A conversation with the King Of The Blues, BB King
In this wide-ranging interview from our archives, the King Of The Blues talks technique, his all-time favourite song and why he loves old cowboy movies.
BB King. Image: Heinrich Klaffs
This interview was originally published in 2003.
Go ahead and try to keep up, few will ever be able to claim they could. Keep up with what, you ask? Think about this: It’s been more than 50 years since he scored his first hit single, but he’s still out there traveling and performing at the age of 77,200-plus nights per year. By that account alone, BB King deserves the title, The King of the Blues.
BB is without question one of the most influential guitar players blues or otherwise to ever have pulled on a G-string. His disciples are many, both in the blues idiom and throughout the rock world as well. His sweet vibrato has been studied and copied by millions, including many an A-list rock star. There’s even a spot on the guitar neck named after him “BB’s Box”.
Reflections, BB’s latest recording for label MCA, finds him covering a surprisingly broad range of personal favourites (including Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind), but then King has always been proud of his open-minded taste in music. Consider also that this is his seventh album in the past six years, and you have to ask: Does BB King ever sleep?
Guitar.com spoke with BB toward the end of his recent trek with Jeff Beck during the annual BB King’s Music Festival. In a revealing and candid conversation that started out humorously enough, King reveals many of his private passions, including long drives through the mountains in his El Camino, loading his portable MP3 player with tracks from his massive vinyl collection, and the motivations behind his ongoing trek, 20 years after he could have retired to a very comfortable lifestyle indeed.
Our interview begins at a Holiday Inn switchboard, somewhere on the East Coast:
Holiday Inn: How may I direct your call?
Guitar.com: I’m trying to reach Bad Bill.
Holiday Inn: One moment please.
Bad Bill: Hello.
Guitar.com: Hi, I’m trying to reach Bad Bill.
Bad Bill: Yes.
Guitar.com: Bill, this is Adam St. James from Guitar.com. I’m calling to do an interview with BB King.
Bad Bill: This is he.
Guitar.com: Hi BB (laughing) Bad Bill, huh? [Editor’s Note: Don’t bother. This ain’t the name he was using, it’s not even close. Not as creative either. But hey, we can’t give away the real name now, can we?]
BB King: Well, I don’t want everybody calling me just to ask me if I can sing The Thrill is Gone.
Guitar.com: I understand. Where does the name Bad Bill come from?
King: My great grandfather.
Guitar.com: Oh, OK. Hey, I saw you play in Chicago last week; it was a fantastic show.
King: Thank you.
Guitar.com: You really seem to have a lot of fun onstage.
King: I enjoy playing very much.
Guitar.com: You had Jeff Beck sitting in with you on some dates?
King: Yes, he does.
Guitar.com: What songs have you played with him?
King: Oh, many that we choose to do. We play what we feel. It’s not something that’s laid out.
Guitar.com: What about the tour that you’re on right now, you’re having a lot of fun out there?
King: The BB King fest, I’ve been doing it for 12 years.
Guitar.com: Right, I know that.
King: What are you asking me then?
Guitar.com: The people that you have with you, how did you decide on these groups?
King: Well, the promoter is the one that recommends who we take out. And I’m the guy that takes them out, so I agree or disagree.
Guitar.com: Had you played with Jeff Beck before?
Guitar.com: I thought so. What about the band that you put together for the new CD, Reflections? How did you put those people together?
King: Well, we had a producer, Clime. I can’t think of his name at the moment
Guitar.com: Simon Climie, Clapton’s guy
King: Simon, right. He put them together. But most of the people that he put together, I’ve worked with before.
Guitar.com: I’m especially interested in your playing with Doyle Bramhall II. You’ve had him involved the past few years. What is it that keeps you including him in your recordings and things?
King: He’s a great guitarist, and he’s a great writer.
