PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR, Wednesday, January 21, 1998

MEETING POPE WAS HIGHLIGHT: B.B. KING

Gets 1st gold album in 48 years, Blues Brothers 2000 coming up

 

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

 

TORONTO --

 

The undisputed King Of The Blues calls meeting POPE JOHN PAUL II "the highlight of my life," but says he didn't offer him any lessons after giving him a replica of his prized guitar Lucille.

"No, I did not," chuckled RILEY "B.B." KING, who recalled his December 18 visit to the Vatican during a rare press conference yesterday afternoon as he held court prior to a concert at Toronto's Massey Hall last night.

Known for such classics as "The Thrill Is Gone," "Caledonia" and "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother," the 72-year-young King said he was practically speechless during the brief meeting.

"I was so -- I don't know the word to use -- but I was so excited," said King, his eyes widening as he sat impeccably dressed in a grey suit, leaning forward on a chair cushion.

"It was the highlight of my life. I'm surprised I was able to say something. I remember saying, `Holy Father, I have a gift for you.' And he looked at me and said `Thank you.' I gave him the guitar and he said, `Thank you' again. Then he said `Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones,' and it seemed like I passed out. I don't remember anything else."

"I'm not Catholic, but I love it."

Reminded that the Pope himself is a musician who has released a few albums, King was asked how he'd feel if Lucille was utilized by His Holiness for a Papal recording session.

"I just hope that he'd be pleased and get some pleasure out of just having it, "King replied. "That's what I hope."

King mentioned he was ribbed afterward by some of his associates who attended the event with him.

"Some of my guys were telling me that as they were leaving, they heard him play `The Thrill Is Gone' in the back room. I know they were lying," he smiled.

Meeting the Holy Father is just the latest honor in a distinguished career for the affable bluesman, a calling that includes a truckload of "Lifetime Achievement" awards, Kennedy Center Honors, a Presidential Medal Of The Arts, eight Grammies, and membership in the Blues Foundation and Rock and Roll Halls Of Fame.

Ironically, another award had eluded him for 48 years and 58 albums until he was presented it yesterday -- a gold album for his latest project, Deuces Wild, a star-studded duet disc that pairs the blues master with such pop legends as VAN MORRISON, ERIC CLAPTON and BONNIE RAITT as well as relative newcomers HEAVY D., TRACY CHAPMAN and SIMPLY RED'S MICK HUCKNALL.

"I can't really believe it," exclaimed a grateful and humbled King as he posed for cameras and photographers. "This has never happened before. I'm really honored."

There isn't an entertainer alive who questions the role B.B. King has played in promoting the blues to the level of mainstream attention it enjoys today. FRANK SINATRA and ELVIS PRESLEY adored his music, and THE ROLLING STONES thought so highly of King that they hired him as the opening act of their 1969 world tour, catapulting him into rock audience sightlines and instant demand for TV appearances.

Then in 1987, Irish rockers U2 recorded "When Love Comes To Town" as a duet with King for its album and movie, Rattle And Hum -- thus presenting him to a whole new generation.

Yet King stops short of calling himself a blues ambassador.

"I don't think of myself of an ambassador," says King, who resides in Las Vegas and averages 250 concerts a year.

Born Riley B. King in Itta Bena, Mississippi, on September 16, 1925, his parents separated when he was four, forcing B.B. to live with his grandparents in nearby Kilmichael. His mother died five years later, and B.B. ended up moving in with his father for a few years and working on a plantation near Indianola, Mississippi until he was 20.

"I was a superstar of the tractor," he says proudly of the old days.

In 1946, he decided music was his future and headed to Memphis, tracking down cousin and renowned bluesman BUKKA WHITE. In 1948, King was hired by Memphis blues station WDIA for a 15-minute live radio spot where he performed and hawked a health tonic called Pep-Ti-Kon.

