Tag Archives: blues

Jazz Suite for Flute Quartet

This three-movement work features different jazz styles in each movement. It opens with the up-tempo swing tune “Two-Hand Hot!” featuring intertwining solo lines for the entire quartet. “KB Blues” is a medium tempo blues piece with a classic style blues bass line and groovin’ melody with an improvised solo section for flute. The closing movement, “Irregular Swing,” is a fast swing tune reminiscent of bebop classics, but with changing time signatures that keep the players and audience on their toes. 

Jazz Suite for Flute Quartet, by Peter Senchuk, Forest Glade Music

Daryl Davis: A Life Driven by Harmony, On Stage and Off

When Daryl Davis of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) was 15, he did what some people say you should never to do: he met his hero after sneaking backstage at a Chuck Berry concert.

Davis was always enamored with the blues and early rock ‘n’ roll icons, especially Berry. A child to two parents in the Foreign Service, he experienced the cultural lag of listening to international radio. “While my peers were growing up with Frankie Avalon and the Beach Boys, I was hearing Elvis Presley [and] Chuck Berry. I was kind of an anomaly when I would come back,” says Davis.

A self-taught guitarist and pianist, Davis copied the piano playing from Berry’s songs on the radio. He studied music in the library for hours, and sat in with local bands at gigs. When considering a career path in his junior year, Davis looked to Berry. What Davis really admired was how Berry touched people and brought them joy and happiness. “I decided that’s what I want to do,” says Davis. After his senior year, he enrolled in Howard University to study music.

Though his dream of someday playing with Berry seemed improbable, Davis began writing him letters. “I told him I was learning to play piano like Johnnie Johnson and Pinetop Perkins; I told him everything about me,” says Davis. Berry never wrote back until Davis’s 18th birthday when he got a message from Berry and a poster of the rock icon.

Pianist, author, and lecturer Daryl Davis of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) has built his life around the promotion of racial and musical harmony.

Shortly after graduating from Howard, Davis joined the AFM and convinced a promoter to let him play piano and hire the backing band for a Baltimore Chuck Berry concert in 1981. At age 22, Davis achieved his dream.

“I went to his dressing room [before the show] and asked, ‘Is there anything in particular you want me to do on the piano’ and he said, ‘Well, you wrote in your letters you’ve been playing like Johnnie Johnson and Pinetop Perkins. Do that,’” recalls Davis.

From that day, Berry became a mentor and friend. Eventually, Davis acted as bandleader for Berry’s East Coast shows. “I learned a great deal, not only about music, but about life,” says Davis. “He was a shrewd businessman and I avoided some of the pitfalls that a lot of musicians fall into. He spent a lot of time with me and that’s certainly shaped who I am today.”

Thanks in part to that wisdom, Davis built an impressive career as a respected boogie-woogie and blues pianist. He has played with the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll and blues, including B.B. King, Bo Didley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Percy Sledge. He was heralded by mentors Johnnie Johnson and Pinetop Perkins for his ability to master a style of music popularized a generation before he was born.

Another key to his success was his union membership. “It’s benefitted me by being around other professional musicians—networking, getting legal advice, and contract advice. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, serious musicians that I can call and rely upon,” he says. “It’s also a comfort knowing that there is a union that will fight for me and provide me things that I need to further my career.”

Davis also acts as artistic director for multiple groups across the country. When he’s not working, he mentors young musicians in the Artist in Residency (AIR) program at the Strathmore Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. The program teaches them about the business, including self-promotion, contracts, and booking agents.

Davis says it’s a way to give back. “[My mentors] could have easily said, ‘Don’t bother me; go learn somewhere else.’ But they sat down and showed me stuff,” he says, “and that inspires me to do the same thing for young musicians who are in the place I was some 55 years ago.”

To Davis, it means a great deal to the pass down the legacy of the music as well. Last year, he was asked to write and produce a play about the history of the blues to be shown to all fifth graders from Montgomery County School District in Maryland. “It’s important to learn the history of American music, and the blues is definitely underrated and under-taught, especially in elementary schools,” he says. “[Black musicians] have always been under-credited with the musical contributions we have made to this country. Almost every form of American music has some roots in blues, which was born out of slavery,” says Davis.