Guitar.com: You’ve recorded a few of his tracks and obviously you feel that he’s a great writer. How do you decide on that kind of material. His material is a little more rock-oriented, isn’t it?
King: If it’s good, it’s good. That’s the way I look at it. If it’s good, it’s good. I don’t care if it’s rock, Gospel, classical, blues whatever it is. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s something I can do.
Guitar.com: How did you pick all the other tunes for Reflections? It covers a lot of ground.
King: Well, I picked those myself. They were tunes that I’ve heard by others and I’ve tried to do them. And some of them I seem to sound pretty good to me. If I sound pretty good to me, maybe I sound pretty good to other people. So that’s why I picked them.
Guitar.com: I really enjoyed the Louis Jordan tribute a few years ago. That was a fantastic record as well.
King: Which one?
Guitar.com: The Louis Jordan tribute. [Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan.]
King: Oh, thank you.
Guitar.com: I had been playing a lot of those tunes myself with a band, so I really appreciated hearing your versions.
King: Are you a musician?
Guitar.com: Yes, I’m a guitarist.
King: Oh, God, maybe I can get some lessons.
Guitar.com: (laughs). You know, you actually sat down with one of our cameramen and did a video interview for Guitar.com a couple of years back.
King: Where are you calling me from?
Guitar.com: I’m from Chicago.
King: Oh, I get it.
Guitar.com: So I saw you last week here.
King: I know you said that, but that don’t mean you live there.
Guitar.com: That’s true. Anyway, that video lesson has always been real popular with people and I really appreciate you doing that. That was really cool.
King: Thank you.
Guitar.com: How about this Martin Scorsese blues documentary, have you seen that yet?
King: I haven’t seen it, no. But I’m happy about it. You know Congress decided that this year would be the Year of the Blues. And what Mr. Scorsese did, I’m so really how can I say it? What he did was a blessing for all of us that play blues, you know.
Guitar.com: Will we see plenty of you in there?
King: (laughs) I don’t cut the “you’re talking to me” like I’m one of the guys that – what do they call it – edit the movie. I don’t know what they’ll put. They may have a lot, they may not. I can’t answer that one.
Guitar.com: Did they come out and talk to you on camera for this?
King: Oh yeah. I was in it, of course.
Guitar.com: I imagine there’s going to be a lot of classic footage as well.
King: I don’t think about it. When I see it, then I’ll know.
Guitar.com: Why do you think it’s important that people see this documentary?
King: Well, there’s a whole lot of people that don’t know much about this kind of music. A whole lot of them, black and white. And I think that they should, especially young people should see it, and know about it. Then they’ll know whether they like it or don’t like it. They’ll know whether it’s legit or not legit. We think it is because it’s been going many, many years.
And so many people have done it, but, even today I don’t know about Chicago cause I live in Las Vegas but even today there’s only one station that I know that programs blues every day, and that’s the satellite station. That’s the only one that I know about. And I can go from, well, like I say, I live in Vegas. They don’t have a station there that programs blues every day. They don’t have one in Los Angeles. They don’t have one that I know about in any city that I know about. But they have 24/7 of everything else.
Guitar.com: Do you listen to the satellite on your bus?
King: Yeah. If I wanna hear some blues, that’s all I can do. Or play it from a CD.
Guitar.com: Is blues primarily what you listen to?
King: I’m a person that likes some of all things musically. I don’t like all of nothing. I don’t like all I’ve done. I thought I liked it when I was doing it (laughs), but after I do ’em I found out, “God, what a mistake that was.” So I’ve made many mistakes. But most of the stuff I’ve done though, I think that there was some good work on each CD. That’s not the whole CD though. I don’t think I’ve ever made a perfect record.
Guitar.com: Is it that sometimes the songs sounded better to you before you recorded than after? You thought it would come off differently?
King: No, no. Usually, I have the option now, if I’m playing something that don’t sound good to me, I just won’t play it. In the early years, I probably would have did it anyway, because they asked me to. But not anymore.
