My meeting with B. B. King

Dick Waterman
Mon Nov 29 01:08:03 EST 2004

I spent several days in Las Vegas with the packagers of an upcoming book that
will celebrate B. B. King's 80th birthday (September of 2005).

We visited him at home on Friday and I had the chance to be one-to-one with
him for several hours with recorders going. I am pretty ignorant on technology
matters but I can tell you that the sound people were cutting CDs, not taping,
as we talked. We stopped every 45 minutes so they could put in a blank CD and
then we continued onward.

I will just summarize a few points from memory since I did want you to know
that I paid attention to your requests for what you wanted me to ask.

As we were starting,   he remarked to people in the room that we have known
each other for almost 40 years and that I had worked with artists who were HIS
mentors, including his cousin, Booker White.

Someone sent me an e-mail that said that "Riley King" had played guitar with
Memphis blues great Frank Stokes many years ago. BB just shook his head when I
asked him about that. He said, "Boy, that's taking me way way back. I had
just moved to Memphis and my cousin, Booker White, used to play with Frank on
weekend afternoons so I just tagged along. I had my guitar with me but I couldn't
keep up with those two so you can say that I 'played along to play along' but
I would never go so far as to say that I played with Frank Stokes."

Anyway, he seemed genuinely happy to recall Stokes so I am grateful for the
person who suggested that I ask him about it.

I tossed some names at him and he jumped up in his chair when I said "Ike
Turner." I know that BB is six years older but Ike was in professional music
before BB.

He said that he had made four sides that had gone nowhere so he had no career
happening at all when ike approached him on behalf of Jules Bihari and
offered him $100.00 front money and a half penny a side royalties. BB said that he
would mark his career from that point onward and he is forever grateful to Ike
for bringing him the deal. BB is immensely fond of Jules Bihari and spoke very
warmly of how he was treated by him.

He said that he had met several Presidents but had no real affection for any
of them between JFK and Bill Clinton. He has a photo on his wall of him posing
with Lee Atwater and the first George Bush. I knew that he had played at his
Inaugural Gala but I knew that it would be a mood breaker to bring that
subject up so I avoided it.

i wanted to spend time getting him to discuss his Kennedy Center Award and I
think that I got some things out of him that he had never discussed before.
When he was at the White House reception for the five honorees prior to going to
the Kennedy Center, he said that President Clinton told him that he had seen
him play.

BB gave this a congenial nod, thinking that it was meaningless small talk but
then Clinton told him where he had seen him, when it was and who else was on
the show. BB did a double take because Clinton had exact recollection on every

I asked him what he felt when Bonnie Raitt, Doctor John, Steve Cropper and
the others had finished their tribute and 3000 people came to their feet and
looked up at him as he stood next to President and Mrs. Clinton.

I said, "It's a long ways from indianola."

He couldn't really bring forth his emotions in words but he tried to explain
that he knows that there are better guitarists, better vocalists and better
entertainers. He feels that he is supremely blessed to have somehow reached fame
and financial security while others have not.

I kidded him that his dressing room these days is filled with dozens of
people who once worked for radio stations, night clubs, ballrooms, record companies
and other businesses that have long ceased to exist.

He knew that I was joking but he gave me a serious answer. He said, "Those
folks all did something for me at some point. Maybe it was 30 or 40 years ago
but I needed them back then and they were there to help me so my dressing room
is always open to them. I hope I never get to a point where I don't remember to
thank the people who helped me over the years."

When we were finishing he said, "I remember that you used to stutter really
badly years ago and I stuttered too when I was offstage. So how did you stop

i said, "I guess that i got good at doing something and I got some confidence
and my stuttering went away"

Then I said, "How did you stop?"

And he put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said, "Same way."

He is a geuinley nice man and I hope that you know that I was aware that I
was representing you while I was talking to him.

Dick Waterman
Oxford, MS

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