A Look Back at B.B. King's Legacy in Austin's Blues Scene

May 15, 2015

Last night marked the end of an era in music with the passing of B.B. King. The quintessential bluesman and last of the blues’ “Three Kings” died at the age of 89 last night. From his earliest days. King was perennially on the road. Some of his earliest shows were in East Austin at the Victory Grill, back when the city was still segregated, and he continued to be a fixture in the Austin music scene throughout his prolific career.

Take a look back at Austin’s history with the King below.

A Victory Grill poster for a bill featuring B.B. King, Millie Jackson and Bobby "Blue" Bland.
Credit YouTube

Like many blues artists, King began playing in the Chitlin' Circuit at Victory Grill in East Austin, an all-black club where artists, including long-time King collaborator Bobby "Blue" Bland and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, were booked by Johnny Holmes, Victory Grill's founder and booker.

National acts like King, Bland and Buddy Guy, along with hometown artists like W.C. Clark helped lay the foundation for Austin's music scene in the 1950s and '60s.

Another poster featuring King and Bland, this one from Antone's.
Credit YouTube

Austin's now-iconic blues club Antone's opened up in 1975 and, as the club and Austin's blues scene flourished, King and his fellow Kings, Albert and Freddie, became mainstays at Clifford Antone's club. King recalled a story from the early days.

KUTX’s Jody Denberg says King influenced the Austin blues scene in the 1970s, partly because he was embraced by Antone's.

"And he never forgot it. And then his influence was felt through Clifford Antone. The House Band at Antone's in the ‘70s was the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Of course, that featured Jimmie Vaughan, and his brother Stevie Vaughan also played at Antone's a great deal. They were both influenced by B.B. and became friends with [him]," Denberg says.

King continued to be a fixture in the scene throughout the 1970s and '80s, and played his first episode of "Austin City Limits" in 1983.

He later played the show again on his 70th birthday in 1996, but it was that first performance that ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona recalled fondly in a statement on the show's website this morning. 

“B.B. King personified blues music for the whole world, but when he first appeared on Austin City Limits in 1983,” Lickona said. “It was rare for a blues artist to command a full hour on national television. He was larger than life, but a gentle man with a kind soul and big heart. His ACL performance ranks as one of my personal favorites, and I was never more proud than when he somehow slipped ‘Austin City Limits’ into the lyric of his classic rendition of Willie Nelson’s ‘Night Life.’ We’ve lost a giant.”