Reunited and it feels so good for Little Melvin

Poughkeepsie: A contemporary of B.B. King who took a different path meets up when a music-lover steps in.

Story & Photos
By William Brenner
The Times Herald-Record

B.B. King welcomes Little Melvin onto the stage

"When B.B. King plays in Poughkeepsie," said an excited Little Melvin, "I'm gonna go on stage and play him one of my own blues songs! Boy, will he be surprised."

Melvin Underwood, 64, lives in Monticello. He's a rhythm and blues guitarist who in his heyday headed Little Melvin and his Big Band, playing with all the greats and touring with Ivory Joe Hunter. Years of drifting and misfortune have passed since then, but he has fond memories of B.B. King.

Jamming with BB.

"We worked in Monroe, La., 30 years ago," Little Melvin said. "I was playing Monday nights at the American Legion Hall in Monroe, and whenever B.B. King came to Monroe he would sit in with the band."

"But are you sure B.B. King will still remember you?" I very cautiously and hesitantly asked. "Damn, yes!" Little Melvin was adamant, and I think a bit annoyed at my question.

"Would you like to go to the concert?" I asked. "I'll pay for your ticket. Cheap seats are $29.95."

Backstage at the Civic Center

On Jan 22, the day of the performance, I picked up Little Melvin from his room. He looked snazzy.

He picked up his guitar, which he'd named Sara, and his Little Melvin poster. He asked if I could bring his Fender amplifier. It was large and heavy and he forgot to tell me that I had to carry it down several flights of stairs.

As we approached the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, I called on mv cell phone. I said I was "Little Melvin's chauffeur, and that he was performing tonight with B.B. King. And we were running late." The guy said to come directly to the service entrance in the rear. He did not even ask who Little Melvin was. A half hour before show time, we walked in the Civic Center's service door, Little Melvin first with his guitar and poster. I followed, dragging the amplifier.

Breathing heavy, I announced, "This is Little Melvin! He is performing with B.B. King! Where do I put this amplifier?" Orange-shirted security men pointed me up a flight of stairs to the stage.

Little Melvin asked to see B.B. King but was told he was sleeping, as was his custom before a show, and could not be disturbed. Melvin sat on his amplifier. He said, "B.B. King is coming through this door to the stage. I can't miss him."

Reunited with B.B. King

An hour after the opening act started, B.B. King came in looking sleepy and wearing a heavy coat to protect him from the zero-degree weather. He sat on a folding chair offstage.

Little Melvin slowly stood up, holding his poster. He walked to a guard, whispered in his ear and gave him the poster. The guard took the poster over to B.B. King.

Suddenly, B.B. King smiled an enormous smile and looked around. Little Melvin walked over. B.B. King got up and they hugged.

A guard brought another chair over and B.B. King and Little Melvin sat together head to head talking and laughing while the band played, then B.B. King was introduced and walked on stage.

After his opening number, B.B. King said hello to the people of Poughkeepsie. Then he said, "I was so pleased and surprised to meet backstage my old friend who I haven't seen for many, many years. You may know him as Little Melvin."

And Little Melvin, wearing his light suede, wide-lapeled jacket, and matching hat, shuffled slowly on stage, waving, and shook B.B. King's hand, to a standing ovation. Then he shuffled off.

At the end of the spectacular show, B.B. King thanked the terrific audience, his band, his daughter and his old, old friend, Little Melvin. Backstage, after a few more hugs, B.B. King was gone.

William Brenner is a tax preparer who lives in Grahamsville and works in Monticello. He plays tenor saxophone and met Little Melvin playing with the Buddy Allen Band at Nina's Restaurant in Loch Sheldrake. Little Melvin invited Brenner to sit in -- so long as he played very quietly.

After staging a comeback in 1997, Melvin Underwood had to quit performing recently after he was injured in a car accident. He has plans for a new CD after he recovers and maintains a Web site at You can also reach him at 791-9970.

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