I'll never forget the first time I heard B.B. King. The date was Dec. 7, 1967, and the place was the old Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
I had no idea who he was, and neither did anyone else in that audience of white hippies. We were there to see the Electric Flag - the band Mike Bloomfield formed after he left the Paul Butterfield Blues Band - and the Byrds, making their first appearance after Jim McGuinn changed his name to Roger.
Then Bill Graham announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B.B. King!" And out came this middle-aged man wearing a suit and tie, of all things.
In a world-weary voice he sang the first few words of his classic, "Sweet Sixteen" - "My brother's in Korea, baby; my sister is in New Orleans" - and ripped off a wicked lick on his guitar that made all our heads snap to attention.
His left hand fluttered up and down the guitar's neck like a butterfly, fingers vibrating to wring the last ounce of soulful feeling out of each note. It was a perfect visual metaphor for the blues – making something exquisitely beautiful out of something so profoundly sad.
We had never heard anything like that, and we leaped to our feet in excitement.
B.B. remembered that concert, too. I didn't know it at the time, but I was privileged to present at a historic moment - when he finally broke through to a mainstream audience.
Two years before, an emcee at a nightclub in Chicago had introduced him with the humiliating words "OK, folks. Time to pull out your chitlins and your collard greens, your pig's feet and your watermelons, because here is B.B. King." He was furious.
But it was a different story when he played the Fillmore two years later. As he recalled, "When I saw those long-haired white people lining up outside, I told my road manager, 'I think they booked us in the wrong place.' Then everybody stood up, and I cried."
And his new fans stayed loyal as he – and we - grew old together. For decades, whenever B.B. and I were in the same city, I always made it a point to catch his act. And he never disappointed.
He played with everyone from Eric Clapton to Barack Obama, who sang a charming duet on "Sweet Home Chicago" with him at the White House last year. But his favorite singer was Frank Sinatra, whom he credited for opening up the lucrative gigs in Las Vegas for him.
His virtuosity was legendary among other guitarists; but, like Fred Astaire, he never let you see him sweat. Those gorgeous, sensuous guitar lines seemed to flow effortlessly from his fingertips.
And though he took his music very seriously, he wasn't afraid to make fun of it, as in his hilarious song, "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother, And She Could Be Jivin' Too."
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll, R&B, and Blues Halls of Fame and received both the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Now he's gone, but the thrill is not. Thanks to technology, we will always have his music with us.
But I'm still going to miss that butterfly.