I was saddened to learn of the death of one of my heroes, B.B. King. I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughts and the song Mr. King inspired me to write.
Although B.B. King wasn’t there, it was exciting to perform in the club and restaurant that bears his name in 2011. This great Mississippian and bluesman is someone I have admired for a long time. Having grown up in Mississippi myself, I’ve certainly been aware of his music for many years. The first time I saw him perform was in the early 1980s and I’ve seen him many times since, including his shows at the opening of his Nashville club several years ago and more recently at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I was able to attend his last Nashville performance in April, 2014. Although he was obviously weaker than he was in 2010 in New Orleans, he still loved his audience and gave them all he could on stage.
Meeting B.B. King
In 1994, Mr. King played at Riverfront Park in Nashville. My wife, Gail, and I drove back hurriedly from a family reunion in Mississippi to catch the Sunday afternoon show. As usual at Riverfront Park events, the stage was a barge in the Cumberland River pulled up to concrete at the foot of the sloping hill along First Avenue that makes a natural amphitheater. We watched the show and King reigned royally along with his guitar Lucille, as always.
At the end of the show, I said to Gail, “I would certainly enjoy meeting him.” Being the observant journalist that she was, Gail said, “Well, that ramp coming off the stage is the only way off and B.B. King will be coming down it in a minute.” So we went to the bottom of the ramp and I was able to shake his hand. We talked about being from Mississippi briefly and he gave me a “BB King” guitar pick.
I met him again several years later at the Nashville club opening and he was just as gracious.
A blues inspiration
Mr. King was the inspiration for a song I wrote called “Sharecropping Cotton Chopping Delta Blues” in 1996. The song was inspired by the story of his early life from his years in the Delta to his arrival on Beale Street in Memphis. The lyrics are below and you can also click the link to hear the recorded version. I am still inspired by his story, talent, and showmanship and it was a thrill to perform it at B.B. King’s Blues Club. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Sharecropping Cotton Chopping Delta Blues
Words and Music © 1996 by Les Kerr
In the Mississippi Delta where the tall blues grow
From the Peabody Lobby down to Catfish Row
You can chop that cotton with your weary hand
But you’re working for nothing if you don’t own the land
In your over-hauls and your hole-y shoes
You got the Sharecropping Cotton Chopping Delta Blues
Itta Bena, Mississippi, of thee I sing
It’s the Land of Cotton and B.B. King
You can feel the blues in your aching back
They come oozing up from that cotton sack
If you had the choice, you would not choose
To sing the Sharecropping Cotton Chopping Delta Blues
To a cotton-picking rhythm, you begin to sing
Then you nail it down on a guitar string
If you can make a song from a field-hand shout
Then a slow bus to Memphis is a quick way out
And you can tell the folks how you paid your dues
And sing the Sharecropping Cotton Chopping Delta Blues
Songwriter: Les Kerr ASCAP
Publisher: O.N.U. Music ASCAP
Originally released on the CD Red Blues, Les Kerr, 2000
Use of music or lyrics without permission prohibited by copyright owner.
Books I recommend by and about B.B. King:
Blues All Around Me (The Autobiography of B.B. King) by B.B. King and David Ritz
B.B. King Treasures by B.B. King and Dick Waterman
Visit Les Kerr’s Web Site at www.leskerr.com