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B.B. King talks about music and more...
By Ellis Kell - Argus/Dispatch Blues Columnist

B. B. King, born Riley B. King in Itta Bena, Mississippi (1925), has long been regarded as the undisputed monarch of the blues, and the renowned bluesman shows little signs of slowing down his tour regimen.

Recently capturing his fourth Living Blues Magazine award for Outstanding Blues Singer, King has received accolades the world over. His 1996 autobiography, ``Blues All Around Me,'' unveils the story of his evolution from hard-working young field hand in Mississippi, to hard-working DJ on Memphis radio, to hard-working blues musician and bandleader. The key word is always hard-working, for it is the essence of B. B. King the man, the performer and the human being and it continues to define the 72-year-old bluesman to this day.

Once knocking out as many as 340 performances annually, The ``King of the Blues'' decided a few years ago that it was time to ``slow down'' to 200 or so dates a year, a regimen that would tax more than a few musicians.

``Blues All Around Me,'' is the portrait of a self-made performer and entertainer (and self-taught sales and marketing man), who has always known his strengths, limitations and faults. B. B. King is humble yet proud, confident yet cautious, and never seems to take himself too seriously. The trials and tribulations along the road to becoming a blues icon for the world find him now with the same basic and unfaltering devotion to the blues that have remained in his heart, soul and music since the early days in Mississippi and Memphis. Throughout the ups and downs of the music industry, and the state of the blues' popularity at various points in his career, he has witnessed and weathered the acceptance, the rejection and the re-birth of his music and the blues in general on numerous occasions. From his childhood memories of legendary bluesman and cousin Bukka White, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, to his early success in Memphis in the 1940s and '50s, on through the decline of blues popularity (and virtual rejection of the music by much of the black community), throughout the various ``rediscoveries'' of it in the last four decades, B. B. King has traveled many miles with his muse.

A long-awaited album of duets with contemporary music superstars, ``Deuces Wild,'' was released on November 4, pairing King up with such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart, Dr. John and Van Morrison. King has shelved seven Grammys to date, five W. C. Handy Awards, The NAACP Blues Image Award, the Presidential Medal of the Arts (1990), has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was presented with a Kennedy Center Honor for distinguished achievement in the performing arts.

The Blues King has appeared in the Quad-Cities area several times over the last three decades, and never fails to pack them in. Each return performance brings new audience members into King's fold, most of whom remain devoted fans for life. And those fortunate enough to have personally met B. B. King are left with no doubt as to why he has retained the title of ``American ambassador of the Blues'' for so many years.

Mr. King took time out from his busy schedule recently to chat with us. Here
are the results:

I recently read (and thoroughly enjoyed) your autobiography, ``Blues All Around Me.'' What has been the response from those close to you, and from your fans?

It's been mixed -- some like it, and some think I maybe shouldn't have told as much as I did. But overall, it's been favorable.

Though it's obvious from reading your book that Memphis will always be the ``Home of the Blues'' for B. B. King, you mentioned the important role Chicago played in development of modern blues. There are efforts in Chicago to save the Maxwell Street area, much as Beale Street was saved in Memphis. Do you have any comment you'd like to make on behalf of the preservation of this historical area in Chicago's blues heritage, or on the preservation of blues history in general?

I think Chicago opened its arms to Muddy Waters and the young blues players that followed him, and did a tremendous job of preserving the blues. I think it s a good idea, though I'm not too familiar with Chicago and didn't spend much time there. Anything that has to do with the preservation of blues music and the people that made it, the people that recorded it, and the
city that preserved it, I'm for it.

As a veteran DJ in Memphis, what is your take on commercial/corporate radio today?

Any station, whether privately owned or supported by donations, has to make money. It seems to me that today the conglomerates are starting to put more blues artists and blues programs on the air today, much more than they ever did before.

I your book you expressed very fond memories of Stevie Ray Vaughan and his talent. Besides sharing a strong common influence from the legendary T-Bone Walker, you had a great mutual admiration and respect for each other as bluesmen and as human beings. What was it about the Texas guitar-slinger that made such an impression on you?

He believed in what he was doing. He didn't just play the blues as a ``fad,'' or as a way to make money -- he loved doing it. To me, he was like a son.

Many young bluesmen, such as Keb 'Mo, Jonny Lang, Corey Harris, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and ``Monster'' Mike Welch are working to carry the blues tradition into the next millennium. If you could only send one message along with these new blues players, what would it be?

Continue doing what you're doing. That would be it -- because each one of them is fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. Corey Harris, who is on the show with us, is a fine young man and he's doing a great job.

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