An interview with B.B. King

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Oct 222003
 
Authors: Joe Huseby

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.

King.

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

today.”

“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

him.

“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

supporting it.

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

listening.”

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

business?

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

be treated.

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

last question.

“Could you sign this?” I say as I hold out a compact disc case.

“Could you make it out to my Dad, Ray?”

 

 

 

 

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