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One Kind Favor
an interview with
B.B. KING

by Robert Silverstein


Still rockin’ the blues at 83, B.B. King is a living treasure of American music history. Back in 2005, people began owning up to King’s legacy thanks to an excellent book appropriately called The B.B. King Treasures (Bulfinch Press). Packed with 116 full color and B&W illustrations including 12 removable artifacts, plus a 60 minute CD, this entertaining biography of B.B. King is an essential primer on his blues history. 2008 opens yet another vital door for the king of the blues bringing forth a new studio album made with T-Bone Burnett, entitled One Kind Favor and the September 13, 2008 opening of the B.B. King museum near his home town in Mississippi. A freshly recorded set of favorite tracks inspired by B.B.’s early years, One Kind Favor is a studio classic that takes its place among six decades of classic King music. Calling in from the road for this July 2008 interview, B.B. spoke about One Kind Favor, the B.B. King museum, his Lucille guitar and his perpetual influence on generations of blues and rock guitarists that followed in his footsteps.

{The following interview with B.B. King first appeared as the cover story interview for the September 2008 issue of 20th Century Guitar. MWE3.com now presents the complete interview in its entirety}

MWE3: B.B., it’s Robert Silverstein from 20th Century Guitar magazine. I’m in Queens in New York City. I guess you know the area.

B.B. : Yes, I know a bit about it.

MWE3: It’s really hot here today. I guess it’s in the mid...

B.B. : Most states today, even in Alaska. (laughter)

MWE3: I hope you can hear me okay.

B.B. : You’re not okay, but I can hear you.

MWE3: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you for this interview for 20th Century Guitar magazine. You were on the cover about eight years ago.

B.B. : I was?

MWE3: How’s the current tour going? I hear you’re selling out every show.

B.B. : Well, not every, but we come pretty close most times.

MWE3: Are you coming back to New York for some shows in the future?

B.B. : Well I hope so!

MWE3: I’m from New York originally and my dad had a restaurant in the same building as your former manager, Sid. I don’t know if you remember going into his old restaurant, the Chambers deli on 6th Avenue.

B.B. : I may have because Sid and I were together 35 years. He was one of my best friends and my manager.

MWE3: Are you playing tracks from the One Kind Favor album on the tour?

B.B. : I will be very soon.

MWE3: Are you using another guitarist on tour?

B.B. : Well, I’ve been using one all the time. It’s never been when I didn’t have one, in the last 20 or 30 years.

MWE3: I guess you’re still featuring Charlie Dennis on guitar in your group.

B.B. : Yeah, Charlie Dennis. He’s been ill over the last couple of days but he’s still with me.

MWE3: How does a second guitarist compliment your sound?

B.B. : Well it helps, of course! Did you ever notice a rock and roll band, most all of them have two or three guitars. I keep one.

MWE3: Sorry to hear that Charlie isn’t well...

B.B. : We were in Oregon yesterday and we had to put him in the hospital but I talked to the doctor this morning and they say he’s doing good.

MWE3: Charlie uses a Gibson too?

B.B. : Yes he does.

MWE3: You’re famous for your Gibson 355 guitar...

B.B. : It’s been so long since I played a 355, it’d be hard for me to tell you if it plays the same. But I can tell you that it’s just what I liked.

MWE3: Can you say something about your signature Lucille guitar?

B.B. : It’s the same that I’ve played. The only difference is they made one for me to commemorate my 80th birthday and it has 80th on it, and my name and a few things. But the volume and the tone control, the neck and all that’s still the same.

MWE3: Can you compare your Lucille signature to the 335?

B.B. : It’s just been so long since I played one, I can’t tell you. But I enjoyed it when I was playing the 335, ‘cause I played it for a very long time. When I first found out about it, I got one and I loved it. And I played it for a long time. But I usually just play one on the road. I carry two guitars, but the second one is just in case something gets wrong with the one I’m playing. I never play it, I mean carry it for any other reason. I love the way it fingers. I’m a pretty big guy and fits well with my big old tummy. And it sounds good to me, to my ears. So, I can’t tell you much more about it. It’s just my cup of tea.

