Mike Zito’s Letter From America: June 2015

Riley B King made a statement so deep, he is etched into this earth forever. Known around the globe by his initials, he laid claim to the epithet ‘king of the blues’ at an early age and kept his title.

I was turned onto BB King when I was 17 years old in the late 1980s. It was the first time I drew a line between my father’s love of big band music and my love of electric guitar. His voice and Lucille singing together was undeniably the biggest influence on me after my rock heroes. I felt a deep, personal connection to the man and his music, as I assume countless others have as well.

I’ve spent years scouring his recordings, always finding some nuance that I missed before or that got lost in the shuffle of amazement. I met him once, in 1999. My then girlfriend bought me front row tickets to see BB King at The Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis, Mo. I sat in awe of his musical ability, his entertainment and his love for what he did and the people that came to see him. He shook my hand at the end of the evening and handed me a guitar pick, which he did for everyone else in the front row. I was lost for words. It was a spiritual experience. I told my girlfriend if we ever had a child or got a dog, we are naming it after that man right there.

We got pregnant about a year later and named our baby girl Riley Zito. She is now 14 years old and has a huge picture framed above her bed of the man she is named after.

I have been in love with this man and his music for over half of my life. I will continue to learn and love the recordings and stories left behind. BB King cannot be replaced. He cannot be undone, he is legend, he is King. He lived an amazing, long life. He loved the life he lived and lived the life he loved.

As our mourning comes to an end, let’s celebrate this man and his music. BB King will continue to inspire, influence and keep the bar set high for many lifetimes to come. Long live the king of the blues./o:p