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All In The Family – B.B. King’s All-Star Band
Jun 20, 2016
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On a recent night at B.B. King’s Blues Club at Pointe Orlando, there were numerous birthday parties, anniversaries and other family celebrations. There was even a marriage proposal by a young man who had taken his now-fiancee to B.B. King’s on their first date. The club is such a part of their relationship he simply had to propose there.

That proposal happened on stage with the B.B. King’s All-Star Band helping out. The band is generally responsible for making sure all those family celebrations are noted as well. More importantly, the band is responsible for making sure those families in attendance are having a great time and come away entertained.

On the same night as all those family get-togethers and that wedding proposal, we had a chance to sit down and chat with some of the key members of the band. With the family atmosphere running through the establishment, it’s no surprise that the B.B. King’s All-Star Band has family to thank for their success – both their literal families and their musical families at B.B.’s.

Phil Johnson – Drummer, Musical Director
Phil Johnson may as well be the father of B.B. King’s All-Star Band. He has been the musical director and drummer for the group since 2008 – taking his spot in the group about six months after the doors opened. His family connections to music run through his dearly-departed mother.

“I was born and raised in Norfolk, Va. and my mother was a drummer,” Johnson said. “She passed away when I was young. But I got to see her play a whole lot. I kind of mimicked everything she did. She really gave me the drive to keep going forward.

“They tell me I was playing drums at a very young age, since before I can remember,” Jonson added. “I would watch my mother. She did a lot of evangelical stuff. I have small memories of seeing her play. We watched her really closely. I wanted to keep her name going.”

As for his musical family at B.B. King’s, Johnson said it’s their chemistry that makes the show and the band work.

“We spend a lot of time (together) off the stage,” Johnson said. “Everyone gets along. Everybody has a really good time. But everybody also has a great professional level. If we have a list of songs that gets sent out, everyone does their homework and comes back ready to go.”

Kris Thomas – Vocals
Kris Thomas, who was made the Top 10 on The Voice in Season 4, has been the lead singer at B.B. King’s for the past two years. He says being on The Voice and being from Memphis really made it a natural for him to perform at B.B. King’s.

“Being on The Voice was a bit of a whirlwind,” Thomas said. “It was great exposure in front of 10 million people a week. It totally prepared me for this stage every night. We’re in front of different audiences every single night. You never know what’s going to happen on stage. A lot of the stuff is off the cuff, so it was good preparation for this.”

The son of a pastor, he was always around music.

“I started singing at church,” Thomas said. “My Dad’s a pastor. My whole family sings. My Mom, my Grandma, everybody. It’s kind of just bred into me.”

Thomas said audiences at B.B. King’s can feel the family vibe of the band.

“The thing I enjoy most about this gig … this is the first band I’ve ever been a part of where we genuinely get along off stage,” Thomas said. “Ironically, we all have the same sense of humor. It’s a blast every night. It’s never a dull moment. The crowd can sense that and feel our energy.”

Shaun Rounds – Guitar
For a guitar player, is there anything better than playing at a place with B.B. King’s name on it? Not for Shaun Rounds.

“We’re all trying to sound like him in the end, guitar players anyway,” Rounds said. “What can I say? I’m blessed. I love it.”

He was also blessed with a musical background from his father, who had been in a band in the ’60s. With guitars around the house all the time, Rounds’ father offered to get him lessons. He fell in love with the blues and has been playing off and on ever since. But it was in 2008, when he had been laid off from a regular job, when he decided to make a living playing guitar with his B.B. King’s All-Star Band family.

“I decided to make music my full-time gig,” Rounds said. “Luckily, we have this venue here in Orlando, Florida. So, I’m here getting to play blues mixed with all the other music we play.It’s definitely become a family. We all have a bunch of fun on and off the stage. We all come from different backgrounds – gospel, blues, rock and roll, R&B. It all means the same to me, soul music. We all meet here and this is what you get when we play. We give what we’ve got.”

Kim Lovering – Vocals
Kim Lovering has been with the band the shortest time of any of the members. But she’s got one up on the rest of the band. She actually performed with B.B. King. The local girl from Lakeland worked for Disney for a while, spent some time in New York and then found herself singing with the likes of Wilson Pickett and B.B. King.

“I ended up with B.B. King on tour for about four years and also worked with Wilson Pickett,” Lovering said. “While I was with Wilson, I ended up doing a few songs in the middle of the set with both of them. That was an experience and a lot of fun. I worked with Wilson, B.B. and Al Green one summer across the United States in the jazz festival scene. It was a big education.”

“It was such an honor,” Lovering said of her time with King. “He was such a kind, gentle person. To be here now, for me is like going full circle. Coming back to where I’m from and being able to work in a professional gig and make a living doing what I love to do is such a blessing. I’m honored to be part of the band.”

Despite being with the All-Stars for less than a full year, as the only female member of the group, she said she was quickly accepted.

“The band has definitely become my family, my music family,” Lovering said. “They’ve taken me in and under their wing. I feel completely comfortable with them. It’s like I have eight or nine brothers. I love working with them.”

While Lovering had the incredible opportunity to work with the man the club is named after, the entire band feels a sense of duty to B.B. King and to the audiences they perform for night in and night out.

“We don’t take lightly the legacy of Mr. B.B. King,” Johnson said. “So many years of great music. There’s a lot of different people who come (to the club) from all over. It’s a privilege to be able to perform for pretty much anyone around the world. We really strive to strike the listener right in the heart.”

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Andy Seeley

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