Baton Rouge blues musician talks about friendship with B.B. King

Baton Rouge blues musician talks about friendship with B.B. King
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - She is the root of blues music: "Lucille", the iconic Gibson that seems to sing in the hands of blues legend B.B. King.

For Louisiana blues musician Lil' Ray Neal, it was love at first sight.

"Lucille was sitting on the stand, and I said, 'Boy, I would love to just touch Lucille." King allowed this, saying "Go ahead."

That is what Neal remembers most from his introduction to King.

"I played it," said Neal. "I didn't like it. It was set up for him."

The year was 1982. Neal had been brought backstage at the Baton Rouge Centroplex by a B.B. King band member. It would not be the last time he and Lucille would cross paths.

The Blues runs deep in Baton Rouge's Neal Family. Since 1958, when Raful Neal recorded "Sunny Side of Love," three generations of Neals have brought swamp blues to the world. For Raful's son, Lil' Ray, it started before he was five years old.

"Raful didn't ask you what you wanted to play," he said. "He just put the instruments in the house."

Lil' Ray gravitated toward the bent notes of the blues guitar, his brothers to the bass and drums. By junior high, The Neal Family Band was making a name for itself. Nobody could guess then what the blues had in store. First, for Lil' Ray came a stint with his idol, blues legend Lil' Milton.

While on stage with Milton, a bigger name walked in.

"When you see Bobby Bland in the corner of your eye," Neal said, "you gotta tighten up."

That was on a Saturday night. By the following Thursday, Bland had hired Neal to play guitar in his band.

That opened the doors to all the blues greats: Bobby Rush, Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. And, of course, a friendship with King that lasted until his death in May 2015.

It was at King's going home concert where Neal and Lucille, one of only 12 like her in the world and treasured by King himself, were reunited. Neal was on stage when the he received the honor of a lifetime.

"Two guys from the B.B. King museum walked up and put Lucille in my hands." he said. "I had never seen nobody else play Lucille on stage."

The sun shone down on the crowd, as they cheered for Neil. "I have to say, I did play it. I didn't mess around. I burnt it up." Neal delivered a scorching solo on King's prized guitar. Just as Neal struck the final notes, the sky poured rain like tears from heaven on the crowd. 

Now, Lucille is back in the B. B. King museum. Neal is hoping he and his own Gibson can help revive the blues scene back home. From casinos to juke joints, Neal said he is ready to play anywhere.

For booking information, email Neal at

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