MWE3: So your signature Lucille guitar is a Gibson 355.

B.B. : That’s what I’m saying yeah, the 355.

MWE3: How did you hook up with T-Bone Burnett and what was it like working with him for the One Kind Favor album?

B.B. : I’ll answer the last part first. I enjoyed working with him. He’s a very good producer and I enjoyed working with him. He was helpful but he never tried to change me from being myself. He sometimes had some ideas that he would give and when he did that...you know, it was helpful. The first part, you asked me how did I meet him? My manager that I have now, introduced me to him. Floyd Lieberman introduced me to him. And we met in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And had a talk. I enjoyed meeting him and enjoyed having a meeting with him and we went from there.

MWE3: What kind of a vibe or ideas were you were going for during the making of the One Kind Favor album?

B.B. : Yes, that too. But I think he had talked with our company Geffen Records prior to talking to me. And I think he had their go-ahead on it if I said okay. And yes, he did have some ideas. He wanted to try and recreate some of the sounds and the things we did in the early years of my career. Which I knew that would be very hard to do because my voice is not as good, and probably can’t play as well. But we didn’t just sit by and try to do it note for note but I think we did a pretty good job when I listen to it. And I have listened to it lately and it seemed like we did a pretty good job on it.

MWE3: What guitars are you playing on the album? Did you bring out any rare guitars?

B.B. : No I told you! I only play one guitar. (laughter) Only one sir. Only one. I’m like a good husband. I’m a one woman man. Only one. The only reason I would play another one is if they had some idea for something. So I might would have played another one, but I generally don’t. I generally won’t play nothing but my own guitar.

MWE3: That’s your signature Lucille guitar?

B.B. : Well not necessarily the signature from that one guitar. I could get the sound, I’m sure, from any guitar I pick up. But it’s just that I’m comfortable playing that one. And when you’re comfortable with something, why get uncomfortable?

MWE3: There’s a lot of other players accompanying you on One Kind Favor, including guitarist Johnny Lee Schell. Was he playing rhythm guitar?

B.B. : Let me try to clear something. Everybody on that session was a professional musician and I like them all. Every one of them. They were terrific, they were professional, they were helpful. And half of them I knew very well. And the rest of them I enjoyed completely. So it was like an old time jam session. We all got together and we all decided what we were going to do and how we wanted to do it. It was straight ahead from there on.

MWE3: I heard you were sad when the album was finished.

B.B. : I was, yes. And another thing I’d like to mention. You know, even though it’s in my name, but everybody put their two cents in and they was welcome to do so ‘cause I enjoyed it. In other words, I asked the opinion of everybody that worked on certain things we wanted to do. And they gave their opinions freely. And I enjoyed that too.

MWE3: I heard there’s some additional tracks from the One Kind Favor sessions. Will those ever come out?

B.B. : You’ll have to ask the producer on that one sir. I’ve been making records all my...well for 60 years. I started in 1949. And its never been that I hardly went in the studio and just did what we planned to do. There’s always some...I believe on TV they call them outtakes. (laughter) So there’s always been some outtakes. A few times here, in my life, long after I left the company, I hear a few on them. What can I tell you? I have no idea. So much because they don’t usually pay for them.

MWE3: From One Kind Favor, “Get These Blues Off Of Me” is truly haunting. That’s the “T Bone” Walker track.

B.B. : Yes, I think it is. To be honest with you, right now, today, I don’t have it near me and I couldn’t tell you who’s song is what. But one, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” stays with me all the time ‘cause that was a Blind Lemon song. That one stays with me. I don’t know why they chose to make it the name of the CD, but I’m glad they did because it’s a song that I’ve been hearing since I was a boy. I never thought I’d ever try to do it though.

MWE3: It’s got that real haunting quality to it.