He recorded a couple of sides for Bullet Records a year later, switched to SAM PHILLIPS' RPM label in 1950-51, and recorded "Three O' Clock Blues" at the black YMCA as his first #1 R&B hit. By 1955, King forfeited his job at WDIA and hit the road as a full-time entertainer.

King's next round of mass exposure comes with the February release of the movie Blues Brothers 2000. He has a small speaking role as a used car dealer and fronts a band that includes Eric Clapton, BO DIDDLEY, TRAVIS TRITT, but says he'd like a bigger role.

"I would like to have something in the future that goes just a little longer, a few more lines," he says with a twinkle in his eye. "I think I did pretty well with the ones I had. I didn't forget them."

 

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

 

1956 -- Singin' The Blues

1960 -- Blues

1960 -- The Great B.B. King

1960 -- B.B. King Wails

1960 -- Sing Spirituals

1961 -- My Kind Of Blues

1961 -- More

1962 -- Blues In My Heart

1962 -- I Love You So

1962 -- Twist With B.B. King

1962 -- Blues For Me

1962 -- Easy Listening Blues

1962 -- Heart Full Of Blues

1962 -- R&B Soul

1963 -- Mr. Blues -- ABC

1963 -- Swing Low Sweet Chariot

1964 -- Rock Me Baby

1965 -- Boss Of The Blues

1965 -- Confessin' The Blues

1965 -- Let Me Love You

1965 -- Live! B.B. King On Stage

1965 -- Live At The Regal

1966 -- Original Sweet Sixteen

1966 -- The Soul Of B.B. King

1966 -- Turn On To B.B. King

1966 -- 9 x 9.5

1967 -- The Jungle

1967 -- Blues Is King -- Bluesway

1968 -- His Best -- The Electric B.B. King

1968 -- Blues On Top Of Blues

1968 -- Lucille

1969 -- Live & Well

1969 -- Completely Well

1969 -- The Feeling They Call The Blues

1969 -- The Feeling They Call The Blues Vol. 2

1970 -- Indianola Mississippi Seeds -- ABC

1970 -- The Incredible Soul Of B.B. King

1970 -- Take A Swing With Me

1971 -- Live In Cook County Jail

1971 -- Live In Japan (Japan only)

1971 -- B.B. King In London

1972 -- L.A. Midnight

1972 -- From The Beginning

1972 -- Guess Who

1973 -- To Know You Is To Love You

1973 -- Back In The Alley

1973 -- The Best Of B.B. King

1974 -- Friends

1974 -- Bobby Bland & B.B. King Together For The First Time...Live (with            Bobby Bland)

1975 -- Lucille Talks Back

1976 -- Bobby Bland & B.B. King Together Again...Live (with Bobby Bland)              ABC Impulse

1977 -- King Size

1978 -- Midnight Believer  (with The Crusaders)

1979 -- Take It Home -- MCA

1980 -- Live 'Now Appearing' At Ole Miss

1981 -- There Must Be A Better World Somewhere

1981 -- Great Moments With B.B. King

1982 -- Love Me Tender

1983 -- Blues 'N Jazz

1985 -- Six Silver Strings

1987 -- Best Of B.B. King

1988 -- The B.B. King Story

1989 -- The B.B. King Story Volume 2

1990 -- Live At San Quentin

1991 -- There Is Always One More Time

1991 -- Best Of., Volume 1

1992 -- Best Of., Volume 2

1992 -- King Of The Blues

1993 -- Blues Summit

1993 -- My Sweet Little Angel

1994 -- B.B. King And Friends

1994 -- Why I Sing The Blues

1995 -- Catfish Blues

1996 -- On The Road With B.B. King: An Interactive Autobiography (CD-ROM)

1996 -- Classics

1997 -- Deuces Wild

1997 -- How Blue Can You Get -- Classic Live 1964-94

1998 -- Blues On The Bayou

1998 -- The King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents...

