Blues Legend Still Performing

Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — B.B. King has just opened a new nightclub in New York City's Times Square. He and Eric Clapton are riding the wave of a hot, new album, and last February, he won yet another Grammy Award.

Oh, and King's 75th birthday is Saturday.

That and more than 200 concert dates a year is all part of what makes the legendary guitarist ``the king of the blues.''

``Nothing is really driving me. I am doing what I like to do,'' King said in a recent telephone interview. ``Playing the blues is one part of it. I like meeting people, entertaining people.''

King has been doing just that from the time he discovered the guitar as a youngster at the Holiness Church in Kilmicheal, Miss.

It was there that King met the Rev. Archie Fair, a preacher who directed his flock by playing guitar. He taught the eager youngster how to play a few licks.

``He was the one who motivated me to be a musician,'' King said. ``I wanted to play the guitar like he did.''

As a young man, King played blues and gospel music on the streets of towns in Mississippi and Tennessee, and in the late 1940s, hooked up with bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson, who had a show on a Memphis, Tenn., radio station.

Williamson eventually gave King some airtime and set up the musician with one of his first gigs.

``He was one of the first to help me in the business,'' King said. ``He's a great person.''

King went on to record dozens of albums over the ensuing decades. His signature songs include ``Sweet Sixteen'' and ``The Thrill Is Gone,'' which he wrote after the breakup of his second marriage in 1966.

``Riding With the King'' (Duck/Reprise), King's collaboration with Clapton, debuted at No. 3 on The Billboard 200 in June and already has been certified platinum. King calls the album — the musicians' first despite a friendship that began in the 1960s — his best ever.

``I think we did some good work,'' he said. ``This one has gone further and done better than anything else we have done, so I think it would be the best.''

It was Clapton, said King, who ``picked the songs, picked the studio and the cover of the CD. He is a genius. He is a very remarkable young man.''

King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984. Three years later, he earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He demurs when asked if there is anyone new on the music scene that he would like to play with.

``I can answer your question better if you ask me who I would not like to play with,'' he said. ``I can't think of anybody. It don't all have to be blues people. It's people. I like to play with people. I like music. I think I have played with John Lee Hooker to Pavarotti. I like to play with people.''

The blues legend also likes the Internet, a medium he thinks will prove beneficial to musicians despite the technology bomb that Napster recently dropped on the recording industry.

``It is a good way to promote your music, but copyright and things of that sort are something that will have to be worked out and they will be worked out,'' King said.

``I remember when they didn't want you to have a VCR, but they worked it out and I think for the best. Smart people always get together and work it out.''

King knows the blues of 2000 are not the same as the songs he learned as a sharecropper's son in Mississippi, but he's confident the genre is moving in a good direction.

``You've got the young people today and they got their ideas about music, blues, whatever. They not only have their ideas about it, they are playing it and supporting it,'' he said. ``It has evolved quite a bit from when I was a kid to now.''

King says he's evolved as well.

``I think I have gotten better. I know I have tried to get better,'' he said. ``I see things a lot different today at 74 than I did when I was 14. For one thing, wisdom comes with age. Don't you think so?''

King says he's unsure what the blues will be like 20 years from now. ``But I am very optimistic about the way it is going.''

``It is more popular today than it ever was since I have been trying to play it, so that gives me reason to be optimistic,'' he said. ``I am hoping that one day you can turn on your radio and you won't be segregated with the music. You will be able to get some of all kinds.''

And B.B.? What about you?

``I am not doing too bad for a 74-year-old,'' King said.


On the Net:

B.B. King's Worldblues Web site:

King Biscuit Blues Time Show: 7/8 blues/bb.html

B.B. King Electric Blues: