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Special Tribute to B. B. King, the Blues Giant with the Giant Heart

We honor B. B. King with this special podcast, centered on his benefit concert that led to freedom for San Quentin prisoner Dennis Jones…

Riley B. King passed away yesterday at age 89, and leaves a legacy of great music, amazing performances, and countless stories of his warmth and generosity.  With the help of my friends Dennis Jones and Tom Lapinski, I’m sharing some of those stories today.

In 1973, your humble host did the graveyard shift talk and music show on WLS-FM in Chicago, and the studios were upstairs from a nightclub.  I got up the nerve to ask King to drop by the show after his last set at the London House, and he graciously agreed–spending two and a half hours chatting, taking calls and singing with Lucille.

In 1986, he performed at San Quentin and a recording of the concert later was released and won a Grammy award.  That’s where he met Dennis Jones and Tom Lapinski, who join us to tell their stories.

Recounting a 1991 interview with B. B. at KNBR in San Francisco, I reveal that Rush Limbaugh told me he’s a big fan of King’s, and was impressed that they were both on my show that day.

In 1996, I posed as a roadie for an opening act so I could get backstage at Shoreline Amphitheater in order to ask B. B. to do a benefit concert to help win parole for Jones, a San Quentin prisoner who was wrongfully convicted.  B. B. agreed without hesitation, and the concert was in February, 1997.  The proceeds paid for lawyers and investigators, and Jones was released on parole in January, 2000 after 23 years.

You’ll hear Jones talk about his contact with B. B. during and after prison, the song he dedicated to Dennis at a concert right after his release, and, that if not for the generosity of B. B. King, he might still be in prison today.

Lapinski, a veteran Bay Area producer of live concerts, worked with King more than a dozen times, and recounts the offstage connection he made with B. B. at the Paul Masson Mountain Winery near San Jose.  He also talks about a man who never said no, and who gave every show everything he had.

For me, it was a singular thrill to meet, then get to know, an icon who was so remarkably open to people, so willing to use his star power and influence to help people who needed it.  I liked his music before I ever met him, and my appreciation for his staggering contribution to American roots music has only deepened over time.  I was fortunate to see him perform more than a dozen times, and never saw a bad show–although he did forget the words to Thrill is Gone one time!

Here are some photos of Dennis Jones sporting the t-shirt from the benefit concert, and a close-up, plus a shot with B.B. at San Quentin and one at B.B. blues club at Universal City in Southern California.

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