Know Why I Sing the Blues, bassist Michael Doster, a 17-year veteran of King’s band, anchored the groove, while Coleman sang lead and played drums, giving the guitar players space to lay down their King-inspired licks.
Tedeschi led the 'guit-army' through the finale, The Thrill is Gone – King’s 1970 Grammy Award-winning hit and his most enduring signature song.