B.B. : Well, I don’t know about all that. All I know is it’s me and the band. And we did the best we could do on all of them.

MWE3: Another One Kind Favor highlight, “How Many More Years” is a real swinging cover of Howlin’ Wolf. Was that your idea or T-Bone’s idea?

B.B. : I never wanted to be like Howlin’ Wolf. I think he was a great, great blues singer but I’ve never wanted to be like him or play like him.

MWE3: The “Haunted House” song is another great song.

B.B. : Oh, the Lonnie Johnson. I think that was Lonnie Johnson, another one of my idols.

MWE3: I think you’re going to reach out to a whole new market with the One Kind Favor album.

B.B. : Well I’ll tell you what. I’m glad to hear that because we need all the help we can get.

MWE3: I guess it’s never to late to learn more about the history of the blues.

B.B. : Well, we’re hoping that the ones that haven’t learned, they’re going to open the museum up in Mississppi, in my home town. It’ll be open on September the 13th. And for the ones that want to learn more about it, they’ll have an opportunity because we will have whole lessons about the origins of it and the many, many blues singers from Mississppi and around the world.

MWE3: It’s going to be a big draw. You’ll be down there for the opening?

B.B. : Oh course! If I’m alive. (laughter)

MWE3: I didn’t mean to ask a stupid question.

B.B. : I didn’t mean it...I didn’t try to answer that like it was stupid sir. I’m 82 years old so... The 82 year olds are dropping like flies now. I just saw where a couple of the great news people died. And some other people died, that’s near my age. A couple of them were older but...we never know!

MWE3: After one listen to the One Kind Favor album, it’s clear your still alive and well.

B.B. : Well...I am, except I’m a diabetic and I’ve been that for 25 to 30 years. But other than that, yes I’m pretty good for an 82 year old.

MWE3: The B.B. King Museum opens on September 13, 2008, in just a couple months. Will it be completed or is it coming about in phases?

B.B. : Completed according to what they tell me. It’ll be completed by September the 13th, which is a few days before my birthday. And so it will be officially opened by my birthday, the 16th of September. But they will open it on the 13th of September.

MWE3: Can you say something about how and when the B.B. King clubs started?

B.B. : They mainly use my name. I’ve got a little money in some of them. But I don’t own them. But yes, I’d be glad to talk about them. We just opened a new one in Orlando about five or six months ago. It’s the newest one. We started with one in Memphis, one in Nashville, one in Connecticut at the big Native American place. And then we have one on 42nd and 8th Avenue in New York. We’ve got one in Universal City, in California, near Hollywood. And we just opened the sixth, I think it is in Orlando, Florida.

MWE3: The 42nd Street club is the hottest spot in Manhattan these days.

B.B. : Well, I’m glad to hear it. We need all the business we can get.

MWE3: Live At The Apollo was just reissued by Universal. That’s got to be one of your greatest live albums.

B.B. : Well, you writers and critics know better than I do. Each time that I do a CD, of whatever I’m doing musically, I do the best I can do at the time. But I tell you true. A lot of times my best is not like as good as I wished it could be. But I think we did pretty good on that CD.

MWE3: Kenny Burrell played on Live At The Apollo too.

B.B. : Oh yes, he was with the big band. Yes, of course. One of the best.

MWE3: Any memories of Eric’s Crossroads festival?

B.B. : Of course I remember. I’m 82, I’m not senile. A great person. I love to call him a friend, and not only that. In my opinion he’s number one as a rock and roll guitarist. Nobody plays better to me than he does. And I think he plays blues as well as most of us and better than a lot of us. And not only that. He’s a good man. A real gentleman. A great man.

MWE3: Looking back, 40 years ago, were you amazed by the number of great British blues players in the ‘60s?

B.B. : No, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised that a lot of them were so young but I wasn’t surprised that there were a lot of good players ‘cause I’d been hearing about them. So, no I wasn’t surprised.