The history of blues and its roots in slavery are not overlooked when Davis talks about his decades-long mission to promote racial harmony, which has brought him face to face with white supremacists. It all began following a gig at an all-white country bar. A man came up to Davis and said that this was the first time he’d ever heard a black man play like Jerry Lee Lewis.

“He invited me to his table to have a drink,” Davis says, who explained to the man that the roots of Lewis’s music were black musicians. “The man said it was the first time he ever sat down and had a drink with a black man. I was naïve, so I kept asking why. He told me, ‘I’m a member of the Ku Klux Klan,’ and when I started laughing, he produced his membership card.”

This encounter sparked Davis to seek the answer to a question that had been on his mind since childhood: How could you hate me, without even knowing me? Davis figured the best way to answer that was to get face-to-face with Klansmen and ask. He has spent around 30 years studying the Klan, attending rallies, and setting up surprise meetings with Klan leaders who were unaware of his skin color.

Not every interaction was as amiable as sharing a drink. He calls to mind an incident at a courthouse where a group of Klansmen and women assaulted him before law enforcement intervened. Eventually he published the book Klan-Destine Relationships about his experiences.

However, Davis was welcomed by many Klansmen, in part through his music. He even played piano at a Klan funeral for Frank Ancona, former Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, whom he considered a friend. Davis says that 200 Klansmen have given up their robes after talking to him.

Though Davis is an in-demand lecturer on race relations, he has also faced backlash from those who believe his methods are “politically incorrect.” “People will criticize me and call me a sellout. It’s not that I support [racist] ideology. I support people’s right to speak their mind. I’m willing to sit down and listen to them and talk,” Davis says.

He believes dialogue is essential to improving modern race relations; there is no other choice. “If you and I agree racism is bad, then we don’t accomplish anything by talking to each other. We have to go out and find those that disagree with us,” he says.

For Davis, all his efforts on stage and off come down to the pursuit of harmony. “It is my job as a band leader to bring harmony among the voices on my stage,” he says. “When I step off the bandstand, I maintain that concept. I want to bring harmony among the people in the society that I want to live in.”


How do you connect with your community? Is there a cause that you support? Tell us about it. Please write to International Musician managing editor at: cyurco@sfm.org

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs

Author Martin Popoff examines the music of Led Zeppelin as a complex amalgam of blues, rock, folk, and country. He details each of the group’s 81 studio tracks—how and why they were created and the historical context, as well as the recording process. Sidebars detail personnel and instrumentation for each album. The book contains many rare performance and offstage photographs, along with memorabilia.

Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs, by Martin Popoff,
Voyageur Press, www.quartoknows.com.

Bonnie Raitt: Slide Guitar Legend Digs in Deep and Speaks Out About Fair Pay

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-6by Matt MindlinBlues legend, accomplished guitarist, and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member Bonnie Raitt was fortunate to have early opportunities to play with legends of the genre. Throughout her career, the singer songwriter has never been shy about standing up for causes she believes in. For the daughter of musicians John Raitt and Marge Goddard, both music and social activism are in her blood.

Though Raitt started guitar lessons at age eight, her real passion didn’t begin until a few years later when she first discovered slide guitar and the blues. “I didn’t even hear slide guitar on a blues record until I was about 13 or 14. It was a record on Vanguard called Blues at Newport ’63. I turned the record over and combed through the credits,” says Raitt. She soon soaked the label off a Coricidin cold medicine bottle, put it on her middle finger, and began teaching herself slide guitar.

Interested in culture and politics, Raitt began college at Harvard/Radcliffe studying social relations and African studies. Between classes she spent her time playing music at local coffee houses. About three years into her studies, she decided to pursue music full-time.

That was about the same time she joined Local 374 (Concord, NH). “You couldn’t make a record unless you were part of the union [in those days],” she says. “Musicians need to band together to make sure they are treated fairly. There’s power in the union and talking about issues that affect us all—collective bargaining for better deals, health insurance, making sure that people get paid, and tracking is really important.”

