Blues legend B. B. King came to my town, Hamilton, Canada in 1983 to play at what was then called Hamilton Place. What that venue lacked in architectural character it more than made up for in its excellent acoustics. Being a medium sized city, we didn’t attract many big acts. B. B. playing in our town was a pretty big deal. He was at the height of his talent and popularity. He’d recorded his famous “The Thrill Is Gone” about 14 years prior. It became his signature tune and a Blues classic. (B. B. was still in fine form when I saw him 20 years later in the same venue.)
In 1983 I was 27 years old and had owned my own cameras for 7 or 8 years. My first was a Canon TX. It was fully manual, had a built in light meter and shutter speed up to 1/500 sec. I learned film photography on that one and carried it with me nearly everywhere. In the late 70’s I moved up to a new Canon AE1. I see them today in the used market for around $200 with a 50mm lens. It’s a marvellous camera that features Shutter Speed Priority; counter to the more prevalent Aperture Priority models of most other manufacturers.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, SLR cameras seemed to be everywhere. People brought them to concerts, festivals, private parties or anywhere something photo worthy might occur. It seemed like every second or third person had a Pentax, Minolta, Olympus or Canon slug around their neck. If you had a bit of money you could afford a Nikon. So in the context of going to hear and see Mr. King live, it was nothing unusual to bring along my camera. No questions at the door. It was the norm.
I recall having very good seats in the orchestra section, perhaps 15 rows from the stage. Great seats but not close enough for a good photograph. Without creating too much fuss I was able to slip out of my seat and into the isle along the exterior wall of the hall. Resting against the wall for stability, I was able to capture on film, these few images of one of the finest Blues performers of all time.
These were taken on my Canon AE1 and a Vivitar 70-150 f3.8 Macro Zoom lens. As liberal as rules were then, a flash certainly would have proved a disruption to the concert, so these were exposed with available light only.
For a short time in the early 80’s 1 was developing my own negatives and making my own prints. I had a makeshift darkroom in the basement of my home. These 5 frames then are entirely my own work. Whatever film I used, I must have pushed a stop or two to get these results.
The Blues is about emotion. Look at BB’s expressions as he searched and found exactly the right note. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to capture those moments.
By the late 1980’s my interest in photography waned. The cameras came out infrequently. About 2 years years ago I dusted off the TX and AE1 and the various lenses I had acquired over the years. I loaded them up with film and started shooting again. Happily the cameras were stored well and needed nothing but fresh batteries to get them going. I reacquired all the necessary darkroom equipment and am now once again fully immersed in film photography, development and printing. I’ve never been more engaged in the hobby and am still trying to be a better photographer.
I rediscovered the images quite recently while consolidating several old photo albums. I’ve always had an 8 x10 framed enlargement of B. B. on display in my home but I had forgot about this stash of extra prints. What a pleasant surprise! I get to enjoy them all over again and I hope that you enjoy them too. Thanks to my brother-in-law Les for scanning these images from the original prints I made in 1983.
B. B., the thrill is certainly NOT gone!
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