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Opening for B.B. King an honor for Jimmy Markham

Opening for B.B. King an honor for Jimmy Markham

January 4th, 2013 by Aaron Brand in Features

Next Thursday’s B.B. King concert at the Perot Theatre gives a veteran Tulsa musician a chance to do something he’s only done once before—open for a man known worldwide as “The King of the Blues.”

Jimmy Markham sings lead and plays harmonica for a blues outfit known as The Governor’s Blues Revue. Based out of Tulsa, Okla., he and his revue crew come to Texarkana to open the King show.

Markham’s performed with some serious musicians through the years, including greats like Leon Russell and J.J. Cale, plus two guys who will be part of his Revue band here, Chuck Blackwell on drums and Gary Gilmore on bass. 

Markham, Blackwell and Gilmore became affiliated with something described as the “Tulsa Sound” and migrated out to Los Angeles for a while, Markham for a dozen years.

He remembers opening for King back in Tulsa at a venue called Ziegfield’s as a member of an all-star blues band playing a festival in the 1970s.

“Blackwell, Gilmore and I grew up on B.B.’s music,” Markham said, calling it an honor to once again open for King, an “ambassador of the blues.”

“He’s just an icon of American blues music, the daddy of it,” he said.

Talking about what impressed him about B.B. King at the time, Markham said, “Everything. Of course the guitar playing, the singing, I mean everything. He was the guy. He was the guy at that time frame, you know. The grooves, his singing, the dynamics of it, the way he conducted it on stage ... very down-to-earth, soulful music.”

He remembers his introduction to black musicians, primarily blues artists like B.B. King, as a youngster.

To get that music education, Markham would venture over to the other side of Tulsa, the Greenwood neighborhood called the “black Wall Street.” It was the only place to hear that music, recalled Markham, who will soon be 72.

“I went there in my early years and upbringing of music because I just gravitated toward that music. It caught me, you know,” he said.

Markham says the Governor’s Blues Revue opening set should be about 20 to 25 minutes of music before there’s a brief intermission and B.B. King comes on.

They’ll get the blues spirit warmed up by performing some Chicago standard blues—“songs in the vein of Little Walter, very ’50s and ’60s,” Markham said. Walter was an innovative, influential blues harmonica player.

Markham says he hopes he’s still “hitting it” as much as B.B. King still does when he gets to be King’s age. At age 87, King’s still a busy road performer.

“It’s truly an honor ...  having grown up on his music, to be able to experience it once again and be a part of his show, if you will. I’m real excited about it,” Markham said.

Markham, Gilmore and Blackwell (both of whom played with Taj Mahal, among many others) will be joined by Markham’s son, Chebon, for this show, and perhaps another guitarist.

As of earlier this week, just a few dozen unsold seats remained for the show, primarily in the balcony seating area.


(Tickets: $97, $67, $57. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. More info and tickets: 903-792-4992 or PerotTheatre.com.)