The early years I would have how can you say it I would have probably did whatever I was asked or told to do. Today I won’t. If it’s something I don’t like. If I don’t like it, I won’t do it. If it sounds to me while I’m doing it, fine. If it sounds good to me before, then when I start into it it doesn’t, I don’t do it.
Guitar.com: What advice do you have for young musicians particularly about that, doing what you’re told or what a producer suggests, while still holding true to your own ideals.
King: It’s a compromise. You do have to compromise. In this whole universe we always compromise one way or the other. You may not be able to do exactly what you want, but you can explain to people how you feel about it. And most people, most producers, will give you latitude. They will work with you. If you say, “Well, look man, I just don’t like it. I don’t feel it, I don’t’ want to do it. Can’t we use something else?” And most of em will. Most people are like that in this business.
Guitar.com: What inspires you to pick up and play your guitar these days?
King: These days? (laughs) The same that did when I started: I wanna play, and I enjoy it. I don’t know all the reasons why. But that’s a few. I love to play. I don’t have to. I could have gone home 20 years ago and had a pretty good living the rest of my life. But I do it because I like to do it.
Guitar.com: Do you play on your time off?
King: What do you mean?
Guitar.com: Do you play when you’re not onstage?
King: You mean in my room?
King: Practice? Yeah.
Guitar.com: Do you?
King: Of course I practice.
Guitar.com: What are you working on these days?
King: Now, aren’t you somethin’? I’m always workin’ on somethin’ but I can’t tell ya. I don’t want you to be telling everybody what I’m doin’. And you a musician too. Are you kidding me?
Guitar.com: I’m still trying to cop all those licks you’ve got. All that vibrato and stuff.
King: You’re welcome to do that. You’re welcome to do that, but what I’m workin on I can’t tell you because most likely somebody else has the same ideas, we just haven’t talked. But I practice I don’t practice as much as I should, never have. But, I do practice.
Every so often I try to how can you say it? You know, I try to learn some things. Each day I feel that a man my age I’m 77 each day I should try to learn something new, something different. One other thing though, you well, what can I say? You don’t never learn it all. If that was the case they would have had cars and airplanes during Jesus Christ’s day. They didn’t have them. So we’ve learned a lot since then. So each day I try to learn a little bit.
Guitar.com: Do you just learn by playing, or do you put on some CDs and play along? Or do you work with books or videos?
King: I’ve never worked with a CD. Never have. Which reminds me, I think I’ll try it one day. But I’ve never. I don’t know how I can say it, but I’ll put it this way: I heard a story once where a fox was walking under a tree that had grapes up in the top of it. And he yelled at some of the animals that can climb trees and said, “Hey guys, throw down some grapes.” And you know how people are so they said, “Heck, if you want some grapes you come up and get em.” He knew he couldn’t climb (laughs), so he said, “Oh, it’s OK. They’re probably sour anyway.” (laughs)
So that’s the way I am about trying to play with anybody else. I can’t play it anyhow. Most of my idols, I’ve tried to play like ’em, and never could. So I say to myself, “Well, it probably wouldn’t fit me anyhow.” So that’s the way I am today. And so I never hardly I hear things in my head that I’ve heard on CD, and I may try to do that. But, I never have. I really haven’t. I can’t hear that well. Stupid brain I guess.
Guitar.com: Now a lot of people think that you’re playing is very restrained. But I’ve seen you in concert playing some extended, jazzy riffs as well.
King: Well, I don’t proclaim to be anything, but trying to play guitar. So I’ll let you guys put the labels on them. (laughs) I told you a few minutes ago, I like some of all. I’ve recorded with Pavarotti, I’ve recorded with John Lee Hooker. So, you’ve got a big in-between there. And I loved all of it. I’ve recorded Gospel I did some of all of it. And I enjoyed. I think music is like it says: It’s music. I heard somebody say once that all music is good, some is just presented badly. (laughs). I think I agree with that, and I do it badly a lot of times as far as I’m concerned.