MWE3: I think players like Peter Green and Kim Simmonds and Eric sounded greatly influenced by your sound.

B.B. : I hear people saying that but I’ve never heard them say it.

MWE3: Maybe your didn’t get the right amount of respect back then.

B.B. : Well may I say something to you? B.B. King don’t get records played like Peter Green or Eric Clapton or any of the people do. You don’t hear blues on radio every day, about B.B. King. And not a lot of the young good guitarists, blues guitarists. You don’t hear them. They don’t play it. There’s only two stations, there’s two satellite stations that you can hear blues everyday. Those are the only two in the United States. I’ve travelled from city to city to city and you hear most everybody you mentioned but you don’t hear blues players, not even Stevie Ray Vaughn. Robert Cray. You don’t hear any blues players, hardly. I do hear a bit now and then of John Mayer. Not Mayall. Mayer. But he’s about the only one and he’s not considered by many, and I think even himself, to be a blues player. He’s a rock and roll player that plays blues. But most of the blues players. Jonny Laing, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, many of them! Cory Harris. Keb ‘Mo. A lot of ‘em, you just don’t hear them played on radio. I don’t know where you live. But if they play them where you live at, and you hear them daily if you want to, you’re different than most of us. So how can we ever be known? Advertisement...all that is one of the reasons people know about things. But if you’re not played, for whatever reason that might be, you can’t expect us to be known as well. And had it not been for a lot of those British musicians that mentioned they listened to myself, Howlin’ Wolf and many others, you wouldn’t hear as much about or we wouldn’t be known as well as we are! They’re the ones that helped us. So naturally, when you talked to me, you were telling about all the people you listened to, I can understand! (laughter) I only had one record to be played like others, unless I was with some of the superstars. When I made “The Thrill Is Gone” they played it like they did others, but other than that, these many years I’ve been out here, they don’t play my records. There was a time during the ‘50s, early ‘60s that we got quite a few plays but after that and before that, no. We monitor the music industry, maybe like you do. But look in the Billboard. I looked in the Billboard about a month ago and got shocked! (laughter) At one time we were considered rhythm and blues. Then after a while, I guess we lost the rhythm. We’re just blues players. And they’re kind of like...when you look at the Billboard, you’ll see one little spot that says blues. And everything else is just rap, rock and roll. Country still holds its own pretty good. But blues is sort of like the step child, they put him way in the back of the store. (laughter) So if you look at a Billboard you’ll see what I’m talking about. Let it be known. What’s the question?

MWE3: I guess Eric was the guy who opened the flood gates of the blues and made it more accessible for the baby boomers.

B.B. : What about people that were around at that time before him. What about their music? Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Muddy Waters and many others. What about them? The Rolling Stones even named their group after the “Rolling Stone” tune that Muddy Waters did. What about those guys?

MWE3: We have go back and rediscover our own music heritage.

B.B. : I don’t think we have to.

MWE3: I guess that’s why the museum will be so vital.

B.B. : I hope so. But you can’t blame the young kids! They hear what they hear. I don’t blame ‘em at all.

MWE3: I heard John Lennon said you were such a big influence. Were you surprised about that?

B.B. : Yes, I think you probably read about that. But yes, I was very surprised. The most well known group in the world was The Beatles and for one of them to like me I was shocked.

MWE3: I played your song “Ghetto Woman”, that you made in 1971 with Ringo and Klaus Voorman. What was it like playing with Ringo?

B.B. : Oh, you mean the drummer? Yes, of course. Live In London was what it was called. Live In London was where he played the drums.

MWE3: Speaking of Lennon, I thought he took some of your stuff and reworked it.

B.B. : Well I never heard that. I think John Lennon was John Lennon.

MWE3: Any memories of working on Martin Scorcese’s film on the blues?