Learning from Legends

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-5 Marina ChvezRaitt soon found herself opening up for some of her heroes: Fred McDowell, Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker, to name a few. It was a world that you might assume would be intimidating to a young woman, but she says it was just the opposite.

“When I met these older blues artists and they heard me play, they got a kick out of it, just like they were thrilled with all the people who played the blues,” she reflects. “Of course, if you were good they admired you, and if you weren’t good they probably just wrote you off; that was the same for any musician—you either had the chops or you didn’t.”

In fact, the blues musicians were so accepting to Raitt that she feels it gave her an advantage. “I was lucky to have my foot in the door a lot more than other female singers that would have loved to have had a career in the business. I played the blues and that was a little bit unusual. It set me apart,” she says.

She studied from her mentors—how the music fit together, the function of the rhythm section, and which guitar or piano parts were important. She was also schooled in some intangible qualities. “Aside from just soaking up the authenticity, deep groove, and passion,” Raitt says she studied the way band members interacted and the interplay of the rhythm sections.

“I watched how they worked the crowd and built the set with dramatic pauses, how it just came naturally and how incredibly erotic and playful [it was], and the heartache on the slow songs,” she says.

Digging in Deep

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-1 by Marina ChavezAbout 45 years later and 20 albums into her own career, Raitt’s latest project, Dig in Deep, still reflects all the emotion and technique she’d absorbed decades earlier. “All the topics of the songs I picked because they mean something to me at this time,” she says. “Having it be the 20th album, I’ve covered a lot of heartbreak topics before. I worked very hard on having a new thing to say and a new way to say it.”

As usual she didn’t shy away from tough topics. For example, she says, “‘Comin’ Round Is Going Through’ was something that was really burning in me to express how frustrated I am with money and politics—how democracy has been hijacked by big business and corporations that are influencing our policy too much. Regardless of your political leanings, I think everybody agrees that the system is kind of broken.”

“I think we are citizens first and we are musicians, artists after that. If you feel strongly that something is wrong, you should speak out as a citizen. We have responsibility, if we have the luxury of being well-known and having a microphone, to at least be informed and passionate,” she says. “I think all of us should speak out if we care about something and we want to help.”

The album’s title takes a line from the lead song, “Unintended Consequence of Love.” “It seemed to describe how deep the band was digging into these grooves,” says Raitt. “There’s something about a unit that has been together this long that just digs deeper. It’s effortless, like an unspoken language amongst ourselves. We instinctively know where the others are going and consequently don’t have to plan the arrangements. It’s very organic.”

Band members include Local 47 members James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass), Ricky Fataar (drums), and Mike Finnigan (keyboards), and Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member George Marinelli (guitar). Raitt has played with Hutch and Fataar since the early ’80s. Marinelli has played guitar with Raitt on and off since 1993, and has been a permanent band member since 2000. And even though the newest member, Finnigan, has been with the band for just four years, Raitt has known him since the ’70s.

Going Indie

_images_uploads_gallery_BonnieRaitt_ConcreteStairs_Credit_MarinaChavezDig In Deep is the second album that Raitt has released on her own label, Redwing Records. The first, Slipstream, released after a seven-year recording hiatus, achieved success beyond what even Raitt had expected. It earned her a Grammy (her 10th) for Best Americana Album in 2012, and was one of the best selling independent albums for that year, selling more than a quarter million copies.

Raitt says that one of the keys to their successful label launch was the research and prep work they did. “We had been getting coached for several years before we suited up and started our own label. We watched a lot of people who have gone independent and learned by talking to them and finding out what we could do better and what they would have done differently. It is a strong learning curve, a lot of effort, but it’s really satisfying,” she concludes.

“It’s great to be able to own your own music and make a little more per CD, but it costs a lot to have the people to run your company. It’s a question of having a team willing to put in the savvy and expertise—accounting and reporting back. It’s a lot of work for the mighty group of three women running Redwing,” she continues.

“It’s exhilarating and it’s fun. The drawback [to independence] is the level of work. We have a large extended team, not just in our office—great people in my band and crew. I think the important thing is to pick people who are good to their families and good to work with. When you have quality people with integrity, then it’s a pleasure. You also have to be honest when it’s not working.”