Guitar.com: Well, I guess we all hit some funny notes here and there.
King: Well, but usually, you see, when you’ve played as long as I have, when you make mistakes – if I make a mistake – with my band and some of the guys been with me 25 years now if I make a mistake, I’ll go back and do the same thing again. So they don’t know its a mistake. (laughs)
Guitar.com: That way it sounds like you did it on purpose.
King: I did the second time (laughs).
Guitar.com: Hey, that’s experimentation, right?
King: I guess so.
Guitar.com: That’s how people learn new licks.
King: It’s OK for me because I’m having fun doing it. They tell me when you do something the second time, it’s no mistake. So obviously the other one, your mind was just, you know, faster than you were.
Guitar.com: How many guitars do you bring on the road with you? How many copies of Lucille?
Guitar.com: Two? You’ve had many over the years, haven’t you?
Guitar.com: Oh, is that it?
Guitar.com: So the two that you have now, have you had them for a while?
King: One of ’em I’ve had for a while. I think the other one I’ve had two or three years. But I usually keep two just in case sometimes when we travel somethin’ may be wrong with one. So when I get to the next venue I wanna make sure I’ve got a guitar to play. So I carry two. I ain’t like a lot of guys, I don’t carry no eight or 10 guitars because I can’t play em all. But I do pick two. It’s like your car: You may have a new car, but you always have a spare.
Guitar.com: Do you notice a difference in the quality of the guitars through the years? Are you a fan of vintage instruments, or are the newer ones fine?
King: Not really. I like to look at them, but I don’t know I hear people talking. A guy told me the other night he had a vintage 335 I believe, and I don’t know the difference. I just know it’s a good guitar. But in my case, I play the 355. It’s a solid body one. And that’s all I think about. I don’t think of all the others. I think all of them sound good. It has to do with the guy that’s playing it, I think.
Guitar.com: Right. It’s in your hands. What kind of amp are you using these days?
King: Same one I’ve been using a long time: one that’s called Lab System. [Editors note: BB plays his Gibson ES-355 through a long discontinued Gibson Lab Series amplifier, a 2×12 combo.] It’s to me between the Kustom and the Fender. It don’t have it does have some tubes in it. And that’s it.
Guitar.com: Do you know what model it is?
King: No (laughs) It’s just Lab System.
Guitar.com: Do you like it loud?
King: Sometimes, yeah. I want something that if I crank it up, and want it to be loud, I want it to be loud. But I don’t play like a lot of guys do. I don’t try to drown out everybody else. Drown out the band and everything else.
Guitar.com: But you have a big band to play over the top of.
King: I don’t try to play over the top of them. No. It’s a band. A group. That means together. And that’s the way I want it. I want them to blend, and I want to blend in with ’em. That, to me, is the way – I’m as you must know, from the old school. I remember guys like Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman. I could just go on and name you the great band leaders. If I was going to take out a trio, I’d have a trio. But my preference of a trio would be, usually, drum and piano or bass – something like that something to keep good time, something to play the bass lines.
But I prefer a quartet. So you can have to me the basic rhythm section is always piano, drums, and bass. That to me, cause they got a lot of electronics, and they got a lot of guys that can play em well. And that would be fine, if you had someone on keyboards that could do it. But most of em don’t do it as well for me. I prefer that regular old bass. It can be electric or standup, but I need to hear the sound of the bass. And I don’t like all of that without the piano. So that’s just me I guess, old fashioned.
Guitar.com: Now your keyboard player also plays a little bit of Hammond too.
King: He does, whatever he wants. It all sounds good to me. He’s been with me over 20 years. All of ’em been with me except my bass player that I had for about 18 years got sick. He hasn’t been able to play anymore. And so I have a new bass player, which is doing well the one you heard in Chicago. And my older guitarist, he had been sick at the same time. Of course he’s back with us now. But the other guy plays so well, so I’m keepin’ both of em for a while.
