The thrill isn’t gone for ‘The King of the Blues’

The thrill isn’t gone for ‘The King of the Blues’

HOLLYWOOD – After more than 10 000 concerts spanning seven decades, the thrill hasn’t gone for B.B.King.

Now 81, the guitarist and singer-songwriter known as the undisputed “King of the Blues” is back on the road again for a 60th anniversary tour across the United States. Even though this year’s schedule has been reduced from the average of 240 concerts he was playing annually until 2005, a demanding programme of around 150 dates in 2007 puts other, younger artists to shame.Yet while King suffers from chronic diabetes and bad knees – he performs every concert sitting down – he cannot imagine any other life.Part of the reason for staying on the treadmill, he says, settling into an armchair on his sumptuously furnished tour bus, is necessity.”I have a disease which I believe might be contagious,” he tells AFP.”It’s called ‘need more.’ “I haven’t had the number-one hits followed by number-one hits through my career.I only had one hit that was being played everywhere and that was ‘The Thrill is Gone.’ So I’m not in a position to put my feet up.”But another reason King stays on the road is because it’s the best way of getting his music heard.”With the exception of satellite radio today I don’t hear no blues playing on the radio,” he says.”So one of the reasons I travel a lot is so I can carry the music to the people.Because if I don’t carry it, it don’t go on the air.”The evergreen octogenarian offers no explanation for the gradual disappearance of the blues from the airwaves.”It’s like you driving down the road in your car,” he says.”You see someone walking along you want to pick up – you pick them up.But if you don’t want to pick them up, then you don’t.”With so many thousands of concerts under his belt, it would be understandable if stage fright was an acquaintance that King had lost touch with long ago.Not so, he says.Even today, nerves accompany the build-up to every live performance.”You just never know what’s in store,” he said, moments before taking to the stage at Hollywood’s Koday Theatre on Saturday.”For me, it’s like going to war.The audience know more about me than I know about them.”When I go on stage I still feel like a little boat in an ocean.All out there by myself.Some people call it stage fright.Some people tell me it’s concern.But I think it’s like going to see your in-laws for the first time.”And if you’ve ever been married you know what that’s like.Oh my god.”Born to sharecroppers in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Riley B.King began life as a plantation worker.He had graduated to tractor driver – “A pretty good tractor driver too, if I might say so” – when in 1948 he was invited to play at the 16th Street Grill in West Memphis, Tennessee.”On the plantation we used to say that we worked from ‘can to can’t’ – from when you can see, until you can’t see.My salary then was 22 dollars a week.”But when I played that first show at the Grill they paid me 12.50 a night.Big difference.The lady there told me that if I could get on the radio she would give me six nights a week work – 12.50 a night plus room and board.”Sixty years later, King stands as the most renowned blues musician of the 20th century, his beloved ES-345 Gibson guitar known as “Lucille” responsible for one of the most easily recognisable guitar sounds in the world, the laid-back economy of his playing influencing countless thousands of musicians from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to U2.Last year he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States (the medal is pinned proudly to the lapel of his jacket).The honour, King says, was a bolt from the blues.”I wondered how they got my name – how they knew about me,” he said.”I knew that in the Armed Forces if you did something special they give you a Purple Heart.But I didn’t know there was anything like that for civilians.So it was a wonderful honour.”Further honours are in store for King next year, when the B.B.King Museum and Delta Interpretive Centre opens in Indianola, Mississippi, not far from his birthplace.King graciously accepts the accolades.Nevertheless he still confesses to regrets about his musical career.”I wish I’d practised more, worked harder,” he sighs.”Because I could have been better than what I am.I can play, yes, and people credit me with being pretty good.But I know my own limitations.”There’s a lot I don’t do today that I wish I could.I hear other people play and I get shamed.”Even at 81, though, King says there is still time for improvement.”I learn new things every day,” he says.Can he ever imagine a time when he won’t be playing the blues? “Yes.I’ll be dead.I want to be able to play until they take me away.”Nampa-AFPEven though this year’s schedule has been reduced from the average of 240 concerts he was playing annually until 2005, a demanding programme of around 150 dates in 2007 puts other, younger artists to shame.Yet while King suffers from chronic diabetes and bad knees – he performs every concert sitting down – he cannot imagine any other life.Part of the reason for staying on the treadmill, he says, settling into an armchair on his sumptuously furnished tour bus, is necessity.”I have a disease which I believe might be contagious,” he tells AFP.”It’s called ‘need more.’ “I haven’t had the number-one hits followed by number-one hits through my career.I only had one hit that was being played everywhere and that was ‘The Thrill is Gone.’ So I’m not in a position to put my feet up.”But another reason King stays on the road is because it’s the best way of getting his music heard.”With the exception of satellite radio today I don’t hear no blues playing on the radio,” he says.”So one of the reasons I travel a lot is so I can carry the music to the people.Because if I don’t carry it, it don’t go on the air.”The evergreen octogenarian offers no explanation for the gradual disappearance of the blues from the airwaves.”It’s like you driving down the road in your car,” he says.”You see someone walking along you want to pick up – you pick them up.But if you don’t want to pick them up, then you don’t.”With so many thousands of concerts under his belt, it would be understandable if stage fright was an acquaintance that King had lost touch with long ago.Not so, he says.Even today, nerves accompany the build-up to every live performance.”You just never know what’s in store,” he said, moments before taking to the stage at Hollywood’s Koday Theatre on Saturday.”For me, it’s like going to war.The audience know more about me than I know about them.”When I go on stage I still feel like a little boat in an ocean.All out there by myself.Some people call it stage fright.Some people tell me it’s concern.But I think it’s like going to see your in-laws for the first time.”And if you’ve ever been married you know what that’s like.Oh my god.”Born to sharecroppers in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Riley B.King began life as a plantation worker.He had graduated to tractor driver – “A pretty good tractor driver too, if I might say so” – when in 1948 he was invited to play at the 16th Street Grill in West Memphis, Tennessee.”On the plantation we used to say that we worked from ‘can to can’t’ – from when you can see, until you can’t see.My salary then was 22 dollars a week.”But when I played that first show at the Grill they paid me 12.50 a night.Big difference.The lady there told me that if I could get on the radio she would give me six nights a week work – 12.50 a night plus room and board.”Sixty years later, King stands as the most renowned blues musician of the 20th century, his beloved ES-345 Gibson guitar known as “Lucille” responsible for one of the most easily recognisable guitar sounds in the world, the laid-back economy of his playing influencing countless thousands of musicians from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to U2.Last year he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States (the medal is pinned proudly to the lapel of his jacket).The honour, King says, was a bolt from the blues.”I wondered how they got my name – how they knew about me,” he said.”I knew that in the Armed Forces if you did something special they give you a Purple Heart.But I didn’t know there was anything like that for civilians.So it was a wonderful honour.”Further honours are in store for King next year, when the B.B.King Museum and Delta Interpretive Centre opens in Indianola, Mississippi, not far from his birthplace.King graciously accepts the accolades.Nevertheless he still confesses to regrets about his musical career.”I wish I’d practised more, worked harder,” he sighs.”Because I could have been better than what I am.I can play, yes, and people credit me with being pretty good.But I know my own limitations.”There’s a lot I don’t do today that I wish I could.I hear other people play and I get shamed.”Even at 81, though, King says there is still time for improvement.”I learn new things every day,” he says.Can he ever imagine a time when he won’t be playing the blues? “Yes.I’ll be dead.I want to be able to play until they take me away.”Nampa-AFP

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