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October 20, 2014

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B.B. King ready to sit — and play — for a spell at his club at The Mirage

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Denise Truscello/WireImage

B.B. King before the grand opening of B.B. King’s Blues Club at The Mirage on Dec. 11, 2009.

A month ago, some ne'er-do-well made off with B.B. King’s Lucille.

It was his 15th Lucille, actually. The 15th in the line of his 16 Gibson electric guitars. The instrument is legendarily named for a woman over whom two men were fighting during one of King’s early shows, in 1949, in a blues club in Twist, Ark. According to B.B. King lore, the two men tumbled across the floor of the club, knocking over a barrel half-filled with kerosene and setting the venue ablaze.

King ran free, but scrambled back inside to retrieve his Gibson guitar, which he summarily named “Lucille,” to remind him not to do anything so foolish again as to return to a burning nightclub to fetch a guitar. Thus, every guitar King has played onstage since has been named Lucille. And this summer, No. 15 vanished from his home in Spanish Oaks.

“Oh yeah, somebody stole one of them, and I just got it back about a month ago. Someone stole one of my Lucille guitars, can you believe that?” King said during a phone interview last week, the purpose for which was to give notice that he will perform at how eponymous nightclub at Mirage on Monday and Tuesday night, tickets are $50 for standing-general admission, and $75, $100, $125 and $150 for seated, call (702) 242-5464 or go to www.bbkingclubs for information.

The guitar was returned to King about a month ago when he received a call from someone who had seen the guitar hanging in a Las Vegas pawn shop. King can’t recall which pawn shop, but is certain the instrument was somehow sneaked from his home.

“This went in a round-about route – the guy that stole it let a guy that he knew pawn it, so the pawn shop guy didn’t know who he was or what was going on,” the 84-year-old King said. “But to be honest, they couldn’t miss it! It has my name on it, I mean made in it, from the factory. So, anybody who saw it would have to know it’s mine.”

So the lesson here is, don’t go buying a “B.B. King Lucille” guitar from a pawn shop.

With all 16 Lucilles returned to their proper owner, the 84-year-old King – who has recently recorded a new CD with longtime friend and fellow blues legend Buddy Guy -- provided a few ruminations as he prepped for a show at Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night:

• “I’ve never been bothered by the heat in Vegas. I’m from Mississippi. I’m used to the heat.”

• “I’ve got a bad leg, which started when I was about 12 years old. The older I get, the worse it get. I sit down a lot more when I perform, and I don’t walk as much as I used to, but otherwise I feel fine. I still have a good time. Oh, do I.”

• “I used to have a bad habit of gambling. I liked keno and blackjack, those were my games. But when I moved (to Las Vegas), it cut my habit. I go home now. The way I tell my friends, when you’re single, you’re always looking for girls. But when you get married, you don’t need to look for girls anymore. With me, before I moved there, whenever you’d go to a casino, you’d gamble and would never go to bed. Just stay at the tables. That’s the way I was then, but now, I live there and it’s like being married. I don’t need it.”

• “About ’68 was when I got divorced. I haven’t really been close (to remarrying) since. I feel that one foot’s already in the grave, so why should I let some lady put the other in (laughs)?”

• “(Of a “farewell” tour he headlined in Europe four years ago) I never called it a farewell tour. I was over there this year, in fact, in Europe and South America. But I never said that. Never. But promoters like to make money, and if they think they can put something out that will make money, they’ll do it.”

• “I don’t have anything to do with the business side of the club. Our CEO is a young man named Tommy Peters. But they do always respect my decisions on the food. I wish they’d stop doing that, because I’m fat enough already (laughs). I’m cutting back my menu. I rarely eat meat now. I’ve lost 15-20 pounds, I think, but I like food and I like good food and the clubs do have good food.”

• “I don’t smoke now. I used to, but I haven’t smoked in 40 years. I don’t care for smoke now. When the Surgeon General said smoking was hazardous to your health, I stopped smoking. Smoking got in the way of performing. So what would I rather do: Smoke or perform? I’d rather perform. It wasn’t a hard decision.”

• “Musically, I’ve never been – who’s the great pianist who lived in Las Vegas? Liberace. I’ve never been one of them, who knows about the, shall we say, the sound of a room and all of that. He understood the acoustics and studied that. Now, there have been some places I’d rather not go back to, because of the sound, but I didn’t know exactly what was causing the sound to be what it was. … But we’re going to play the Hollywood Bowl tonight. I think it’s a pretty nice place (laughs).”

• “I don’t think most people in Vegas know that I live there. I never do hear anything about B.B. King living in Las Vegas. I see where a lot of other people live in Las Vegas. I check the paper, I read about who lives there. But I see where people talk about who they see here, but I’ve only seen that about myself a couple of times in 30 years.”

• “(When told Smokey Robinson also has a home in Vegas) I didn’t know he lived in Las Vegas! Yeah, he’s a great guy. He’s a good businessman. And Jackson, old-man (Joe) Jackson, he lives there too. I know that.”

• “(When told the economy is causing some serious blues) Well, I think you’re on your own (laughs). I can’t help you much there, because it’s giving me the blues, too.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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