Guitar.com: Sure. The young guitarist you called him. But these guys have both been around for a while too, right?
King: Oh yeah.
Guitar.com: What are your guitar players names?
King: Which one? The older one?
Guitar.com: Both of them.
King: The younger one, that I called the young one he ain’t that young but I tease him. I tease the people with him. His name is Charlie Dennis. The older one is Leon Warren. He’s the one that was with me for 21 years before he got sick.
Guitar.com: He’s doing better now?
King: He’s back playing. He was away from it for over a year. But the other one, the bass player, which I miss a lot, his doctor won’t let him play any. He can’t travel, you know.
Guitar.com: What do you look for in a bass player?
King: One that will play what I want. That’s what I look for. I’m a blues player. I like one-three, I mean I, IV and V. Them blues chords. And I want the guy to spell them out, play ’em for me where I can hear em. Of course I’d like him to have a little more knowledge, so we could, you know, everything we play is not 12-bars.
Guitar.com: Right, you do so much more than I, IV and V, he’s got to know a little more than that.
King: But if he’s good with I, IV, and V, I still can live with him because I can teach him the other. If he’s good with that I, IV, and V, he’s my guy. And I want him to drive. I want him to be like the drums: I want him to drive. And that’s what I like in a bass player.
Guitar.com: When you say you can teach him the rest what if the guy comes to you just playing I, IV, and V? Where do you take him from there?
King: I’d teach him how to play eight bars. Eight bar blues has many changes. I’ll teach him, that ain’t no big problem. If he want to learn, I’ll teach him.
Guitar.com: Some of the jazzy turnarounds and things?
King: I don’t think of it as jazzy turnarounds, it’s just different from 12-bar blues. It always kinda gets my nerve when a guy says, “I’m a jazz musician.” I don’t like that. Or “I’m a blues musician.” I don’t like that either.
Guitar.com: You prefer to just say you’re a musician.
King: Yeah. If it’s something I want. For example, if I came to town, and I was looking for somebody to play, I want em to play what I want. I ain’t looking for no jazz musician, I ain’t lookin for no blues musician. I want the guy to play what I want. Now if he studied jazz, fine, cause most jazz musicians are better with blues than actually the blues musicians, cause they’re more familiar with chords.
King: So that’s fine with me. But I don’t want a guy to say, “Yeah, I’m a jazz musician. I don’t play them old blues.” I put a X on his name. (laughs) Or “I’m a blues musician. I don’t play no jazz.” I put a X on his name too.
Guitar.com: When we sat down with you a couple of years ago and did a little video shoot, I had the asked the interviewer to ask you this question: When you’re playing a song, and the chords are going by and you kind of lose your place in those chords, but you’re soloing over it, how do you handle that? What do you do?
King: I do what we call whole notes. Have you ever heard of them?
King: For example, if you’re in the key of C, I think in terms of the chord. If you play an F chord, you think in terms of what C would be in the F chord. And you think of many of the chords you might use, you find one of the notes that’s within that chord, even though you don’t play the chord. But the note will blend into it. That’s what I do.
Guitar.com: So you’ll hold on a certain note.
King: I’ll cheat.
Guitar.com: Cheat? That’s not cheatin’, that’s doin’ it.
King: Well, you can call it what you want. But I should be able to play the whole chord, which I’m not good at. So, I’ve found that if you take and play whatever you’re playing, a whole note, if you hold that note, whichever most of the notes that you might play, that’s why people that call themselves jazz musicians are much better than we are, because they know the progressions.
And the reason I mention the chord C is because you don’t have any accidentals in it. So if you want to make a dominant 7th, you would say C, E, G, B-flat. But the C still would work, even in B-flat, because it’s the second or the ninth. So anyway you look at it, you get a good whole note buddy, and hold on to that one. And when you can get your mind straight and start thinkin’, Oh, they’re back in the tonic key now. And then you can put your little stuff there. That’s the way I look at it.
