B.B. King, his B.B. ring, and B.B.

Steve Nelson was the manager of The Boston Tea Party in 1967-68

“Twas the 18th of April,” the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, 1968, a Thursday night.  Two weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Racial relations were tense in Boston.  Playing The Boston Tea Party that night was a black bluesman making his first appearance before a white audience in Boston after many years playing chitlin’ circuit clubs in the city.  B.B. King.

There was a large and knowledgeable audience for the blues in the Boston area, fostered by Club 47 in Cambridge, which for several years had presented a who’s who of the blues.  I was there for many of those shows.  So when I became the manager of the Tea Party, I booked electric blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker, as well as many American and British blues rock bands influenced by them.

That night B.B. King wore a gold ring on his left hand with B.B. spelled out back-to-back in diamonds. During his set the ring broke, with one of the “B”s falling off the stage and into the audience.  Someone could easily have walked off with it and cashed in the gold and diamonds. But instead the finder returned it to him.

Sitting in a small room just off the stage after the show, he told me that he was moved by that act of generosity, because the ring meant a lot to him.  It was a treasured gift to himself in celebration of his success as a performer.

As we were talking, a dog wandered into the room.  He nuzzled up to B.B., who returned his affection and asked me whose dog it was.  I said he was a stray and that I was thinking of taking him home with me.  He said if I did, I should name him King.

As I learned later, the dog had strolled onto the T and then followed the crowd when they got off the train at Arlington Street and walked a few blocks to the Tea Party.  Going up the stairs with them, he went into the coat room, where he spent the evening sleeping before emerging when the crowd left and greeting B.B.

I did take him home to Cambridge.  He became an inseparable companion for nine years, and a fixture around my Harvard Square hangouts.  My grandfather had a dog named King, so in honor of “Blues Boy” King and his double B ring, I called him B.B.

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