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Gary Borders: Mayor of Bluesville will live on

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The Mayor of Bluesville is dead. B.B. King, the legendary guitarist and singer died in his sleep May 14 at age 89.

King earned the title of mayor from the Sirius-XM satellite station Bluesville, Channel 70. The day after his death, his powerful voice and the wailing sound of Lucille, his guitar, streamed on that radio channel as I drove into town, ran around taking photos and then headed home after work. Tributes poured in from across the world, from fellow blues musicians and fans alike. If I am not listening to Red River Radio, Bluesville is usually where the car stereo is set. King, who performed until about six months ago until symptoms from diabetes forced him to cancel a tour, was a constant presence on the station. His most famous song undoubtedly was “The Thrill is Gone,” which he recorded in 1969 after his second — and last — marriage dissolved.

There is something about the blues that draws me back, time and again. It is the sound of an accomplished guitar player laying down some smoldering riffs. A sultry voice bemoaning the man who done her wrong. The lyrics that at times just flat crack me up:

Walking with my baby, she got great big feet
Long, lean and cranky and ain't had nothing to eat
But she's my baby, I love her just the same
I'm crazy about my baby 'cause Caldonia is her name.

Or:

Don't like everybody 
In my neighborhood 
I got a no-good woman 
She don't mean me no good 
But someday baby 
I ain't gonna worry my life anymore.

I had the privilege of seeing King perform once, about 30 years ago in Nacogdoches, in the coliseum at Stephen F. Austin State University. He came out wearing a tuxedo, carrying Lucille and proceeded to raise the roof of that venue to an appreciative crowd.

Four years ago, my wife gave me a resonator guitar for my birthday. I took blues guitar lessons while living and working in Austin, driving back to East Texas on the weekends. I played guitar, albeit not adeptly, through high school and college. The fellow who taught me grew a bit impatient at how slow I was to catch on. I simply have no natural rhythm — not in my feet as all previous dancing partners have attested, nor in my fingers. I quit taking lessons because getting stressed out over learning how to play the guitar was not part of the plan.

That guitar, which was inexpensive but is quite striking with its silver resonator cover, sits in a stand in my study, gathering dust. Every once in a while I pick it up and attempt to relearn the few blues licks the Austin fellow taught. I have even bookmarked a website that offers free blues guitar lessons. But life and other excuses keep interfering. It has been months since I played.

As I headed south of town to take another photo for the paper, B.B. King was singing “Why I Sing the Blues.”

Everybody wants to know why I sing the blues.

Well, I’ve been around a long time.

I really have paid my dues.

When I first got the blues
They brought me over on a ship
Men were standing over me
And a lot more with a whip
And everybody wanna know
Why I sing the blues
Well, I've been around a long time
Mm, I've really paid my dues
.

The Mayor of Bluesville may have left us, but his music remains. I think I’ll pick up that guitar again, see if I can learn a few licks, get serious this time.

Rest in peace, Mr. King.