This new world of music self-promotion, while satisfying, can present a challenge for new artists, admits Raitt. “Starting out, there are just thousands more out there competing for the same print or Internet interview time, or radio time. It’s tough to be independent, if you are not already famous. I feel sorry for people who are just starting up,” she says, advising, “You just have to stick with it. Take a look at other artists whose careers are going in the right direction and who seem to be handled smartly and try to do what they are doing.”

“But, man, it’s hard to keep up! Every time I think I just found my next 10 favorite new songwriters, a week later I’ll get another bunch. I’m so excited about the quality of music coming out—the avenues for new music and old music. The younger generations go across the musical aisles and get immediate links to people like Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and endless links to great jazz artists. I don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time to be a music fan or a music creator,” she says.

Earning a Living

_images_uploads_gallery_bonnieraitt-3 by Marina ChavezHowever, she cautions that in all this openness and availability, we need to continue to strive for fair wages for everyone involved in the industry. “More musicians I know are staying on the road because that’s the only place they can sell CDs—after gigs, spending an hour signing them,” she says. “But, there’s a lot of people involved with songwriting and production of a record; they create the music we all enjoy and they don’t have the luxury of going on the road, so they can’t make a living. At some point it’s important to understand that buying music is critcal … do not assume that people are playing for free.”

“We need to make sure all the journalists, engineers, and bus drivers can make a living continuing to put great music out,” she says. “We have to figure out a way for that to be more fair and to have the musicians sitting at the tables, making the deals for streaming.”

“Let’s talk about what is the fair amount to get paid and how we are going to track how many plays we got. There are people not as lucky as me to be able to go out on the road and make a living. Songwriters are getting cut because the industry is shrinking. I don’t want to see that happen,” she says.

“I’m glad I got my foot in the door and got famous before this happened, but I’m going to pull everybody along with me,” she continues. “It’s just too important to have a wide variety. That’s one of the reasons independents and Americana format and public radio stations are important—to get the fringe music out there. Not everybody is going to be a Bruno Mars, you know?”

Keb Mo on cover

Keb’ Mo’: Modern Master of American Roots

keb moMusician Kevin Moore of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) paid his dues as a session musician, struggling to find his voice, before finally discovering the blues infused roots music he is recognized for today. When he debuted as Keb’ Mo’ two decades ago, he embarked on music that he admits is “too happy for the blues, too funky for folk, and too city for country,” building a successful career as a singer and songwriter in the wider genre of American roots music.

Mo’ recalls leaner times, and how hard he worked to establish himself as a Los Angeles studio musician. Then he got what he thought was his big break in 1980. “I had a nice record deal and it was a big flop,” he admits. “By 1982 nobody was calling me for gigs. So, I thought, ‘This is it.’”

He wasn’t thinking about giving up music, but he had his doubts about his ability to earn a decent living in the industry. “I was wandering around doing whatever—I played salsa music, blues, and I tried to play jazz,” he says.

Then something that he calls magical happened—though he didn’t know it at the time. He took a gig subbing for a friend in a blues combo at Marla’s Memory Lane supper club in Los Angeles. He continued playing that Monday night gig for two years, transforming himself in the process.

“That’s where I got my indoctrination into the blues; that was my fresh start,” he explains. Before then, Mo’ was resistant to playing the blues. “Growing up in L.A., in the pop songwriter scene and trying to do sessions, it wasn’t like I was going to get any traction playing the blues.” Or so he thought.

“I began to look at my gifts as they were, instead of what I didn’t have,” he explains about the transition. He says he’d always been a pretty good songwriter, had pretty good vocals, could play guitar, and had a good rapport with the crowd.

“The next thing I needed was commitment,” he says. “When I had commitment, that took me to another realm. I started getting a completely different reaction when I took inventory of myself and was willing to ‘die’ for my craft, so to speak.”

Keb’ Mo,released in 1994, earned gold-record status. For his second Keb’ Mo’ album, Just Like You (1996), he earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, as he also did with Slow Down (1999), and Keep It Simple (2005).

