In 1972 my father walked into a hazy pool hall in Madison, Wis.,
to see B.B. King. On this night, the pool hall built for a little
over one hundred people held nearly twice that many. My father made
his way through the worn doors and peered across the sea of bodies.
At the other end of the room, upon the tiny stage stood B.B. King
with his 25-piece band.
Blues flowed like the waters of the Mississippi through the
delta in the under-sized pool hall and through the doors across the
city to B.B. King’s hotel where the masses followed to hear him jam
with Johnny Winters in the hotel’s parking lot.
Thirty years later, with this story lingering in my mind, I’m
standing outside the Lincoln Center waiting to interview B.B.
I stand at the back entrance and watch the black and gold tour
bus creep toward me. The diesel engine rumbles in expectation and
so do I. The bus hisses to a stop, the doors open and my heart
nearly comes up through my throat.
I approach the bus as a skinny black man in a leather coat gets
off to greet me.
“I’m looking for Sherman,” I say.
“I’m Sherman,” he says.
“I’m Josh Huseby from 90.5 KCSU. I spoke with you earlier
“Follow me. You have ten minutes,” Sherman says.
The gatekeeper leads me up the lighted steps and directs me down
the aisle to the back of the bus where B.B. King sits behind a
silver laptop. He looks at me through experienced eyes and silver
framed glasses and offers me his hand and the space next to
“I’m ready when you are,” he says.
Am I ready? I am sitting next to the King of Blues, a man who
has taken his music to 90 different countries, and who has played
with the likes of Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Bono. B.B. King
has influenced the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I’m ready to
pass out with excitement.
B.B. King, at 76, plays 225 nights a year and last week he spent
five of those nights playing at a sold out Lincoln Center. For $30
a ticket, people came to hear this blues prophet play “Lucille,” a
Gibson, hollow body electric guitar with a name almost as well
known its owner.
“I’m ready when you are,” I repeat as calmly as I can.
“Let’s get at it,” he says.
J.H.: What influence do you feel you’ve had on music?
B.B.K.: I don’t think about it. I’ve heard people tell me that
some listened to me when they started, but musicians don’t usually
tell me that. The only person I remember hearing say that was John
Lennon of the Beatles. I was reading a magazine once when he was
being interviewed and the interviewer asked him what would he like
to do and he said ‘play guitar like B.B. King.'”
J.H.: Where do you see blues music going?
B.B.K.: If I had to give a State of the Union message on the
Blues I would say that Blues is going far and fast now. Because we
have a lot of young people playing it and a lot of young people
J.H.: What kind of influence would you like your music to have
on the people that listen to it?
B.B.K.: Well first thing, I would think that music is sort of
like a language. You always tell stories through song, same as you
do with a language. You tell someone you care about them or you
don’t care about them. Or something you like or you dislike. I
think I would like my music to let the listener decide for himself
what they like or dislike. I’d prefer that while a person (is
listening) they search themselves and think of happy things. That’s
what I’d like. I’d like for them also to have a good time while
J.H.: How have you seen your audience change over the years?
B.B.K.: Thanks to a lot of the young white musicians, especially
the ones that came from England, like the Rolling Stones and even
the Beatles, The Who and many others who played the blues. I’d like
to thank the superstars of rock ‘n’ roll, they started playing the
blues the first part of their careers.
J.H.: Over the years you’ve had the opportunity to play with
many different musicians. Who has been the best to play with?
B.B.K.: I can’t say that. That’s a question I cannot answer you
because I don’t know who’s been the best. I’ve learned from most
all (musicians) I’ve ever played with. And most of the superstars
are usually nice people.
J.H.: What musician might be the most fun to play with?
B.B.K.: That’s another funny thing I’ve found through my
relationship with many of the great musicians. It’s always business
with them. Once you get on the stage you have fun, yes, doing what
you’re doing, but it’s usually a business with them. I could name
you many, many people I have worked with. Sure we have fun playing,
you just go to play and get as much out of it as you can.
J.H.: What do you see as the key to your survival in this
B.B.K.: Well for one thing, naturally it’s people, people
supporting you. I think kind of keeping it cool. Keeping your feet
on the ground is one way of putting it and staying away from things
that give you a bad rap. Being as humble as possible. A lot of that
I think has to do with it. Try to treat people the way you want to
From the corner of my eye I see Sherman signal that time is up.
My Dad has his B.B King story, now I have one of my own. I have one
“Could you sign this?” I say as I hold out a compact disc case.
“Could you make it out to my Dad, Ray?”