From the USA Today: INDIANOLA, Miss. — B.B. King's fingers were lightning fast, too smooth to be described as machinelike.
His peers, even the most accomplished ones, would watch in amazement. How does he do that? He had no explanation. His fingers, he told them, were simply an extension of his soul.
King, a teenager then, knew he was good. He could pick more than 400 pounds of cotton a day. His personal best was 480.
"I had a cousin, Birkett Davis. Me and him could pick a bale of cotton a day. That was 900 pounds back then," King says. "And, man, we were proud of that. I still am."
King's fingers eventually moved from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to the neck of a Gibson electric guitar, affectionately nicknamed Lucille. He has played his signature blues in 90 countries. In 1987, he earned a lifetime achievement Grammy and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Just shy of 83 (his birthday is Tuesday), he's still making music. He plays about 100 shows a year and released a new album of blues standards, One Kind Favor, in August.
Listen to what the blues master has to say about the $15-million museum bearing his name that's slated to open Saturday in the small Mississippi Delta town where he sweated for a few cents a day picking cotton nearly eight decades ago.(LA Times)
Little is missing from B.B. King's wish list these days.
"Well, maybe a beautiful woman to hold in my arms," he says with a smile. "I love women."
Twice divorced and the father of 15 children, he has battled diabetes in recent years, but his health appears good. King looks slimmer than he has in years, though he has trouble maneuvering stairs or standing for long periods of time.
"Honestly, I feel great," he says, sipping a Diet Coke shortly after the unveiling ceremonies for the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, which opened Saturday here in his hometown of Indianola after five years in the planning.
"I sure don't feel 82 — or 83. Whatever I am."
"When you're running track, they pass you -- I don't know what you call it . . . -- the baton. I just picked up the baton and kept running with it. But guys like Robert Johnson, Jimmy Rogers, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, and I could name you many, many more -- they are the ones that were the base," King said last week during a stop in L.A. "They could have picked any one of them to name the museum after." (LA Times)
He's still hungry for knowledge. "My brain is like a sponge. I'm interested in anything out there. I want to learn. Because to be honest, I always feel sort of second-best when I am around people who went to school, who got an education."
Sitting on the stage of a small auditorium where visitors can watch a short documentary about his life before touring the museum, King is in a reflective mood.
He's thinking of his mother, Nora Ella King, who died when he was 9.
"I would pay whatever it would take for a picture of her," says King, a white handkerchief in his left hand alternately dabbing away sweat and tears. "I don't even have a good picture of her in my mind.
Elvis Presley and BB King
"A lot of people back then thought if you let somebody take a picture of you, you were giving them your soul," King explains. "Plus, taking pictures was complicated and expensive. We were country folks who didn't have a lot of money."
And away he went, on a precious ramble down memory lane, about growing up as a hand on a plantation where they ate whole pigs, ears and all. Where they drank crystal-clear water from an artesian well. Where they had no electricity and nothing but work awaiting them at sunrise. Where worries seemed few.
He earned 75 cents a day chopping cotton, 35 cents per hundred pounds picking it.
Map: Indianola, Mississippi
"But don't get me wrong, that was a lot of money in those days," King says. "I loved my work and I loved my life."
Saturday was always his favorite day. He was off work by noon and headed to town as quickly as he could put on a fresh shirt.
King became interested in the guitar at age 6 while watching the Rev. Archie Fair pick and sing at the Sanctified Church of God in Christ in Indianola. King bought his first when he was 12, a red Stella acoustic. It cost $15, about his monthly salary.
"I worked for the Catledge family, and Mr. Catledge agreed to buy it for me, and he would take out half of it one month, and then half the next," King says.
He even wanted to be a preacher.
"But when I would go into Indianola and play there on the corner of Church and Second Street every Saturday, I got different reactions," King recalls. "When I played gospel, people would pat me on the shoulder and tell me I was going to be good one day. But when somebody asked me to play a blues song, they would also give me a tip.
"Sometimes I made more money on Saturday than I made all week driving a tractor."
"I don't live in my home state now, but I bought some land down there and I was going to build me a house on it," he said softly. "After my demise I wanted this to be open as a museum . . . But they said, 'Why wait till you die? We do it now, you could see it!' I like that idea." (LA Times)
He moved to Memphis in 1946 to pursue a music career. The blues were taking hold of him.
At some point in the past 62 years, that turned around. King got hold of the blues and redefined the genre.
In 2003, Rolling Stone named King the third-best guitar player in history, behind only Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman.
"Like a fool I let 'em come to my house and I said, 'Anything you want, you get it.' And they took damn near everything except the house -- and me," he said, still chuckling. "But I'm glad to do it, because I love to share everything I've had, trying to learn to play blues and trying to do what I've done." (LA Times)
"No question, B.B. King is the most influential blues player of all time," says blues historian Scott Barretta, host of Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Highway 61 radio show. "The way he bent the strings, his phrasing, his technique" changed the blues.
"B.B. grew up around traditional Delta blues, but he wasn't totally defined by it. He also loved big bands like Count Basie and the Kansas City swing sound. He took all that and created his unique sound. And just about anybody who plays blues or rock has been influenced by it." (source: USA Today)
PBS American Roots Episode 3: Chapter 2: B.B. King