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B.B. King
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B.B. King Interview (page: 4 / 7)

King of the Blues

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  B.B. King

At some point you went from being a kid sitting on the street corner playing your guitar for passers by and you made a decision. You decided you were going to Memphis and you were going to make a career of this. What inspired you to do that?


B.B. King: I had sang with this group, sang with two groups. The first one was called the Elk Horn -- like an elk's horn -- Jubilee Singers. That's where I started in Kilmichael and I thought we was pretty good, but then when I moved to the Delta that broke up the group, and I started to sing with another group called the St. John Gospel Singers. And, I would usually sing as a lead singer and I had started to play the guitar pretty good, so we was one of the few groups -- gospel groups -- that used the guitar. And, I thought we was good because we had sing-along programs with some of the great, great gospel singers. We was like an opening act, open shows for them and I personally thought we was pretty good. And, we would work our crops each year, and come harvest time we talked about leaving and going some place to record. Because there was no recording studios in the area, so we would have had to have gone to Greenwood, Greenville or to Memphis. And, I thought Memphis would be the best, because I had heard so much about Memphis and the things they was doing there. Each year for about three or four years we would talk about it, the guys and I, and every year one would say, "Well man, I didn't make but two or three bales of cotton. I don't have any money. I can't leave now." So, finally one day I said, "Well, I'm going to leave," and that's how I did it. I left and went to Memphis.

[ Key to Success ] Courage



Going to Memphis then was like a few years ago going to London or Japan or somewhere. Memphis seemed to be far, only 100 and some miles, but so far from where I was. The buildings and everything, the big hotels and much going on. And, there was a nice recording studio. A fellow named Sam Phillips had a nice studio. I had never been in a recording studio. At that time we didn't have stereo. Everything was mono. I went in there and I looked around, but I didn't know the difference between mono and stereo or anything else, but I did know that he had all of the mikes on one line. Let's say five of us are playing and one break a string, we all got to go back and do it again. That's the way it was when I first started.


B.B. King Interview Photo
My great-aunt, when I was about six or seven used to let me play a Victrola. It was a turntable, and you'd wind it up and it would play a 78 record. I did see some records prior to that that reminded me of a cylinder in a car, and you'd slip a sleeve over it and the sleeve was the recording. I didn't see too much of that. I guess it was a lot of trouble, but later on that was interesting to me. Very interesting. That's why I went to Memphis. I wanted to record.

You didn't just walk in the doors of Memphis and become a star.

B.B. King: Oh no. I had a good old friend that died not long ago. He said, "B.B. King ain't no star. He's a moon." I doubt if I'm either. But no, I worked very hard to try to make people like me. I worked very hard. I'm kind of like the little dog that goes and gets the paper. He brings it back, you pat him on the head and say, "Nice doggie, nice doggie." He'll go back and get two the next time. That's the way I am, and I try to do that even today. I try to be as nice as I know how to be. I love people. I'll tell you something I don't tell people often, but I believe all people are good. Sounds funny coming from a Mississippi boy, but it's the truth. I believe all people are good. Just a very few do bad things. And you know what I believe? They couldn't find a man like my teacher Luther H. Henson. I could listen to him and I could hear him, and I believe if those bad people could find someone -- because there is someone out there I believe that they will listen to. I truly believe that.

Did you ever have any self-doubts about your ability to do this? Did you ever have stage fright?


B.B. King: You're not going to believe what I'm about to tell you. I have stage fright today, 78 years now. I had a lot of confidence that I could do it. I'd hear Professor Luther Henson again saying, "If you try and try, try harder." And I have worried quite often. People use --I don't know where it come from, but if you try, nothing beats a failure, but a try. And if you try and you don't make it, try and try again, and I believe that. I believe that today. I believe you -- sometimes you may not make that mark that you was trying to get this time, but suppose you had ate too much, drank too much water or whatever. You're just too heavy, try it the next time when you don't have so much food, when you haven't drank so much water, and that's, I think, the way I believe even now.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


B.B. King Interview Photo
Before I left home I thought I could really sing and play the guitar. I thought I was really good. When I got to Memphis and went down to Handy Park -- at the time I think it was called Beale Street Park -- and heard those people out there, it was like a community college on the streets! I found out then that I wasn't so good as a singer. Oh, I thought I could sing, but nothing compared to what I thought before I got there and heard these other people sing.

I saw people dancing and I can't even hardly walk. I ain't never been able to dance in my life. If I had got a teacher or somebody that could have taught me, I could have been, but I never found anybody. So I got my book from Sears Roebuck.


I'd write and order me books. There was a guy called Nick Manoloff. Nick Manoloff had books. Guitar instruction books in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, the big one. I'd order those books and I studied them religiously, and that's how I learned to put my fingers on -- learned how to tune the guitar and learned my first bit of learning how to read music. I'm a blues singer, a blues musician, but I can read music -- not fast, but I do -- and I learned to even write a little bit. Now with my computer I write a little better. And, I believed in myself and that was the one thing I think that made me more confident in myself.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 16:13 EDT