Meetings with remarkable humans

B.B. King

Although I will admit that many of the encounters I have had with celebrities over my career as a radio host were brief, the hour that I spent with B.B. King in 1990 will remain a high point in my earthly experience.

The scene was backstage at a venue that he had played every year since it had opened as a music venue in 1970; a tiny room with holes in the wall from backstage rock ‘n’ roll antics, cheap stained indoor/outdoor carpet, and the smell of stale beer and the garbage dumpsters which were in the alley just outside the door.

One question I asked him while we were getting set up to tape our conversation got a response that was perhaps the most relevant to his character: noticing that he was still drenched with sweat thirty minutes after the show, even though he had changed his shirt, I asked why he was still working so hard. (At the time he was performing over 200 dates a year!)

I am sorry that his response did not make it on the tape.

He leaned in close and said, “..see all these folks who are with me?…my band, they all have families and they need to eat and wear decent clothes. They rely on me.”

Almost a quarter-century later, he was still on stage, and appearing in television commercials.

Today, finally, his body is at rest.

The man who’s music inspired and influenced The Beatles, Eric Clapton and millions of fans representing four generations, was kind and generous, and approached his ‘duty’ with such grace.

He was also very protective of his ‘road family’; that evening as we walked in, he was reading the riot act to the local promoter about the searing heat from the stage lights which had been baking his band members throughout the evening’s performance. He had too much class to further complain that the venue (a converted 1920’s movie theater) also had no air conditioning, and from my personal experience was often miserable in the audience areas during the summer months.

The rest of the conversation, for the most part, is preserved on video, and you can enjoy it at your leisure, but I wanted to offer my personal impression of the man himself.

He reminded me so much of my late grandfather, the encounter brings tears to me even today.

Strong, loving, spiritual, and having a clear purpose on how he should use his talents in this life, that was B.B. King. He was also overweight, having a physical presence much like my grandfather.

Generosity. They say it is one way you can live beyond your natural years.

The farm boy from Mississippi who started his life in a cotton field, when questioned about it, expressed no ill will to those younger musicians (like Clapton) who had borrowed so much from him, and actually saw his association with members of The Beatles and U2 as helpful toward his current agenda, which ultimately was feeding his ‘family’.

Spending high-quality time with a man blessed with this kind of grace qualifies as sixty minutes so precious, I am grateful that it was documented, because that means I can share it with you.Throughout my career, brief, ‘hallway meetings’ with great performers like Earl Scruggs, Iggy Pop and Dan Fogelberg, were noteworthy, but now you understand why that hour sitting knee-to-knee with the ‘blues boy’ of Mississippi, for the rest of my days, will remain at the top of my list.

See and hear the entire interview :

Terry Wilson

Posted on Facebook in May, 2015