Friday, May 15, 2015

Two B. B. King Stories

1970 or 1971, the public TV station I worked at got a grant to produce folk music shows in various locations from Maine to Virginia. We did a coal mining-themed concert (locals were always invited) in Eckley, PA, where "The Molly Maguires" was shot. B. B. King was one of the singers and he was a delight to work with. Merle Travis was also on the roster to sing his "16 Tons" and some other songs. Problem was, his guitar was damaged in transit. B. B. said, "Here. Take Lucille." TAKE LUCILLE!?! You don't lend Lucille. Travis was hesitant, but B. B. assured him she worked like any other guitar. That was an act of sharing, graciousness, and trust that I obviously have never forgotten. Travis was an OK guitarist...mostly he was known for his songs. Lucille brought him up a notch...and she sounded very happy back in the hands of Mr. King.

Many years later an associate producer for that series, Joyce Keener, was invited to be the featured reader at a Paper Sword poetry reading in Harrisburg.  She had moved to California by then but returned to the area from time to time to visit her family.  My partner, Jack, produced the readings and invited her to read next time she was here.   the three of us knew each other for quite some time.  Joyce wrote good poetry, but she wasn't used to reading in public.  She started coughing and couldn't stop and finally lost her voice.  I volunteered to read for her.  I was an announcer and trained myself to read ahead so I wouldn't make a lot of mistakes.  I apparently read her work very much to her approval.  She wrote to us shortly thereafter.  She said that while I was reading for her, she thought about that concert when B. B. King gave Merle Travis Lucille.

Funny.  I read professionally, I was a friend, and it was the most natural thing in the world to offer to read for her "until she got her voice back."  B. B. King and Merle Travis were musicians and Merle ran into a severe problem...his guitar wasn't playable.  B. B. King offered Lucille.  I'm sure that offering Lucille to Merle and offering to read for Joyce were pretty much the same thing.  It's what you do.  If someone needs help, you help.  It shouldn't be noteworthy, yet it is.  Sad.

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