2006-01-16 16:50:38 UTC
KC blues performer takes own life
Death follows shooting incident
By JOHN SHULTZ and ROBERT A. CRONKLETON
The Kansas City Star
Local blues guitarist Lester King made an urgent, agitated call to a
bandmate Tuesday afternoon. He warned that he was about to do something
According to police, he already had.
King, who as a bluesman went by the name "Wizard," allegedly fired
shots inside the Midwest Lighting Solutions plant in Kansas City, Kan.,
on Tuesday afternoon. The shots caused panic, but no one was hurt.
After the shooting, King's bassist Tom Harber got a call from the
guitarist. King indicated to Harber that he was about to take his life.
"He told me what had happened, and he indicated that he was going to
take some drastic action," Harber said Tuesday evening. "I said,
'Lester, don't do anything stupid.' I've gotten phone calls
like that from him before, and usually he cools down. This time he
Officers found King a short time later slumped in his driveway at 5811
Garfield Ave. in Kansas City, dying of what police said was a
self-inflicted gunshot wound. King apparently had called 911 before
shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun.
The 52-year-old died later at a hospital.
Those who knew King remembered him as a good friend and a neighbor
reliable enough to watch their children. They called him a supreme
talent, a musician skilled with multiple instruments who boasted a
finger-picking six-string style that earned him his Wizard moniker.
But he was also sensitive, saddled with a tendency to take everything
to heart and with sleeping problems that could leave him on edge.
"Lester was probably one of the best, most accomplished blues
guitarists I had ever seen," Harber said. "But he had all the
insecurities of a performer. He never felt like he was good enough. ...
His stage presence appeared as arrogance to some, but it was an
insecurity that was really behind that."
The pandemonium at Midwest Lighting Solutions, 100 Funston Road, began
about 2:20 p.m. It was unclear how many shots were fired, or how many
of the operation's 275 workers were on hand at the time.
When police arrived, they set up a wide perimeter around the building
and asked people inside the area to leave until the scene was secured.
Meanwhile, the company's employees huddled in a light snowfall before
being allowed back in shortly after 3 p.m.
The Rev. Desmond Lamb of Forest Grove Baptist Church rushed to the
scene after the first reports of a shooting. He wanted to check on an
uncle who has worked at Midwest, which manufactures fluorescent
lighting, for 30 years.
"I had to make sure he was OK," Lamb said.
About that time, King was calling Harber.
"I said, 'Lester, you didn't shoot at anybody, did you?' and he
said, 'No, I was just mad and wanted to make a statement,' "
Harber said. "I know everybody at that plant had to be terrified."
Police were still investigating whether King tried shoot someone at the
plant or whether he fired into the air just to scare workers.
"Thank God no one was hurt," said Stan Adams, vice president of
human resources for LSI Industries, which owns Midwest.
King was divorced with a granddaughter, friends said. His daughter died
in a car wreck in 1996 when she was 17.
On King's Web site, he writes about playing with Albert King and
Chick Willis. He talks about being blessed by having completed his
Bruce Hibbs, president of the Kansas City Blues Society, said King's
death was a great loss to the blues community.