Guitar.com: See, so you do know music theory quite well.
King: No (laughs).
Guitar.com: Ah, yes you do. What you just told me gave that away.
King: Yeah, well I know a little bit. I studied a little bit. I compose. I’ve been composing for years. I write a little bit. And people didn’t know it, but my early records, most of em I produced them myself. And then somebody said, when we did Blues On The Bayou or somethin’, “Oh BB produced a record!” And I said, “Really?” Most of the things, I just didn’t get credit for the early ones. People would put names on my songs and I didn’t even know who they were. It would say The King and Ling. Who the hell is Ling? I don’t know, that was just the way they could claim part of the song.
And so many of the things I produced, nobody mentioned it. I didn’t know then. I know today, but it doesn’t matter a lot. But it’s the way people make money off of ’em, which is fine. I feel that in this music business, everybody got to make their little taste. I just don’t want ’em to take mine.
Guitar.com: I understand that. When you say you compose, do you actually write sheet music.
King: Some of it, yeah.
Guitar.com: Do you really? So you read fairly well?
King: Not that well. But I read. I know the five lines and four spaces (laughs). I know those.
Guitar.com: When you’re recording, what advice do you have for people to really capture the sound that they’re looking for?
King: Wait a minute, what are you saying?
Guitar.com: When you’re in a recording studio and you’re laying down some tracks
King: I don’t never pay any attention to the studio. I pay attention to the people that’s playing with me. And if they’re playing what I want to hear, I leave it to the engineers to get what we’re trying to get. And most times they do. I’m no engineer, I don’t know nothing about that. So when I get in the studio I try very hard to get what we’re trying to get.
Guitar.com: Do you prefer to record with a live band?
King: Yes always. I have done it many times when they lay down the track and I come in and play, but I don’t like it really. You got the guys there and anecdotes and everything else. You can shoot the bull and get the feeling of each person, who gets your feeling as well. Generally you play better like that. You don’t just play stiff like, “That’s an A-flat and this is a G.” But if you’re playing together and there’s a mistake made, and they hear it, and usually they’re on the top of it, because you’re having a good time. And so it’s OK. After you get through with it it’s not a mistake.
But it’s not like that when you’ve got to play with the record man. You’ve got to play with the record of whatever the guys laid down, you’ve got to do whatever you can do within that. The only advantage to me is that you can just stay there and rehearse it for 24 hours. But if you play with the guys when they lay it down, you still can do the same thing, cause if you don’t like your part you can keep doin’ it ’til you get it where you do like it. That’s why I say playin’ with ’em is always better.
Guitar.com: Plus the overall sound, with bleed through on the mics, adds something
King: Well, I say again, the technical part in my case is left to the engineer. If you’ve got leakage and you hear it later on when it’s being mixed, that’s his problem. But I think when you lay down good sides man, it’s a good side. I don’t care what they do with it. It’s a good side and if it blends it’s gonna blend however he mix it. If you can hear it.
Guitar.com: There’s a lot of albums that have come out even just this year, re-releases of stuff you’ve done in the past. Are you aware of all those things? They’re not all through MCA.
King: We have what we call BMwhat, BMA? [Editors note: BB is referring to music licensing organisation BMI.] Wait a minute. I can’t recall the name of it, but there’s an organisation that keeps track of everything that comes out on everybody. And if you’re a member of that, you always know. So yeah, I’m aware of everything. We’ve kind of, in the past 20 years, we’ve been able to keep hands on everything that comes out. It’s just like General Motors: If anybody copies their cars, they know about it. Or do you know that?
King: Well that’s the same way with us. I’m with a big company, MCA. They’re a big company. Big enough now I’m doing some other things. But their whole conglomerate is a big conglomerate if you will. And so they’re aware of most of the things that have to do with us.
