You can listen to blues guitar player B. B. King and his band on recordings. You also can hear him when he talks about the blues as well as his life and needs as you read “Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. King.” David Ritz interviewed him over five years to help King tell his story in his own words and style. He tells us all about it.
King was born in 1925 near Indianola, Miss., in the Delta. He was born in a rich, agricultural area in the central part of the state, between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, where they grow cotton and soybeans. His parents were sharecroppers on a plantation; he worked the fields, too. He quit school after the tenth grade to make money. His highest ambition then was to be a tractor driver. He tells us all about it.
He had an inner need to perform music from an early age. He learned to play the guitar on his own by listening to traveling musicians and by playing on street corners. He also sang in a local gospel quartet.
He quit deciding it was not going anywhere and he needed to do more musically. He tells us all about it.
Throughout his book, we learn the rich nature of the blues, how it affects listeners’ lives and how it is affected by the listener’s life experiences. When he finishes we have a real appreciation for the style. He tells us all about it.
He needed a wider audience, so he moved to the Memphis area where he worked as a disk jockey and as a musician. From there, he went on to ever-greater things as a musician and bandleader who spent as much as 340 days a year on the road. He tells us what life on the road was like. Eventually, he was playing all over the U.S. and touring the world. Though he was a high school dropout, over the years, he received five honorary college degrees and numerous other awards. He tells us all about it.
Despite his success as a musician, he faced a lot of musical and personal needs. He tells us all about it.
From his youngest days, he was colored in a racist, white world where he needed to face the problems of racial prejudice. In his world everything was divided into colored and white and he learned his place.
Even after the civil rights revolution in the 1950s and 1960s, he still felt he needed to be careful. He tells us all about it.
He needed to develop his own musical integrity and style by listening to others and himself. He names any number of performers he met, worked with and learned from over the years, many of whom the reader will recognize. When other popular music styles, such as rhythm and blues, came into vogue he needed to decide what he would do with his own style. He tells us all about it.
He needed to deal with his human nature and desire to make the world a better place. He needed companionship and was married twice but found both times that he had a greater need to be a road musician. Even so, his ex-wives continued to be important to him. He had a strong sexual need and numerous women were attracted to him, so he lay with many of them after playing jobs and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
From these couplings were born 15 children by 15 different women all over the country. He felt a responsibility to these mothers and his children, so he kept in touch with them, paid their support, got together with them when he was able and saw that his children became good human beings and received good educations. He tells us all about it.
He had a need to gamble and lost a lot of money over the years before he finally was able to stop. He felt a need to handle his own business affairs in booking jobs and tours, getting recording contracts and handling money. He did a miserable job of it for several years before he was able to accept that he did not have the necessary talent. As a result of his trying, his career did not develop as quickly as it might have otherwise. He tells us all about it.
This autobiographical telling of B. B. King’s life is as authentic sounding as his recordings. Both the general reader and the buffs of blues, jazz, rhythm and blues and even rock and roll, will really enjoy reading “Blues All Around Me” for he tells us all about it.
Christopher Banner is a Manhattan resident.