ST. CHARLES – Blues musician Michael Lee of Fort Worth, Texas, earned rave reviews from the judges on the television show “The Voice,” when he performed B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” last year.
They weren’t the only ones impressed. Members of B.B. King’s Blues Band contacted him to express their interest in working with him.
The 31-year-old Lee and other musicians perform with B.B. King’s band on “The Soul of the King,” a tribute album to the legendary musician, who died in 2015 at the age of 89. They are touring the country as part of “The Soul of the King” tour and will perform May 31 at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Lee about the upcoming show. The interview has been edited for length and style.
Eric Schelkopf: “The Soul of the King” CD is the top-selling album on the Billboard blues chart. Are you surprised by that?
Michael Lee: I’m just grateful that people are spinning it and buying it. It’s a welcome surprise, you know. It’s awesome. I’m just glad to be part of that project.
Schelkopf: What was it like being part of the project?
Lee: They saw me sing “The Thrill Is Gone” on [the show] and they contacted me out of the blue and said they were doing a tribute to B.B. King and they asked me if I would be willing or wanting to do something [like] that.
B.B. King has been my idol my entire life, him and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I think my answer was, “Hell, yeah.” I flew down to Houston and recorded that song with them. It was just a fun, fun experience.
Schelkopf: How did the tour come about?
Lee: After I got done with the record, I just hit it off with the guys. They asked me to come on the tour with them.
During the show, trumpet player James “Boogaloo” Bolden and the other guys that had played with B.B. King for 35 years share their experiences and stories about B.B. and being on the road with him. And as a fan, that stuff is really cool to hear.
Schelkopf: You did “The Thrill Is Gone” during your blind audition for “The Voice.” What made you want to pick that song?
Lee: Like I said, I’ve been listening to B.B. King ever since I was very, very young. I remember being pulled out of preschool to a concert with Buddy Guy, B.B. King and The Allman Brothers.
And I knew who Buddy Guy was, but I really knew who B.B. King was at that time. Other kids at that age would be watching “Sesame Street” and stuff like that, and I was into watching the Stevie Ray Vaughan “Live at the El Mocambo” video or listening to B.B. King’s “Live in Cook County Jail” album.
Those were my favorite things to do at that age and that’s lasted my entire life. So whenever they ask what song I would like to do, it just made sense to me to pick a B.B. King song.
I knew from a very early age that all I wanted to do was play blues music. In high school, I’d be sneaking out and going to blues clubs and hanging out with the local blues legends of Dallas-Fort Worth, people who played with Freddie King.
As soon as high school was over, I didn’t have a backup plan, I just wanted to go and play music. That’s what I have been doing for the past 12 years.
Schelkopf: What were you trying to do with the song?
Lee: All I did was just switch up the beginning part of it, just a little bit. And the rest of the song is pretty true to the B.B. King version. I wasn’t trying to switch it around. I wasn’t trying to mess with a good thing.
Schelkopf: As I understand it, you kind of auditioned for “The Voice” on a lark after you got married. And then you ended up among the final 24 contestants. How was that experience and what did it teach you?
Lee: I learned a lot about everything that goes into doing a big show and a big production like that. It’s really intense. It was just a lot of fun to play on that stage and get exposure all throughout America. To get any recognition from that has been a huge blessing to me and my family. I’m just grateful for that experience.
Schelkopf: Were you surprised that you made it so far in the competition?
Lee: Man, I didn’t expect to make it past the first audition in Houston. I didn’t go in with any expectations. So everything was a surprise.
Schelkopf: On the show, you were coached by Blake Shelton. What kind of tips did he give you?
Lee: He doesn’t really give vocal tips or music tips. What he does is he helps you navigate the competition and helps you get comfortable in the tense situations. He’s always the guy that kind of breaks the ice. He’s just a fun dude.
If you go
WHAT: “The Soul of the King” tour
WHEN: 8 p.m. May 31
WHERE: Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles
COST: $39 to $79