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Once Upon A Time In Europe: Guitarist Bobby Murray Remembers B.B. King

May 15, 2015

It was 1989, I was a member of Etta James' Roots Band and we were touring Europe. Etta had mounted a big comeback and she was starting to receive what she so richly deserved. She had recently signed with Island and "Seven Year Itch" was hot. We were playing great festivals and gigs. She and the band absolutely tore it up the night before at the Montreux Jazz Festival. At that time, the band was comprised of Tom Poole and Ronnie Butacavolli on trumpets, Richard Howell on tenor sax, Kraig Kilby on trombone, Bobby Vega on bass, Herman Ernest on drums, Donto James on percussion, Jim Pugh on keyboards and our bandleader, Josh Sklair and myself handling the guitar chores. This was as fine an ensemble I had ever played with and the band was definitely firing on all cylinders. It was also my first time in Europe and I was having the time of my life. We all were. It was an incredible night.

The next day was a different matter. When I awoke, I went to the hotel lobby desk and was told that Etta and the band had checked out. "They were quite concerned about you but had to leave to make their flight" is what I recall the hotellier saying.

After the show, I attended the all night jam at the hotel and partied way too much, now I was paying for it. ( I had gone to Bernard Allison's room after the party and partied some more. Just in case I wasn't drunk enough.) My heart sunk. I knew I was going to fined or fired, if not both. And I would be sent home. "How could this have happened?" I asked myself. Despite my denial, in my heart of hearts, I knew how this had happened. It was about that time I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. "Somebody wants to speak to you," said a voice. I turned around, it was Willie King, son of BB King and he looked over his shoulder and my eyes followed. BB King was on the terrace, overlooking Lake Geneva on a beautiful day. I walked with Willie over to the table where Mr. King was breakfasting. Mr. King was smiling and said, "Have a seat young man, it looks like the whole world is on your shoulders, you want to talk about it?" I told BB what had happened and he gently said that we all make mistakes. He asked if it was a travel day or a show day and where was the next gig. I told him it was a travel day and that the show was tomorrow at the Northsea Jazz Festival in Den Hague. He said "We'll get you there" and whatever I needed, he would take care of it. He offered to talk to Etta for me and said that their friendship went back many years. One of my biggest heroes was coming to my rescue. 

Also word had gotten to Claude Nobs, the festival founder and producer. Apparently the hotellier had informed Claude of my missing the flight and arrangements for my flight to Amsterdam were made. I was told I had a few hours to kill so I finished my breakfast with BB, (thanking him profusely) went upstairs, packed and strolled Montreux for an hour or so.

Soon I was at the airport and it seemed only minutes before we had touched down in Amsterdam. When I arrived, I saw the signs of all the festival performers being held aloft. It was the drivers and minders that were there to pick them up and transport them to their hotels. Names like Miles Davis and James Brown. And then I spotted a sign that said Bobby Murray, it was there with the other artists' names. However, it was not my artistry that got my name on the sign but an out of control night of drinking. Despite knowing that, I fell into it.

My assigned driver - a very nice man - said he thought his son had my recordings. Although I knew I didn't have any releases at the time, I asked him if his son liked it. He also asked if I would like a driving tour of a castle before we arrive in The Hague. Dreading what awaited me, I said sure, that's fine.

Eventually we pulled up to the hotel, the Sofitel if I recall. I thanked the driver and that's when I heard a voice say, "Murray!" - it was Lupe DeLeon, Etta's manager. "Hey man, Etta wants to see you." It wasn't looking good and I was accepting the fact that I might be sent home. Lupe helped with my luggage and he then took me to Etta's room. "I've got Murray," he said, after he had knocked. 

Etta opened the door and said, "Thank God you're alright! Man, I was getting messages on the plane about you." She was smiling. Apparently BB and Claude had contacted the flight and let Etta know I was on my way. She gave me a kiss and a hug and Lupe told Etta that he and I were going out. We left Etta's room and Lupe told me that now were going to really party and that he was going to show me the Netherlands... 

(To Be Continued)