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If you like B.B. King's story, you might also like:
Hank Aaron,
Johnny Cash,
Ernest J. Gaines,
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Quincy Jones,
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Oprah Winfrey

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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: 7 / 7)

King of the Blues

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  B.B. King

Now, we started to pick up a different audience. Instead of the black audience that we had, we now were getting young white people. Now, I'm traveling about. Now, I'm going to San Francisco. I'm going to small places all over the United States. Then finally, this agency that I mentioned to you earlier booked me at a place called the Fillmore West. Now, I had played the Fillmore many times before when it was owned by another person, but this time when I get there, there are long-haired kids -- kind of like Jesus Christ used to have, long hair. I had never seen people wear hair like that around me. I saw it in papers, books and the Bible. When I pulled up there we were still on this bus. This is before the accident, this Big Red as we called it. We looked out there at the Fillmore where we used to go and in the stairway leading to the door there was people sitting from here all the way across, and there was about three or four stairs that lead up to the door. The stairs was about as long as the average length of a regular car and they're body to body sitting there. So, I told my road manager, I said, "I think they made a mistake this time. I don't think we're supposed to go here." I said, "The band and I are going to sit here. You go in and find out what the mistake is." So, my road manager went out and he found the promoter -- who was Bill Graham, one of the greatest people I think I've met -- and he came out and said, "No, B, it's the right place." I looked. I wanted to say, "Are you sure?" And he said, "I'm the promoter. Come on in." I'm scared to get off the bus. I said, "Okay." So, I followed him in.

B.B. King Interview Photo
Now as we went inside, and this may not seem like much to you, but I'm used to when you go in past people and they're sitting body to body, they move way over and they're going to look at you and say, "Hey man, watch it, don't step on me." They didn't do any of that. They just sat there, and the ones who was having a conversation continued. They just leaned over politely and said nothing. And here I am like this, scared as I could be. I ain't never played for nobody like this.

Now when we finally get through these people on the stairway, we get inside, there's no tables. Just a big ball room. Bare. No tables. No chairs. Nothing. People now are sitting body to body on the floor. I said, "Oh my God, we got to get past them." This way and that way. And then finally we got to the old dressing room that I had been used to going to. I looked at Bill and I said, "Bill, I got to have a drink."

He said, "B, we don't sell liquor here." "I don't care. I got to have a drink." He said, "Okay. I'll send out and get you one." He sent out and got me a half a pint of something. I don't know, but they brought it to me and I had a big belt of it. And I sat there reminding myself of how a cat would be if a dog was in front of it. I'm scared to death. So, Bill said, "I'll come back and get you when it's time to go on." I thanked him and sat there, still shaking.

When it was time for me to go on stage, he [Bill Graham] came back and got me, and we got to wade back through these people again, but when we got to the stage -- see, they don't know me by looking at me. They don't know what I look like. They only know me by the music. He said, "Ladies and gentlemen..." and everybody got very quiet "...I bring you the Chairman of the Board, B.B. King." The best intro and the shortest I ever had in my life. And all of a sudden they started to applaud, and they stood up and they applauded and I cried because I'm starting to think how these people can be so good to me and what the heck am I going to do for them. I ain't never played for no people like this. Well, I quite often perspire quite a bit. Perspiration is running all over me, but I was crying too, and I think I had about a 45-minute set. Do you know they stood up two or three times more? And that's the first time that I ever thought that I was doing pretty well. Not really made it, but I had gotten pretty close to the door.

What was it about that audience that frightened you and that moved you to tears?

B.B. King: They were young. Hardly 30 years old most of them.

So it was a breakthrough for you?

B.B. King: It was a breakthrough for me. They didn't seem to look at me as B.B. King, the blues singer. It was B.B. King, the musician. They made me feel like I was somebody. I had never felt like that. Never. Oh, I had been treated nicely. Don't think I hadn't. But this time, the way they treated me made me think that I was like some of them other people I heard of, like the big stars. They made me feel like that that night. I'm standing up there crying because I'm so moved by what they're doing, and then I'm wondering what the heck am I going to do for them.

How do you account for the fact that you could do it? Not everybody who comes from where you came from gets to where you are.

B.B. King Interview Photo
B.B. King: I don't know how to answer you. I'll try. There is so much to do. So much more to do till even today. I think that I'm okay. I think I know my job. I said this earlier. I have had a lot of things happen to me for which I'm grateful.

I've met four sitting Presidents: President Ford, President Bush, Sr., President Clinton and President George W. Bush. I call him "young President Bush." Then I met the Pope, and gave the Pope a guitar. I met the Queen of England. A few words to the Queen. I was scared to death because I didn't know the protocol, the etiquette and everything. I didn't want to do nothing wrong. But about a month ago I met the King and Queen of Sweden, and they gave me something called a Polar Prize. To me that's the highlight of B.B. King's career.

I'm grateful for being awarded six honorary doctorate degrees. I've been honored at the Kennedy Center. All these things to me has been great, but it ain't something like you can put in your pocket and keep it. It was great. Oh God, what a wonderful time, but I'm so glad it's over when it's over. Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you? Glad to get it, but oh God I prayed it was over. All of these things is important to me, yes. I'm so glad it happened, yes. But that was them. I'm meeting these people. That's not B.B. King. They've given me honors and stuff, that still don't tell me that I've done anything. It means more to me than I know how to tell you, but it's me meeting you, meeting her or him. The honor is I'm being able to meet them.

When young people come to you for advice, what do you tell them?

B.B. King: I think I would go back to what my teacher told me in a way, but quite differently. I would say, "Get high off your music. Don't use drugs of any kind. Please don't smoke because that will mess up your vocal cords for your singing. Be a person. Just as you want to be loved, love them. Always respect the people that come to hear you play. Try your best to please these people, but then you've got to live in the neighborhood. Try to be a good neighbor. Play your music. If you're a student, if you're going to college, major in music, minor in computers so if your music don't work you can still have a job. Lastly, you might become very good at what you do, a lot of people do, but everybody is not going to like it, so if you can't make a living at it go back to your minor." That's what I would tell them.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

We've enjoyed your talking with us.

B.B. King: Thank you, sir.

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