B.B. King's thrill isn't gone

B.B. King's tour bus -- or, more accurately, his luxury pad on wheels -- has a stereo rig that's bigger than your iPod collection. The Mississippi Delta boss and legendary blues guitarist stows the monstrosity, a touch-screen Kaleidoscope sound-system, inside his room. He's able to call up thousands of albums and DVDs from Clapton or Bono or Count Basie, or anybody, at will. (His ex-wives took the LP collection, he likes to say only half-jokingly.)

King's bus tours have become bubbles of comfort, which is perhaps only one reason why he's still doing north of 100 one-night-only gigs a year as he has since the 1950s. But it's only a small reason.

"I have all the music and videos that I could possibly want, and then I have my computer," says King, speaking in advance of his New Year's Eve show Monday at the Broward Center. "I have lived on the road my whole life, so the only pressure I have is to do the best show that I can each night for the people who come out to see me."

Call it, perhaps, King's bluesy answer to Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour. The venerable musician born Riley B. King in 1925 (he blew out 87 birthday candles in September) has remained an unrelenting performer ever since his record-spinning youth as a Memphis DJ in 1949.


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He's now decades removed from the Mississippi Delta town of Berclair where he picked plantation cotton at age 7. It's been awhile since he first recorded all those roaring, insistent solos ("The Thrill is Gone," "Three O' Clock Blues," "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss"), but the blues musician still doesn't believe he's earned the right to quit.

"I have never been on a farewell tour," says the winner of 17 Grammies, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. "Our touring schedule for the past several years has been three weeks on and three weeks off. I have traveled all over the world."

King says he has "ideas in my head" for future recordings (his last, 2008's gold gramophone-winning "One Kind Favor," was a collaboration with T-Bone Burnett), but prefers the grind of touring, plucking Lucille and chatting up crowds in his usual chair-straddling position on stage. He says a few relatives are waiting to greet him in South Florida.

"I have friends and relatives all over the country," King says. "But when I'm on tour, I'm moving to another city every day, so they all come out to see me at the shows. There is no time to visit anyone or anyplace when you are out here on the road touring like we do."

B.B. King performs at 9 p.m. Monday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. $59.50-$99.50, 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org.

SouthFlorida.com will be live-tweeting/-Instagramming B.B. King's New Year's Eve concert tonight at the Broward Center. Follow along at @PhilValys and @SoFlaTweets for updates.