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If you like B.B. King's story, you might also like:
Hank Aaron,
Johnny Cash,
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B.B. King
B.B. King
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B.B. King Interview (page: 5 / 7)

King of the Blues

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  B.B. King

How do you explain what you do? What is a blues singer? What are the blues?

B.B. King: Well, the blues have been put down.

I had a cousin once named -- he was the only person in our family that ever been popular as a blues singer. His name was Bukka White. Bukka never taught me to play. People say he did, but he hadn't -- or didn't rather -- but there's one thing he did tell me that stays with me. It stays with me today. He said, "If you're going to be a blues singer, a blues musician, always dress like you're going to the bank to try to borrow money." And, I didn't quite get it, but what he meant is you don't go there slouching and sloppy. Be at your best behavior and always try to be like that, and that stays with me today. This is sort of long, but my impression of what I get from people when they talk about blues singers, they picture a big black guy, like myself, sitting on a stool looking north with a cigarette hanging on the east end of his lip, a guitar that's ragged laying across his lap, and a jug of corn liquor on his west side and his pants split on the south side. You still with me? A cap with a bib, and the bib is kind of turned up and sort of to the east again, and he's looking north. That's my impression of what I feel that a lot of people think of the blues singer. So, it's been my life always to show that there's a different blues singer, not just that one. But, I've thought many times if you're black and you're a blues singer it's like being black twice, two times. I've always fought against that. Now that's one thing I have tried to do.

I have learned that blues singing is just like singing any other kind of song. You still try to tell the story. Your story may not be as -- shall we say -- some of the love songs that's written by a lot of the great singers, or great writers I should say, but you have a soul, you have a heart, you have a feeling and your music is life. Life as we've lived it in the past, life as we're living it today, and life as I believe we'll live tomorrow, because it has to do with people, places and things. If it's a man, we think in terms of the lady, the opposite sex. If it's a woman she thinks in terms of the man, but it's still love, even though we call it blues. The myth is everybody thinks it's all sad because it started from the slaves. That is a myth. Some of it is, but tell me what music doesn't have some sadness in it, and then I'll try to learn a little bit more about the blues.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Did it come easily to you? Playing the guitar and performing?

B.B. King: No, it don't really come so easy.

I think that I know my job pretty well, but I always think this way -- now it's not false modesty or anything -- I'm never any better than my last job. Do you understand what I'm trying to say? In other words, I don't always think that I've got it made and, "Hey, I'm B.B. King!" So and so. Never that. Never that because the people put you up there and they can cut you down like that. It's just like the great God, this great spirit. We live and we die and I'm talking about if you die naturally you never know when it's going to be. It can happen any time. So, I think in a way that we're here -- I've heard people use the word, "on borrowed time," but I don't know about that. I don't think I borrowed it, but I think that I'm here and just as easy, cannot be here. So, I never think that I've got it made. I've known people that had a little money and overnight something happened -- insurance no good -- and what little money they had - bam - it's gone.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

B.B. King Interview Photo

I've known people to be happily married. I was twice. I don't have a good education but I like to read a lot. Now since they got the great something called "computer" -- Gosh, I don't know how I lived without it! I was reading something on my computer, and some of it had to do with Mark Twain. Someone asked him, "Have you stopped smoking?" He said, "Yeah, many times." Hmm. I've tried to lose weight many times. What I'm trying to say is that you really have to go head on and do it. Not many times, just once, and finish.

Who were your role models? Were there other musicians you learned from, who taught you things about music or life?

B.B. King: Yes, many. I knew Louis Armstrong.

I knew Duke Ellington. I knew Benny Goodman. Those are just a few of the people that I tried to pattern my life after, after trying to be a musician. I still have that old code, don't smoke, don't drink on the bandstand, don't swear on the bandstand where I am. Never. The people are the most important things that we have so you must treat them like they are who they are, and that's the way I've been all the time, no drugs, no liquor. Even when I was drinking, don't bring no liquor on the bandstand, never. That's the way I've always been.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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