B.B. King has passed away at 89 years old, with his website reporting that he died in his sleep late Thursday night at his Las Vegas home. King quietly leaves the building after winning 15 Grammys, being inducted in both the rock and blues halls of fame, and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006.
Singer and guitarist Robert Cray was inspired by King and had the chance to play with him several times. They first met at a show in Santa Rosa.
"We had gone out and done our set, and B.B. hadn't arrived yet, and I was wondering when they were going to show up."
He found out that King and his band always ran late — and when Cray got off stage, he wasn't allowed into his own dressing room, as King had commandeered it. Still, Cray met King right before he went on stage.
Later, they played together on the 1993 song "Playin' With My Friends," which Cray says meant a lot to him. He worked with producer Dennis Walker, writing the song for King. Cray says it was great for him because he not only got to play on it himself, but also brought on board two former high school bandmates.
"We all three grew up wanting to be blues musicians, and we all three got to be on a B.B. King record, and it was like a dream come true."
Cray found out about King's death on Friday morning via text message.
"I just didn't want any more conversation about it. I wanted to absorb the news. And I had been one of the fortunate ones to go visit B.B. about two months ago at his house. And when I saw him, he was looking pretty well. He was looking a little thin, but he didn't look like he was going to go as soon as he did. And so I had this great vision of B.B. in my head, who was still looking good, and I wanted to keep that in my mind."
King was part of lots of great opportunities for Cray, he says, including a moment at the Crossroads Festival. His band was backing up King, and he was supposed to do part of one of King's songs and then bring Eric Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan on stage.
"I got going in one of B.B.'s tunes, and I sang the whole song when I wasn't supposed to! And I remember that, because eventually I got to the end of the song, and B.B. was just smiles watching me perform his tune, and was cheering me on and everything like that, but it was a mess-up on my part."
Clapton walked on and asked, "What are we going to do now, Robert?"
King says that he'll always remember King as the ambassador of blues music to the world.
"As far as blues music, nobody carried the torch higher than B.B. King. The whole world knows about B.B. King, and the rest of us out here have to go and respect that. He laid the groundwork for all of us out here."