Guitar.com: Do you ever go back and listen to some of your older stuff? Do you ever listen to Live At The Regal?
King: Sometimes, yeah. I don’t play it around you, or nobody else. But sometimes I listen. I have an MP3 with me, and I’ve got over 3,000 tunes on it, and about 400 are mine. So yeah, I listen to some of ’em. If it’s one I think I could sing. Or at least I thought I could. (laughs).
Guitar.com: I realise that you change the arrangements of the way you do things, you change the feel sometimes.
King: Yeah. Do you feel the same way every day?
King: Well, that answers your question.
Guitar.com: Do you sometimes go back and, for instance, doesn’t it open with Every Day I Have The Blues?
King: I don’t know what it opens with.
Guitar.com: I know it’s been a while. My band plays some of those tunes, and it’s a very up-tempo tune. But then I’ve heard you play it as a slow blues
King: Like I said, you don’t feel the same way every day so why should you play it the same way every day? If I was on the stage every day and had to do the same thing, I would be bored to death. So I’d have to add a little something here or take away a little something there.
So when I’m playing as a traveling musician, there’s never any place where people follow you everywhere you go, so what I play tonight, that was for them. What I play tomorrow is for the ones I’m playin’ for tomorrow. So I never try to – I’ve heard of a few people that do something in the studio, they can’t remember it, so when they get onstage they play a tape of it and they mouth the rest of it (laughs). So that’s what it would be to me.
Guitar.com: So how does your band keep up if you decide one night to play it as?
King: I give them the privilege of playing what they feel. Just play the progression, but play it the way you feel it tonight. For example, I have people quite often that say, “Well blues is simple, you’ve just got three chords.”
But damn, in those three chords man, there are many notes to be played many notes. The I, IV and V God there’s many tones in there. So you play the ones that sound good to you. As long as it’s within the chords, you’re home free buddy. And that’s what I tell my band: Don’t be stiff. This is why a lot of people, they call it simple, but it’s why I told them, Anybody can play blues, but everybody ain’t gonna like it. And the ones that specialise in blues, like myself everybody don’t know BB King. A whole lot of people don’t know me.
Guitar.com: Is that what keeps you on the road?
King: Well it has.
Guitar.com: Trying to reach new people?
King: Always, always.
Guitar.com: Well it’s cool that you do that.
King: As I told you a while ago man, I mean it’s just obvious: You go to any city and you don’t hear blues being played. How could they possibly know BB King?
Guitar.com: There is one major station here in Chicago, WXRT, that plays a mixture. They play everything from brand new rock ‘n’ roll recordings to blues recordings and old jazz recordings and everything. And they’re a pretty major station here. But otherwise, nationwide, you’re right. I’ve lived all over the country and it’s pretty sparse.
King: Well, you just have one in Chicago that does it. I don’t know any others other than what I told you.
Guitar.com: So you have an MP3 player that holds 3,000 songs?
King: It holds more than that.
Guitar.com: Do you put the songs in there yourself?
King: Well, I can download them from my computer. But I used to buy, oh God, I can’t tell you even how many vinyls I’ve bought through the years. Some years ago I had about three or four thousand and I donated ‘em to the University Of Ole Miss. And since that time I imagine I have three or four thousand more. And a lot of them never came out on CDs.
I don’t go on the interline or anything like that, or Internet I should say, and try to download them. I don’t ever do that. But I got my own vinyls, and I put them on there. Not the whole vinyl because I never bought a vinyl or LP, whatever you wanna call ’em I never bought one that had everything on it I wanted. So what I usually do is download the tunes off of it that I want. And I’ve got over 3,000 like that on it.
Guitar.com: So you’ve got a system set up so you can put on the vinyl record and capture that into your computer?
Guitar.com: And then download it into your MP3?
Guitar.com: Wow, that’s great. I need to learn how to do that (laughs).
