True Stories from My Career #3: 1977 – B.B. King and the Fender Twin ReverbMay 15, 2015
It was mid-summer, 1977, and I was in my second year working as House Sound Engineer at the Robin Hood Dell East, in Philadelphia. It was (and still is) an outdoor venue set on a hillside near the Schuylkill River, above the East River Drive in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.
In those days, Monday nights were Jazz/R&B nights. The artists of the day usually traveled by bus, bringing just the basics in terms of instruments and equipment. The sound business was still in its infancy in those days, but even so, touring acts often supplied a tech rider along with the booking contract. We had a lot of equipment in-house (pianos, organs, amps, drums, monitors, etc.) but when an artist needed something specific, we’d rent it out ahead of time.
We were used to headliners pulling up as late as 6 or 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show. No GPS or cell phones in those days, so it was often a waiting game, wondering/hoping/worrying if the headliner would make it in time. (Gigs like these were where the term “The sound check is the first song” originated!)
That July, I had seen the tech rider for B.B. King’s upcoming show a few weeks ahead of time and it included a very specific request for Fender Amps for the band, and most specifically a “Twin Reverb” for B.B. Someone else handled the equipment rentals, and I was busy doing other things right up until the day of the gig. At some point in the afternoon I stopped and asked: “Where’s the Fender Twin Reverb Amp for B.B.?” I was shown a couple of very inadequate substitutions (including some Yamaha practice amps and other odd brands.). I said, “we’re in serious trouble if B.B. shows up and there’s no Fender Twin Reverb amp for him!”
After a lot of frantic phone calls to the local music shops – who either didn’t have one for rent or didn’t want the hassle late on a Monday afternoon – we were almost out of luck. Fortunately, I knew the guy in my own rock band (Tony Colella) played through one, and I called him as a last ditch, panic-mode request: “Hey man, can you loan/rent us your amp for tonight’s show? B.B. King needs one, and we’ll throw in a pair of tickets for you and a friend to come and see the show.”
Tony didn’t need much persuasion; he got in his car and brought the amp in around 5 p.m. and we were covered. We tested it and set levels to what we thought would be ideal.
Near show time, B.B.’s tour manager found me, and said: “Are you the sound guy?” I said I was, asked him about any special sound requirements, and he said: “Here’s all you need to know for the mix…” Holding his hand high up in the air above his head, he said: “B.B.’s voice is here”, then he lowered his hand a little bit and said: “B.B.’s guitar is here”, and finally lowered his hand about chest height and said: “Everybody else is here!” I smiled knowingly, and said: “You got it!”.
At show time (no sound check!), B.B. just walked out, picked up Lucille, and (I’ll never forget this) with one majestic sweep of his hand, spun all the dials from left to right, all the way up to “Full.” I was blown away, and VERY concerned the amp wouldn’t survive the show…this was B.B. King wailing away at full volume!
The show went without a hitch, and if I recall correctly, my friend Tony got to meet B.B. backstage. I did ask B.B. about the amp afterwards, and it if sounded ok for him. He smiled at me and said: “Man, that amp was TALKIN’ to me!”
(And thanks, Tony, wherever you are! Get in touch if you read this. Posted in: Memories and Stories