Wednesday, July 05, 2006

B.B. King bids farewell to Montreux jazz festival

B.B. King and his guitar Lucille, on a final tour in Europe, has bid an emotional farewell to fans at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where the "King of Blues" has performed for more than 20 years.

Now 80 and suffering from diabetes, he was joined on stage by a host of performers at the end of Monday night's concert in the resort town along Lake Geneva.

Singers Gladys Knight, Barbara Hendricks, Randy Crawford and Leela James, jazz guitarists John McLaughlin and Stanley Clarke, keyboarders Joe Sample and George Duke, and saxophonist David Sanborn paid tribute to the King of Blues.

"Maybe I should quit every night," quipped King, who sang and played his guitar while seated throughout the two-and-half hour concert which stretched into the early hours of Tuesday.

"I'm going to cry again. This is the icing on the cake -- I could never be sent off better," the American icon added.

King, wearing a gold and black dinner jacket, and his seven man band performed classics including his 1970 Grammy-winning "The Thrill is Gone" and "Ain't That Just Like a Woman."

"My knees and back hurt and my head ain't much good either. I can remember though that I am now 80 years old so I sit down to make it feel better," he told the sell-out crowd.

King, who was born on a plantation in Mississippi and grew up in the segregated south, won a Grammy Award earlier this year for Best Traditional Blues Album with his album "80" -- his 14th from the music industry.

Festival founder Claude Nobs, presiding over its 40th anniversary this year, said: "Nobody wants it to be your last year. B.B., you are an honorary citizen of Montreux, this is your second home."

King said that during his 60-year career he had performed in 90 countries, but admitted there were times when he was deeply hurt by his music being misunderstood.

Lyrics from a song, "Understand," summed it up, he said: "I've been around a long time. I'm a blues man, but I'm a good man, understand?"

Some 100 groups are taking part in the two-week event -- including Santana, Sting, Black Eyed Peas and Diana Krall -- which draws 250,000 music fans of all ages from across Europe.

Deep Purple, whose 1970s hit "Smoke on the Water" describes a concert fire raging in Montreux, is returning to the lakeside resort to close the festival on July 15.

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