King: Well, you’re young, you can.
Guitar.com: Someday I’ll figure it out.
King: You can. I’ve got a turntable I put the vinyl on it, and run it through I have a way of running it through, then take the computer and download it.
Guitar.com: So what are some of your favourite or your most prized recordings that you have?
King: Oh man, that’s hard to tell. But I’ve got many by many. One of my songs, if you ask me my favourite song, is Willie Nelson’s Always On My Mind. That’s my favourite song of all time.
Guitar.com: Which you just re-did on Reflections.
King: I didn’t do it very well.
Guitar.com: Oh come on.
King: Not compared to him, the way I hear it I didn’t. But I was satisfied with what I tried to do. But that’s my favourite song.
Guitar.com: Really? Has that been your favourite for a long time?
King: Oh God yeah. He’s one of my favourite singers.
Guitar.com: You’ve played with him a little bit, haven’t you?
Guitar.com: On some of his recordings. Didn’t he do something with you on, what was it, Dueces?
King: Deuces Wild.
Guitar.com: Right. Didn’t he appear on one of those two? You did two of those.
King: I don’t remember how many, man. But yes, the question that we did do some things together: Yes.
Guitar.com: He’s got a lot of soul in him.
King: Say again?
Guitar.com: He’s got a lot of soul in his singing, a lot of feeling.
King: Whatever you want to call it. I tell you, you guys are the critics. I’m just a musician.
Guitar.com: Well I am actually a critic by accident, by not having pushed my musical career as hard as I probably should have. So, I’d rather be on the musical end of it.
King: Well, to each his own.
Guitar.com: Yep. Anyway, I really enjoyed your show last week. I’ve seen you quite a few times through the years. The first time I saw you was up in Anchorage, Alaska, back in the 70s. Have you played up there often?
King: Not often, but I usually go up there. I’ve visited all the 50 states from time to time. All of them.
Guitar.com: You play so often, what do you do on your nights off?
King: Oh, that depends. I’m a – shall we say – I’m not a partyin’ person like a lot of people are. I enjoy sittin’ back watching TV, like old movies. I’m crazy about old cowboy movies.
Guitar.com: Oh really?
King: Oh yeah. I don’t watch too many
Guitar.com: Are you talking about John Wayne era?
Guitar.com: Or Gene Autry era?
Guitar.com: All of it?
King: All of it. I like some of the new ones too. I like Clint Eastwood and a few of the other guys, but those old ones are the ones. Wild Bill Elliott. Oh boy, I could name you a whole lot of em back there, but I couldn’t afford to go see them. Today they’re available, and I got cable at my house. And oh, I sit back – that’s what I enjoy. I’ve got an old truck, one of them old El Caminos. The last one they made I think was in ’84. I’ve got one of them. It look like a car, with the exception of the back of it is like a pickup.
Guitar.com: Right, right.
King: So I’ve got one of them. And like I said earlier, I live in Vegas. I like to drive up in the mountains around the valley there. See the wildlife. I can say I’m a country guy. I came out of the country and they never did get it out of me (laughs). So it’s still there. I don’t fool around a lot so, I’m not married. I’m divorced. I’m tryin’ to think of a saying I want to say, but it all leads to just being a regular guy. Just a regular guy.
Guitar.com: That’s certainly what you come across like. All right BB I really appreciate your time.
King: Nice talking with you.
Guitar.com: Yes, it was nice talking with you. I look forward to the next concert, here in Chicago or wherever else I may run into you.
King: All right, next time let me know who you are.
King: All right.
Guitar.com: I will do that. Thank you.
King: Is that a deal?
Guitar.com: Thank you sir.
King: I said is that a deal?
Guitar.com: That is certainly a deal.
King: (laughs) OK.
King: Bye bye.
Guitar.com: Take care.
Get the latest news, reviews and features to your inbox.Subscribe