1999 -- Everyday I Have The Blues

1999 -- Let The Good Times Roll: The Music Of Louis Jourdan

UNDATED COMPILATIONS

16 Original Big Hits

B.B. King

The Great B.B. King (B.B. King and His Orchestra)

Doing My Thing, Lord

Favorite Gospel Hymns

The Fabulous B.B. King

Got My Mojo Working

A Night of Red Hot Blues

Collection

A Blues Night

B.B. King in Africa

Do the Boogie! B.B. King's Early '50s Classics

B.B. Boogie

Memphis Masters

Across the Tracks

King of the Blues Guitar

Ambassador of the Blues

Introducing B.B. King

One Nighter Blues

Rarest B.B. King

Lucille Had a Baby

Early Blues Boy Years, Vol. 1: 1949-51

Live at Newport

Early Blues Boy Years, Vol. 2: 1952-54

Treasures from the Vault

Lucille & Friends

Mr. Blues

Lonely Nights

Blues Collection

Greatest Hits (1951-1960)

How Blue: Best of B.B. King

Original Blues Masters

Door to Door

A Classic Revisited

Unexpected: Just Guitar

Better Than Ever

Back 2 Back

I Just Sing the Blues

You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now

 

COLLABORATIONS

1968 -- Various Artists, For The Love Of Ivy -- ABC

1979 -- Various Artists, The Blues Brothers

1985 -- Various Artists, Into The Night -- MCA

1987 -- U2, Rattle & Hum -- Island

1988 -- Various Artists, Stormy Monday

1988 -- Various Artists, The Blues Is Alright - Greatest Hits -- Malaco

1990 -- Various Artists, Air America -- MCA

1992 -- Gary Moore, After Hours -- Virgin

1994 -- Various Artists, A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield

1994 -- Various Artists, Rhythm, Country & Blues (with George Jones)

1995 -- Various Artists, Casino

1995 -- Various Artists, Til The Night Is Gone -- A Tribute To Doc Pomus

1996 -- Various Artists, A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan -- Columbia

1998 -- Various Artists, Blues Brothers 2000

1998 -- Various Artists, Soundtrack -- The Mighty  (with Zucchero)

2000 -- Various Artists, Play It To The Bone (with Joe Cocker)

 

 

AS AUTHOR

 

1996 -- Blues All Around Me (with David Ritz, Avon)

 

AS ACTOR

 

Blues Brothers 2000

Spies Like Us

Heart & Souls

The Bluesman

Run Of Hearts

 

AWARDS

1970 -- Grammy, Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance, Male -- "The Thrill             Is Gone"

1981 -- Grammy, Best Ethnic Or Traditional Recording -- There Must Be A             Better World Somewhere

1983 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Recording -- Blues 'N Jazz

1983 -- W.C. Handy Award, Hall Of Fame Classics Of Blues Recordings, Live            At The Regal

1984 -- Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame

1985 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Recording -- "My Guitar Sings The             Blues"

1985 -- W.C. Handy Award, Hall Of Fame Classics Of Blues Recordings, "The             Thrill Is Gone"

1987 -- Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

1987 -- Induction, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

1987 -- W.C. Handy Award, Keeping The Blues Alive (Radio) -- The B.B. King             Radio Hour

1988 -- W.C. Handy Award, Keeping The Blues Alive (Radio) -- The B.B. King             Radio Hour

1990 -- Presidential Medal Of The Arts

1990 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Recording -- Live At San Quentin

1990 -- Songwriter's Hall Of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award

1991 -- National Heritage Fellowship for the National Endowment Of the Arts

1991 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Album -- Live At The Apollo

1991 -- W.C. Handy Award, Blues Band Of The Year -- The B.B. King Orchestra

1991 -- Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award

1991 -- Hollywood Walk Of Fame

1991 -- Opened B.B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis

1993 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Album -- Blues Summit

1995 -- Kennedy Center Honors

1996 -- Grammy, Best Rock Instrumental Performance -- "SRV Shuffle" (with             Jimmy Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy,             Dr. John, Art Neville)

1997 -- Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award

 

THANKS: Cori Ferguson, Sue McCallum, Doug Foley

 

©1998, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

 

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