Mo’s blues infused, personal ballads come directly from his heart. “Songwriting has to be personal. I usually start with a thought,” he explains. “For instance, the funny little [song] ‘More for Your Money’ is a chronological look at the world of retail. “As a kid, I remember walking home from school in California. If I had a nickel left I could get a candy bar … a whole Snickers for a nickel.”

keb-mo-playingIt was the land of the brave, the home of the free, but some of our jobs shipped overseas;  … It was a high price to pay to get more for your money today,” recites Mo’. “They opened up a store that took a whole city block, whatever you need you know they got. But it was a hard price to pay to get more for your money today.

That song is on his BluesAmericana album released last spring, which he sees as a signpost of artistic and personal growth. “I really shared deeply,” he says, explaining how he expressed intimate feelings with a deeper understanding that comes from life experience. “It’s a deeper place, and a deeper sense of what you have to dig into to get yourself to the next place in your life.”

The album was nominated for the Best Americana Album Grammy, as well as Best Engineered Nonclassical Album, and its hit single “The Old Me Better” was nominated for Best American Roots Performance. Mo’ has credits on the album for banjo, guitar (acoustic, electric, resonator, and slide), harmonica, horn arrangements, keyboards, organ, piano, and tambourine. Plus, he produced the album himself with co-producer Casey Wasner.

“I want to stay in until the job is done to my own satisfaction and producers are expensive. Maybe I don’t have the budget for the producer that I would like to have, but I’ve got time on my hands, loads of time,” he says. “Maybe a producer could get it quicker, or they could send me down a path I don’t want to go. I have a clear path about what I like and what I think I am musically. I like to hold myself to the highest standard. I’m probably going to push myself further than a producer is ever going to push me.”

The album took about three months to produce, not including the songwriting. Having his own studio allowed him another advantage. He could set up the room exactly as he wanted. “Are you into feng shui at all? I set it up energetically. I wanted something really cool to happen,” he says.

The industry has changed a lot in the 20 years since his debut as Keb’ Mo.’ “You can’t stay in the way of change,” he concedes. “I’ve had to think differently and also pay attention to what is going on because it changes so fast. You really have to have one foot in the present and one foot in the future all the time.”

One trend that Mo’ is enthusiastic about is the resurgence in popularity of vinyl, something his audience seems to appreciate. He released a vinyl version of BluesAmericana this winter.

Aside from keeping up on all the changes, Mo’ says it is important to him to stay focused on his personal “dharma.” “I have to stay on the prime point of why I’m in the music business, which is to serve, to play music, to entertain, and to do my best as a person—to live my dharma and not do it for the sake of how many units I’m going to sell.”

keb-mo-albums“It always puts me back to [ask myself], ‘Why are you doing this? What if it all goes away? What if Spotify, CDs, vinyl, and everything goes away? What if the electricity goes away? What am I going to do then?’ I’m going to get my acoustic guitar and a cup and I’m going to play … unplugged,” he laughs.

One thing that Mo’ is certain of, no matter how the industry changes: roots music, like the blues will never go away. That means a lot coming from a man who dismissed the blues early in his career. “If you are a young person and having fun musically, at some point you are going to hear the blues. You may hear it before you hear it, but at some point, you are going to hear it and go, ‘Holy crap!’”

“Life is going to make you hear it. It might not be the blues, it might be old country, gospel, old folk music, but real music, real people,” he adds. “The blues is folk music, folk music is where all the classics and these things come from.”

“You can go and learn all your fancy scales and fancy chords and try to get the right beat and a hit record. It lasts for like two weeks and then you’ve got to get another one, but you can’t … But then you go to the blues, something real,” he says. “That’s why Van Morrison and B.B. King [of Local 71 (Memphis, TN)] can still work right now. There are a lot of artists who make a fine living who never had a hit because they dug into something real.”

