Fifteen years ago, in an alley behind Hagerstown's historic Maryland Theatre, my cousin Andy Eavey got B.B. King to autograph his white custom-made Gibson guitar.

It almost didn't happen.

Shortly after the evening's performance -- "It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to," Andy recently said -- a member of King's security team emerged from the stage door and told a large group of autograph seekers that King wasn't feeling well and that there would be no signings that night. (Weeks later, King was hospitalized, and diabetes was diagnosed.)

But as the crowd reluctantly dispersed, the security man approached my cousin and another man who had been waiting, guitar cases in hand. He told them to stick around because even though he was ailing, King would want to meet anyone who thought enough of him to want his name on their guitar.

A short time later, King emerged from the theater. He spent several minutes talking with Andy and admiring my cousin's Les Paul guitar. King signed his name on the back, near the neck heel where it wouldn't rub off. "He was extremely gracious," Andy said.

The respect King afforded my cousin isn't surprising. Respect is a word that comes up often in discussions about the legendary bluesman. Musicians everywhere proclaim their admiration for him, and King, in interviews, humbly says how much he learns about the guitar from other musicians.

Coinciding with his 80th birthday next week, King will release a studio album of blues standards called "B.B. King & Friends -- 80." The album includes duets with King and other well-known musicians.

The long list of singers and guitarists on the record exemplifies the mutual respect for which King has become known in the music business -- Bobby Bland, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Roger Daltrey, Gloria Estefan, Glenn Frey, Billy Gibbons, Daryl Hall, Elton John, Mark Knopfler and John Mayer all lined up to play with the music legend, who will perform Sunday at Wolf Trap.

Opening for King is Joe Bonamassa, who first opened for the singer as a 12-year-old blues prodigy.

Now in his late twenties, Bonamassa recently released, "Had to Cry Today," a mix of blues, country and rock.

-- C. WOODROW IRVIN

The Filene Center, Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna. Tickets are $25 and $40. To purchase tickets call 877-965-3872 or visit www.wolftrap.org. For more information about B.B. King and Joe Bonamass, visit www.bbking.com or www.jbonamassa.com/index.htm, respectively.

B.B. King performs Sunday at Wolf Trap's Filene Center. On Tuesday, he'll release the album "B.B. King & Friends -- 80" in honor of his 80th birthday. B.B. King's autograph adorns Andy Eavey's custom-made Gibson guitar.