"Nobody loves me but my mother. And she could be jivin' me too."
The most perfect line of blues lyric ever written? Many would agree, and it's no surprise that it comes from the fertile mind of the legendary B.B. King, who performs Friday at The Warfield in San Francisco and Saturday at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Pushing 90 but still blessed with an insatiable urge to bless audiences with his majestic guitar work and one-of-a-kind words, King is a living treasury not just of blues tradition but a whole segment of American life.
Born Riley B. King in rural Mississippi, King lived the hard life that gave birth to the blues—sharecropping, grinding poverty, lynchings—but managed to grab onto music as a way out. He spent his teens and 20's apprenticing with various regional blues acts before fully establishing himself as a solo artist in the 1950s. Songs such "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "Sweet Little Angel" set the template for a new urbane style of blues, animated by King's beautifully articulated guitar figures.
The sound of "Lucille," King's treasured Gibson hollow-body, went far beyond King's work to color a whole generation of popular music. Rock players such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page broadly credit King's influence on their work. Without King, there might not have been the blues-rock explosion that pushed popular music in new directions during the 1960s.
In latter years, King has done well as an elder statesman, opening a string of nightclubs bearing his name, hosting his own channel on satellite radio and presiding over tribute albums and concerts that drawn artists ranging from U2 to jazz bass hero Stanley Clarke. Not to mention a guest spot on Cow and Chicken.
The guitarist continues to dismiss the idea of retirement, saying he has still has some work to do to live up to his reputation. In an interview with The Telegraph, he disputed his Top 10 ranking in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. "I don’t agree with that. You mention Barney Kessel, George Benson, some of them older guys – man, I couldn’t hold a candle to them. That’s why I say I’m still learning. At my age."
B.B. King, with opening act Harry Duncan, performs 8 p.m. Friday at The Warfield in San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$85. Saturday, he joins with gospel heroes the Blind Boys of Alabama for a 7:30 p.m. show at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Tickets are $45-$125.