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B.B. King still king of the road

  • B.B. King

At 87, blues musician B.B. King is still a touring machine. If you ask one of his friends about where he lives these days, you'll get, "Well technically Las Vegas, but really he lives out on the road," as Robert Terrell explains. He's the director of entertainment at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss., not far from where the blues musician was born on a Delta cotton plantation.

"There's no one who knows the road better than B.B."

He used to do 300 shows a year, but now it's somewhere between 100 and 200.

Since he first picked up a guitar more than 70 years ago, King has outlived many of his early blues compatriots to solidify himself as one of the greatest living bluesmen and the only one with the nickname, "The King of the Blues." His signature song, "The Thrill is Gone," is a classic. And his influence on guitarists, from Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix, is indisputable.

These days, just as fellow bluesmen John Lee Hooker and Solomon Burke did in their latter years, King pulls up a seat on stage, saddled with his old girl, Lucille, his prized guitar, and sings the blues.

Reviews can be mixed. In March, a Chicago Sun-Times reviewer wrote, "The thrill is still there to be found, however intermittently." In June, a Michigan reviewer wrote, "He may not play a lot of notes, but they absolutely are meaningful."

Since King rarely does interviews any more, we talked with Terrell before the Delta bluesman arrives to close out the Rodney Strong Summer Concert Series this weekend on Sept. 1. He gave us insight into the man born Riley B. King:

Q: What are some of your favorite B.B. King stories?

A: Well, there are so many. I like the one about how he left the Delta. He was parking a tractor in the shed after being in the field all day and realized he'd broken the exhaust pipe on the tractor.

He thought he'd better get out of there because he thought The Man was gonna do something to him. So he took off and left town.

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