National Blues Act
Royalty gets its due
If any artist is synonymous with the blues, it's B.B.
King. He's written the music's biggest pop hit ("The Thrill Is Gone"), recorded
dozens of albums, and toured incessantly since the late '40s, and he continues
to play more than 200 dates a year all over the world. His rich, stinging
guitar approach -- full of ringing vibrato, airy sustain, and sharp-as-a-needle
emotional accuracy -- has been imitated by more musicians than that of any
other guitarist on the planet. Only John Lee Hooker (surprisingly absent from
the Best Music Poll following his crowd-pleasing Guinness Fleadh dates of last
summer) has walked the walk and talked the talk for so long with similar
And through it all, King has remained one of the nicest men in show business:
generous and respectful to his audience, his band, and anyone else he
encounters. He also remains prolific, popping up with new cuts on movie
soundtracks and releasing two albums on MCA within the past 12 months: the
Louis Jordan tribute Let the Good Times Roll and the brand-new Making
Love Is Good for You -- a philosophy by which this ladies' man has lived.
He's also never forgotten his roots. King came from poverty in the cotton
fields of Mississippi, and he still returns once a year to put on a free show
for the folks in his hometown of Indianola, where he spent part of his tough
childhood. After his mother died young, King lived alone for a time before he
was even in his teens, often cowering in fear and loneliness in a shotgun shack
through the pitch-black pre-electric Delta darkness. "I made myself a promise
that if I grew to be a man I would do three things," he once told me. "I would
always have a good suit of clothes to wear. I would eat whatever I want
whenever I wanted it. And I would sleep with the light on."
Today, at age 75, King's light still burns bright as a star's.