The longtime union member, cites the AFM as an essential organization that has aided him in his career. “I was able to borrow money to get instruments, buy a car, and when I got poor, they worked with me to help me pay all my debts. And then there are all the ‘little things’—the recording fund, pension, and there are all kinds of benefits. If you work hard the benefits of being a union member will pay off and it will be a big key in your future when you are older, plus there’s the camaraderie,” he explains.

He says union membership is not just about the benefits; it’s also about the musicians decades ago who struggled to get fair pay and job protection for others. “You need to be a union member because the union is your heritage as a musician. People pay fair wages to musicians now because of the musicians union,” he says.

Mo’s advice to upcoming musicians, aside from union membership, is simple. “Don’t follow in my path, make your own path,” he says. “Be steady, learn all you can, learn to read, learn really good timing. Learn how to play a little bit when a little bit is needed and learn how to play a lot when a lot is needed. And always listen, listen, listen. Music is 90% listening and 10% playing.”



B.B. King: Travels with Lucille

Local 71 (Memphis, TN) member B.B. King and his guitar Lucille have traveled to 90 different countries together.

It’s a freezing winter night in the1950s in Twist, Arkansas. In a little club, people are dancing to a young blues guitarist. The warmth of their moving bodies heats up the place, as does a small kerosene stove in the corner. Two fans begin pushing one another over a woman named Lucille who works in the nightclub. They knock over the stove, and a river of flames engulfs the place.

People scramble for the doors. Once outside, the guitarist realizes that he has forgotten his $30 acoustic guitar inside the building. He rushes back into the searing heat. “It was hard to get instruments and I thought only of getting my guitar out of there,” says the guitarist, who goes by the name B.B. King these days. King, a member of Local 71 (Memphis, TN), named his guitar after the woman to remind himself never to do something so foolish as rushing into a burning building to save an instrument. These days, a wiser King, who is currently touring with Lucille XVI, would only commit a similar act of bravery to save a human life.

King’s 51 years as a recording musician and tour stops in 90 countries have ensured that Lucille is a name familiar to blues fans worldwide. Lucille has become a signature model guitar manufactured by Gibson to King’s specifications, and she’s taken the musician from the juke joints of the South to Carnegie Hall.

Money In the Hat

Today, King, who once made 35 cents a day picking cotton, is a multimillionaire as a result of his music. His most successful album, “Riding with the King,” in collaboration with Eric Clapton, came out when King was almost 75. It sold 4.5 million copies worldwide, and it’s estimated that, over the course of his career, King has sold over 40 million records. Mere financial gain, though, is not all that King has earned from his particular version of the blues. He has also been awarded five honorary doctorates from institutions as prestigious as Yale University and the Berklee School of Music.

These accomplishments are nothing short of amazing, considering that King started out on the street corners of his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi. In those days, King aspired to be a gospel musician, idolizing a local preacher who played guitar in church. Experience on the corners, however, sent him down a different path.

“When people would ask me to play a tune, if I played a gospel tune, they would always praise me highly, but hardly put anything in the hat,” he recalls. “People that asked me to play blues would always put something in the hat. That’s why I’m a blues singer.”

It didn’t take long for King to outgrow street corners. At 20, he traveled on the back of a grocery truck to Memphis, carrying only his guitar and $2.50 in his pocket. A few years later, King landed his own 10-minute radio show on WDIA, called the “King Spot.” On every show, he sang the sponsor’s jingle, “Pepticon, Pepticon, sure is good/ You can get it anywhere in your neighborhood.” Thus, the Pepticon Boy, as he was known, took the first step on his path toward musical legend.

New Opportunities, New Name

The “chairman of the board” belts out the blues in concert for dedicated fans.

King’s show was so popular that he was soon offered a job as a DJ. He played records by artists such as Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra, who would one day invite him to share “booze and broads” in Las Vegas. Before he could achieve the level of success that allowed him to hang out with Sinatra, he was told to change his name from Riley King to something catchy. For a while, he performed as Beale Street Blues Boy, then just Blues Boy King, until he finally shortened it to B.B. King.

To many black teenagers in the 1960s, blues was their parents’ music, largely a thing of the past. One of King’s hardest moments was at the Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland where he was booed by a young crowd that wanted to see the hot young acts on the bill, Sam Cooke and The Drifters. It stung King to be treated poorly, but as a sharecropper’s son from the South, he learned how to achieve his goals in spite of people’s cruelty.

