The thrill’s still here

The Great Man was sitting backstage with about 15 minutes until showtime. To no one in particular, he said, &8220;Those damned crackers out there are gonna wanna hear That Goddamn Song tonight, and boys, I just don’t know if I can muster it up to play That Goddamn Song.&8221; He looked around the room wearily. It was the 157th performance of the year, and the insanity of the schedule was beginning to take a toll.

The rest of the band heard The Great Man, and they all chuckled and chortled knowingly. They'd heard his crabbin' before. They all mumbled in reply, things like, “Yeah, boss,” and ”I hear that,” and “I'm with ya, boss.” And they also knew that when the time came for the opening notes of That Goddamn Song, The Great Man would face the drummer, give the signal to hit it, and then, being the complete pro that he was, he would play the batbomb bejesus out of “The Thrill is Gone” and send all those folks in the audience to the moon.

I don't know if that scenario ever took place, it's just easy to imagine that it did. “The Thrill is Gone” was to B.B. King what “Free Bird” was to Lynyrd Skynyrd, what “Stairway to Heaven” was to Led Zep, what “Teen Spirit” was to Nirvana—the song that most in the audience expect to hear, the song that got them to shell out for the ticket, the song that made mailbox money a reality.

All of those artists are, of course, so much more than that One Great Smash Hit. B.B. certainly was. I just spent the weekend driving around listening to his four-CD box set called King of the Blues. Talk about a knockout kickass collection. Talk about a Solid Legacy of Wow.

1980—my first days in Reno, back when we cashed our paychecks at Harrah's in order to get free drink tokes. Those tokes were more than just free beers. They were currency, because they would get you into The Cabaret, which was a nifty little performance space in the heart of the casino. To get in, all you needed was two tokes. That was it. Not only did you get a seat, but your first two cocktails were on the table. Unbeatable scene!

And good god, y'all, the performers we would see for two lousy drink tokes. Redonkulous. Delbert McClinton. Tower of Power. Elvin Bishop. Sam & Dave. The Turtles. Many more I've forgotten.

And yes, B.B. King with his full band. Dayam. What an insanely great treat, to see B.B. and his boys in this dinky little cabaret where they could go ahead and just blow the Brylcreem right off your hairpiece. And when it came time for “The Thrill,” B.B. and company fired it up, brought it home, made it happen, and made us happy. That Goddamn Song is one goddamned great song. I'll tell you this—The Great Man earned that mansion in Vegas.