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National Blues Act

B.B. King

Royalty gets its due

B.B. King 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 grandeur.

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.

-- Ted Drozdowski

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