East Texas musicians talk about King of the Blues

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - The King of the Blues is coming to Tyler.
None other than B.B. King himself will take the stage at Caldwell Auditorium on Thursday. Over the course of a career spanning more than 60 years, King has firmly established himself as a living legend, one of the greatest blues musicians to ever pick up a guitar and lay down some licks.

Unfortunately, King, due to his age, no longer does interviews. However, to mark the occasion of his arrival in Tyler it felt appropriate to talk to those whose lives were impacted and influenced by the man's music and career.

Nick Pencis is best known as the owner and operator of Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Que. Many may not know that Pencis is an experienced musician and spent several years pre-barbecue touring in band, with King as a major influence on his musicianship.

Pencis heard King's signature song, "The Thrill is Gone" for the first time at about age 15, bussing tables at a Bennigan's restaurant. It practically rewired his brain, Pencis said.

"It literally stopped me in my tracks," he said.

The discovery of King's music and style came just as he had begun branching out and trying to discover music that hadn't been fed him by anyone else. Already a fan of the blues and musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Pencis said seeking out King's music was crucial and pivotal in helping him evolve as a burgeoning musician.

"What it did, it opened that door to understanding a musician's identity. I really started to dive into the sound and the characteristics of these guys," he said. "I'm a drummer, so I can't play a B.B. King lick on the drums. But the musicians that backed up B.B. and Stevie Ray Vaughn, you start to copy their feel so you can understand how to convey that music."

Pencis is one of the major sponsors of King's Caldwell Auditorium performance and considers it an honor to bring a legend like King to Tyler. He recalled with great fondness the first time he finally got to see King perform live a few years ago at the University of Texas at Tyler Cowan Center.

"You watch him walk out, someone's got to help him out. He sits down in his chair … and they put his guitar over his shoulder," he said. "But literally the second his fingers hit the fret board the band kicks into double time and he unleashed a torrent of licks that sounded like it was coming from some 18 year old kid. The fire is still there and it blew me away. The smile on my face did not fade for days. My cheeks hurt. It was such a powerful experience for me."

Bob Gentry grew up playing in bands around Tyler and eventually branching out into the recording business with The Living Room studio and New Masters Productions. Gentry said it is King's efficiency and simplicity as a musician that grabbed his attention.

"I was drawn to him primarily to him because of the simplicity of his music. He had a simplicity and an elegance to it that seemed to really speak to me," Gentry said. "I liked that he could say a lot with just a few notes and never overdid it. I've always been a fan of that. A lot of the guys, especially the younger ones, want to play every note they know. I've always thought of him as a very tasteful and understated player."

That simplicity is a quality Gentry came to appreciate greatly, especially as he began recording other musicians.

"When recording people, there's this general concept of 'less is more' and saying more with simplicity. It's the same as with someone who can choose their words wisely and can say a lot with a few, well-chosen words," Gentry said "That's the way B.B. King is with music. He's the gentleman of the blues. What he plays, he can say more with one note than a lot can say with 100."

Most musicians would have long since retired by the time they reached King's age of 87, yet King still plays dozens of shows a year. He's reached living legend status, in large part, Pencis said, because of his dedication to his music and remaining true to himself.

"As often as music progresses and changes, they'll dog the old school, traditional blues because it is simple and it's rooted in where it comes from. But that's all that he knows and he didn't cave to try and change his sound and look different and be different," Pencis said. "He's just B.B., and to me that's probably the most under-appreciated thing. It's hard to truly stick to yourself. People will feel stale or stagnant and think they have to change it up, and he just never has."

B.B. King will be joined by special guest The Governor's Blues Revue on Thursday. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 general admission, $85 reserved seating. For additional information or to purchase tickets, call 1-866-464-2626 or visit www.ticketwest.com or www.bbking.com.


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