B.B. : You keep talking as if you think I’m really senile and I can’t remember anything. (laughter) You’ve asked me several times do I remember. Of course I remember! He never did bother us. He just let us play! He wanted people to know what we had. And he didn’t try to be a teacher or instructor or anything of the sort. I think he did that mostly like he’d do movies. If he saw a flaw or saw where something could be changed or something like that, you know the producer would tell us. But other than that, they just let us do what we do best.

MWE3: Anything else you’d like to say about the new album. Closing thoughts?

B.B. : No, no more than I enjoyed doing it and I thank the people for helping me and thank T-Bone and everybody for making it possible. I use the word, better late than never. I’m being discovered 60 years late. Thank God.

MWE3: One last question. Are you still collecting CDs?

B.B. : Yes, I still do. More than you’d dare to count. (laughter)

MWE3: I’ve been enjoying rediscovering your music. I thought I heard everything and I guess I didn’t.

B.B. : You listened to what you heard. I don’t blame you either. I say to my band and other people sometimes, ‘Jesus Christ could be coming to town tomorrow. If nobody knew it, there wouldn’t be many people there.’

MWE3: You may have been overlooked back in the ‘60s with all the rock and roll...

B.B. : How can you put that may have been overlooked?

MWE3: Definitely overlooked.

B.B. : (laughter)

MWE3: I would just tell anybody who missed it the first time, if you grew up listening to the Beatles, the Stones and Cream...

B.B. : I wouldn’t stop ‘em from listening to them ‘cause they was great. But I would beg the radio stations, the people that got the power to play them, to play some of them. To mix it up. I was taught when I first used to hear about radio, that radios were communications for the area. One of the things about the USA, is we can’t go to war without fighting some of our people. So if that’s the case...we’ve got so many different ethnic groups in the U.S. So why can’t something be played for all of them. But then I think about it. Everybody in the business, whatever business they’re in, they’re in it to make money. So they try to make money and they play or do whatever they think they can do to make money. Can’t blame ‘em for that.

MWE3: But a lot of the younger players are bringing the torch forward so to speak. Like you said, John Mayer. And Joe Bonamassa...

B.B. : But if they didn’t play em! Are you listening? If they didn’t play him, nobody would know it. Joe Bonamassa and I have worked together on many shows. But if he wasn’t heard, how would people know how to pick up the records? What would they know? And just like yourself. If you didn’t hear B.B. King or Muddy Waters or some of the others, naturally you would listen to what you could hear. That’s easy to recognize. And I don’t blame anybody for it. ‘Cause I don’t own the radio stations. I use the word better late than never. I’m being discovered 60 years late. (laughter) So, thank God.

MWE3: It’s great to bring the history into the now.

B.B. : I personally think that it’s better late than never, but why?

MWE3: I hope to see you at B.B. King’s in New York.

B.B. : I hope you’ll say hello when ever I’m near you.

MWE3: Just keep bringing the music out and telling people where it all came from.

B.B. : Well, I thank you but, we’ve been doing that all the time. I never stopped. I remember reading where, some of the superstars, they said they weren’t going to play blues because nothing was happening but we that played blues were playing them long before they were born! And we're still playing ‘em today. It’s just a matter of getting them on the air or where people can hear them. And let the people make up their own decision.

MWE3: It’s going to be great to feature the museum, the new album and where so many of the younger players got some of their best ideas...

B.B. : Well, let me thank you for what you’re doing. I’m not bitter about this. And I’m glad for the young people because they come along at a time when they are being heard. We just wasn’t. And I’m not the only one. There’s many of them. I hear people talk about Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf you mentioned earlier, and many of the great, great blues singers. Why can’t they be heard as well? I’m not blaming people. I’m just saying why? So, it’s nice talking with you. All the best to you. Bye.

Thanks to B.B. King @ www.BBKing.com and www.BBKingmuseum.org - Sujata Murthy @ Universal Music - Jerry Brown @ SoltersPR.com - www.bulfinchpress.com and to Arnie Goodman @ www.Bluestormmusic.com

 

 













 
 
 
 
 

 

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