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B.B. King
B.B. King
Profile of B.B. King Biography of B.B. King Interview with B.B. King B.B. King Photo Gallery

B.B. King Interview (page: 2 / 7)

King of the Blues

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  B.B. King

Where did you go to school? What was it like?

B.B. King: For about a year I went to a large school in a place called Lexington, Mississippi, but most of my early schooling was in a place called Kilmichael, Mississippi. Just outside of Kilmichael, about eight or nine miles maybe. My professor was a guy called Luther H. Henson, whom I love today. I truly believe that he was one of the few people that was able to get through this very thick skull of mine. Things he told us then was long before we ever heard of a Dr. King, long before we ever heard of integration, anything of that sort

He said, "One day you won't have to walk to school." We had to walk five miles to school. "One day you won't have to walk to school. One day there'll be a central school," he would say sometimes, "and everybody will go to that school. Some day nobody will look at you and think of you as a country boy or this if you don't act like that. They will judge you by your deeds." That was his words. "Whatever you do, however you do it will follow you the rest of your life." And another thing he used to tell us -- because we were sometimes, I think, a little hard headed - he said, "You have one body. Your body is your house." I can hear him say that now. "If you take care of your house you can live in it a long time, but if you don't take care of it..." meaning if you go out and you do things bad, like if you drink liquor, if you smoke, if you do this, you do that "'re going to hurt your house and your house won't be able to last too long." And you know, I started to smoke when I was 13 and after a while, I stopped. I started to drink and after a while, I stopped. Today I can still hear him; he's been dead now a few years. He lived 'til he was about 102 years old.

If I make 100, I'll be lucky. But that's the way I was as a kid and that's the way I felt as a kid. I've never had a lot of friends like a lot of people, but I have a lot of acquaintances.

B.B. King Interview Photo
I enjoyed going to school. I wasn't a very good student but I loved looking at the girls. I learned that early. That's the name of my life story: "Loving to Look at the Girls." I thank God. Creation of the ladies is the greatest creation ever. But we had one room where we'd sit at, and one teacher, and I guess there was about 40 or 50 of us, and that was the most of my schooling there at that particular school.

There was a lady that sat in front of me. I guess she was about eight or nine. So was I, but she was fully developed seemingly as a woman, heavy breasts and everything. We'd sit on pews. We didn't have chairs. And about once or twice every month I'd get that urge -- because I'd sit behind her all the time -- to just reach over and grab her. My professor sat up on a little platform while we were studying, and he kept something called a "piss elm switch." An elm tree has limbs that grow very long, and they don't break easy. It was just like a whip. You would almost swear it was a whip. And they would sort of put them in the heater. We had a heater. We didn't have central heat or anything. And they sort of burned it a little bit. When they burned it, it seemed to me the bark on the side of it was like leather. So when I'd get that urge and reach over to hug the girl -- the minute I would grab her she would bite, and when she'd bite, he'd hit. So after I sat there for a while and get over that terrible pain, he would start to talk with us. It didn't seem to bother him that he had already whopped me, but then when he would talk to me, for some reason, I understood him very well.

I really wanted to be a gospel singer. That's what I wanted to be. This professor had a nephew that was a popular musician that played with a guy called Buddy Johnson. So when we would talk about music he would say to me, "You can do it if you want to. You can play music. You can preach. You can do whatever you want to do, but you've got to want to and you need a good education. You need to learn to do this." He would say, "We live on a plantation, we're in the country, and most people will put you down a little bit because you live in the country." It's true because when we would go to town people would say, "Here come them country people." But, we did just the opposite. "There are them old city folks," you know. My mother would take me to church, and this preacher in the church was named Reverend Archie Fair, we called him. Archie Fair was his name, and he played guitar in the church, so I wanted to be like him. And, I never really wanted to be a preacher, but I wanted to be a gospel singer, but my family thought that if I kept things up, kept going, one day I would be a preacher. Of course, I ain't dead yet, so I don't think it's too late, but I've enjoyed doing what I'm doing for so long now.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

You didn't go as far in school as you wanted to.

B.B. King: No, I didn't. I was lazy. I could have done better.

My mom died when I was nine, and I lived alone from the time I was nine until I was 14, because my mom and my dad was divorced from the time I was five. And my mother had took me from the Delta back up in the hills, up to Kilmichael where we were talking about. Her people was from that area and my dad was an orphan and had been raised by some guardians in Itta Bena, Mississippi, near Brickclare Place it's called. All this is in the area of the Indianola, which is where I grew up knowing about. But, I lived there after my mother died, as I said, when I was nine and she was 27. I didn't know what was my wrong. My mother went blind. I could see the big blood clots in her eyes and she couldn't see, but she would talk to me. I was the only child.

I liked working for the people that my mother worked for, the Cottledge family. I liked them. While I'm talking about that I'd like to mention that I have three people that I worked for growing up. Mr. Flake Cottledge, a man that I still enjoy calling Mr. Flake Cottledge, because to me he deserved it. I came to the Delta again, and this time on the plantation I worked for a man called Mr. Barrett, Johnson Barrett, and finally to Memphis where I met another person called Mr. Ferguson, Bert Ferguson. These three men have been in my life, and they still are, and I've said many times that if I could grow to be a man, I'd love to be like all three of them, just because to me each one of them was fair. They was good. They didn't do things because they could do them. They wasn't like a tutor or a teacher, but the things they said to me was like that.

So, while working for Mr. Flake Cottledge, I was what they call in the country a "house boy." A house boy was a guy that, excuse me, that did whatever was around to be done. And my wages, I made $15 a month, which I thought was a lot of money, fifteen dollars a month. That's how I got my first guitar. People talk about people gave it to me and this and that. I didn't. Mr. Flake Cottledge bought it for me. He took half of my salary one month and took the other half the next month, so it cost me $15, a whole month's salary to get it. When I would finish my chores -- I used to milk 20 cows a day -- 10 in the morning, 10 at night. And when I would finish, they would let me go to school and that's how I got my schooling. And I would walk five miles to school, and I managed to make it through the tenth grade and that was it, but if I had tightened up I could have did better. Of course, I could have done better, but without any supervision -- they didn't make me go to school. There was no agencies around there that would take me away from where I was. Today, if you live in the city it's possible that some of the agencies will get you and place you here or place you, not then, not there. But, now there were people in the area, in the community, it was sort of like a village that would have tightened you up if you got out of line. Any of them could and would. So, I learned at an early age to try to stay in line. You do what society expects you to do, and that's how I grew up.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

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