May 10, 2018

B B King Blues Club NYC — A Landmark Closing

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Buddy Guy at B B King Blues Club Buddy Guy at B B King Blues Club © Arnie Goodman

One of the most frequently visited articles on this website is “Rock Venues That Are No Longer There”. The story takes a closer look at some of the places that spawned the music that rocked the late 60’s and 70’s in the Philadelphia area. It has prompted the most comments of any of the stories I have written.

As time moves on and changes are made to the landscape of the cities of this country, property that once housed clubs are now condos or business offices. No one could argue that these changes are more profitable and some would say a much better use of land. Still, it is sad to see so many historic clubs fade away.

Like Philadelphia, New York City has lost a large number of historic music venues. You can no longer go to the clubs that made it possible for many huge stars like Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, and countless others to have a starting points in the big apple. They all are now just a memory.

You can now add another famous club to the list. The legendary B B King Blues Club is now closed. The idea for a small intimate club in the big city was the brain child of the blues giant B B King.

The original club was unveiled in the town that started it all for B B King. Many years ago when Memphis was the home of the Blues, Blues Boy King was on the radio playing it for the growing audience. Click here for a more complete story of the King of the Blues.

The idea was simple. In 1991 B B wanted a club that was affordable and small enough to give the audience a more personal bonding with the performers on stage. That was a different and risky approach since at the time most of the music scene had moved to stadiums and other large venues. Those larger venues had forced similar clubs to go out of business.

Against the odds, the Memphis club was a major factor in a rebirth of the famous club scene that was once Beale Street. No doubt the popularity of the blues king helped in bringing people in.

The success of the club led B B to spread the idea to other cities. In 2000 one opened in NYC in the area that used to be a hot bed of music clubs on Times Square. It quickly became one of the most popular spots in the city.

You could see all kinds of major stars like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and George Clinton. In addition The Allman Brothers, Ten Years After, and Z Z Top were just some of acts who were influenced by R & B and Blues music that headlined. There was also plenty of opportunities for young and up and coming to perform as well. A grill (called Lucille’s after the name of King’s guitar) was added and had features like The Beatles Brunch with acts that impersonated the Fab Four performing over the meal.

Things appeared to be going extremely well for the club. Then suddenly a few weeks ago the venue operator Tsion Bensusan made the following announcement.

“Despite many sold out shows the (Times Square) location’s rent escalated to an unsustainable level. Unfortunately this has become a growing trend in New York City, with other iconic music venues and businesses falling victim to opportunistic property owners. This venue’s legacy extends much further than the stage, playing a role in Times Square’s revitalization two decades ago.”

One final great show was planned. Who better to headline that show than Buddy Guy. Buddy is not only the last of the great blues artists from Chicago, but he owns a similar club in his home town of Chicago.

That last night was filled with some of best guitar work ever seen. There’s still no one better than Buddy Guy who can still bring it with the best of them despite his 81 years of age. After the great last show the only thing left on the marquee was “rest in peace”.

Then the news came. There is now a new location for the B B King Blues Club. A move was made to an area that is ”less in demand” than the original location. The hope is that, despite the move, the music will live on. B B, who died in May of 2015 is smiling somewhere.


Photo Credit: Arnie Goodman

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