“You knew it was something you had to do,” he says, likening that moment in Baltimore to racial difficulties from his childhood. “You’d go ahead and do the best you could, thinking you’re by yourself, that nobody cares. Life goes on.”

That same determination characterized King’s early career. He first recorded in 1949, including a song named after the first of the two wives he has had, “Miss Martha King.” It wasn’t until 1952, when he released “Three O’Clock Blues,” that King’s music caught on. The song, which was recorded in the back room of a Memphis YMCA, put places like Harlem’s Apollo Theater on his touring itinerary. King developed a distinct musical style in the ’50s through constant touring. In 1956 he played 342 shows, taking the sounds of influences such as T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson and combining them with other musicians he loved, such as jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian.

Growing Reputationand Rapport

This extended period of success culminated in the 1965 album, “Live at the Regal.” The album is still a favorite with fans and critics alike, partly because of the precision of the guitar work, but also because of King’s rapport with the crowd. Some of King’s most important fans at the time were the white rock musicians who borrowed heavily from the blues to develop their sounds. In a 1966 Crawdaddy interview Mike Bloomfield, guitarist for the Butterfield Blues Band, said, “B.B. King is one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived and more people should listen to B.B. King’s records.”

Legendary rock promoter Bill Graham took Bloomfield’s advice and booked King to play at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. When King pulled up to the club, he thought he was in the wrong place because of all the long-haired white kids milling around outside. He worried that he might get booed. King didn’t usually drink before shows, but was so nervous that he asked Graham to get him a drink. Graham got a whole bottle of whiskey for the anxious artist.

After a short introduction by Graham, who called him “the chairman of the board,” the crowd went wild. They gave King his first standing ovation that night. The 43-year-old blues giant was so touched, he cried on stage. In a recent PBS documentary on the blues, King still got choked up recalling the moment.

It was a turning point for King that signaled the direction his career has headed in to this day. King says that, in his early days, 90% of his audience was black and his age or older. Today, King says his audience is much younger than he is and 95% white. This is partly a result of musicians who have incorporated King’s blues into their own music.

King is thankful for the help he received from devoted fans such as Eric Clapton and Eric Burdon.

“People didn’t value what we did as anything special until the British groups started playing what I call Real Important Blues, and white people started to pay attention to it,” he recently told The New York Times. “These groups played it, supported it, and opened alot of doors for B.B. King and a lot of people like him,” the article’s author commented.

Strength in Numbers

B.B. King released his most popular and succesful album at the young age of 75.

A lot of doors were opened for King by the AFM as well. The blues chairman joined the union in 1949 because it promised “better wages.” He is most grateful, however, for the protection the union offered him.

“It’s an old and true saying, ‘there’s strength in numbers,'” says King. “Sometimes you’d go places and people wouldn’t pay you. The union was good then, because they’d put them on the unfair list and nobody would go and play for them.”

While the AFM helped King deal with the less pleasant aspects of the music business, the MP3 player that travels everywhere with him helps remind him why he chose to be a professional musician early in life. He keeps the music of his influencesWalker and Jefferson, as well as Lonnie Johnson and Muddy Watersclose at hand so that he can revitalize his passion for the blues at the push of a button. King says that listening frequently to his idols ensures that his music does not depart from what he cares most about.

King’s performances today give no indication that his success has taken away his feeling for the blues. Just like he did long ago that night in Twist, Arkansas, he makes people want to dance. When he’s up on stage, he plays for the crowd, not for himself. That’s why, from a sitting position, he and Lucille still have the power to bring people to their feet.

King says he performs every song as if he hasn’t played it before. This simple yet highly effective philosophy, shared with his band to prevent songs he has played for decades from becoming stale, underlines why he has continued to nurture an avid international following.

“Play it like you feel it,” he says, repeating what he tells his band. “Don’t try to play it like you recorded it 10 years ago. Play it today, like you feel it now.”

Visit the official B.B. King Web site at www.bbking.com.