The Michigan Daily
Wednesday, April 8, 1987
B.B.: King of the blues still reigning
By Alan Paul
B.B. King has dominated the
modern blues scene and is quite
possibly the most influential
musician still on the road. His
stinging, lyrical guitar style can be
heard in the playing of virtually
every blues and rock guitarist. He
plays cleanly and with great
economy and restraint, never
wasting or misplacing a note. But
King's influence and importance
reach well beyond his guitar
playing. He is a moving vocalist, a
great bandleader, and a consummate
Born on a Mississippi plantation
in1925, King moved to Memphis
to perform in 1949. After a stint as
a popular disc jockey when Riley
"Blues Boy" King became known
as B.B., King scored a success with
one of his first recordings. In 1951,
"Three O'Clock Blues" became a
number one R&B hit. Thus began a
15 year stint playing the "chitlin
circuit" of black clubs some 300
nights a year.
Continuous mention by rock
stars such as Jimi Hendrix, The
Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton
brought King to the white rock
audience. In 1966, he performed at
San Francisco's Fillmore West, his
first appearance in a predominantly
white venue. Since that time, King
has continued to tour and record
As a new generation of blues
guitarists such as Robert Cray and
Stevie Ray Vaughn gain promin -
ence and the music continues to
regain popularity, the importance of
B.B. King can not be forgotten. He
almost singlehandedly did not let
the blues die, staying on the road
through the many lean years for the
The Daily spoke with King,
who appears Friday night at the
Michigan Theatre for two shows,
recently from his Indiana hotel
Daily: How much are you on
the road now?
King: I usually average 300
nights a year but I'm cutting back
this year so I'll be doing 250 to
D: Why still so much?
K : Well, I've got a group I
enjoy playing with and I've got to
keep their checks coming, keep
them happy so I can keep them
together. Secondly, blues music is
not played that much. It doesn't get
much exposure and when I visit a
city it seems to stimulate interest
in the music. Thirdly, I've got to
pay my bills and finally I've been
doing it for 38 years. It's a way of
D: Don't you ever get tired of
K: No it hasn't always been an
asset. At times, there's been no
place for me. The blues purists
were unhappy because I wasn't pure
enough. They said 'that's not blues'
and the "contemporary people" said
I wasn't doing enough, I was still
too old fashioned. It hurt a lot of
the time but I've always played
what I feel. I can't worry about the
I feel that all the years weren't wasted. People were
listening. People did hear.
K: Of course I do sometimes but
it's my job. And it's like any other
person with a job; when you're
tired, you go home, get some sleep,
and then go back to the job. It's
what I do.
D: Was it a great thrill to be
inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame?
K: Oh my yes. It's something I
never even dreamed of.
D: What do you think is rock
and roll's relationship to your
K: I think rock and roll has it's
roots, both directly and indirectly in
the music we play. A lot of what's
really rock and roll came from
Britain. It's strange. Those guys
listened to and sort of reimported
the stuff. That's when people
started to notice us. Of course, we
had guys like Fats Domino, Chuck
Berry and Elvis over here.
D: How would you answer the
criticism of the blues purists who
say you haven't kept playing
K: I would agree with them.
D: But that's an asset too.
D: Then it must be all the more
satisfying to get the recognition of
the Hall Of Fame, to be widely
K: It makes me very happy now
but was very frustrating for a long
D: I find it amazing that so
many blues guys, like Buddy Guy
and Otis Rush, have never really
gotten much recognition but they're
still out there playing.
K: Well, we don't play just to
be recognized. I'd still do it if no
one knew my name...I did do it for
years. I get a lot of fulfillment from
D: Was it a big moment in your
career when you played the
Fillmore West in 1966?
K: That wasthe turning point of
my career. Prior to that, I think I
played two weeks with the Rolling
Stones. These things were the start
of a whole new thing. All of that
was "the crossover."
D: How was it working with the
K: It was nice but we never
really got to know each other, never
developed a relationship the way
you sometimes do. They're like
me; they just come to the hall to
work. They go to their dressing
room, then go on stage. Really.
They're nice guys.
D: Then, in the late sixties, you
began to work with rock producers
and musicians. How was that?
K: That was great because those
guys were very enthusiastic. I had
the chance to work with guys like
Bill Szymczyk who were just out
of college. They had fresh ideas.
They could see progress for the
music and that was real nice.
D :You're mentioned as an
influence by virtually every guit -
arist from Eric Clapton to Buddy
Guy to Stevie Ray Vaughn and
everyone in between. Is that very
K: It makes me very happy. I
feel that all the years weren't
wasted. Peoplewere listening, peo -
D: It seems blues are moving
towards the commercial mainstream
again with guys like Robert Cray
and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
K: Yes, it is somewhat. Those
guys can play but there have always
been people around.-You go back to
the sixties and many rock superstars
played the blues and it was
accepted. That opened it up for a lot
of us. Then when they stopped and
moved on, wanting to do some -
thing different or whatever, a lot of
people stopped listening and a lot
of the exposure and media coverage
D: But you always worked 300
nights a year.
K: Yes, of course that's true so I
See KING, Page 8
Blues guitarist B.B. King appears Friday night at the Michigan Theater for
two shows at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
'Continued from Previous Page
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