Blues Music

How B.B. King Got His Start – American Blues Scene

This is the latest from The Bluesmobile’s C.C. Rider, who spends her life venerating the founding fathers of the blues. She’s walked the crooked highways of this singing country to resurrect the voices of the past. With the dirt of the Delta on her hands, she sleeps in the shadow of the giants on whose shoulders popular music now stands. 

Where would we be without B.B?  From his humble beginnings in Indianola, Mississippi, to world tours, 15 Grammys and White House performances. There’s a reason he’s called the ambassador. B.B King brought the blues to the people. Dosen’t matter your country, your language, how you look. Everybody loves B.B.

So how did he get his start? How did the man born a sharecropper become the biggest, most influential, name in blues? Here at the Bluesmobile we were lucky enough to spend a lot of time with BB over the years. And that means you’re lucky enough to hear the story straight from the man who lived it. It all started when a young street musician named Riley B. King moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and tried to get a job at a local black radio station.

Photo by By Tom Beetz

I went to the radio station. I can remember that very well.  I saw this person in the studio. First he asked me, son, what can I do for you? And I said well, I’d like to make a record and I’d like to go on the radio.  So he called the general manager of the station, Mr. Ferguson and told Mr. Ferguson what I had said.  And Mr. Ferguson looked at me, very wise man, yeah, come on in. He said we don’t make records but we might be able to use you, come on in.

My first introduction to radio would be advertising Pepticon, which was a new product they were just putting out.  And they thought up a name for me that very evening, the boy from Beale Street, the Beale Street Blues Boy. Well, my name is Riley B. King, so it wasn’t hard for me to just put that B and leave the Riley off.  So I liked the idea.  Anyway, a little bit later they wanted me to write a jingle. Here I am a guy that don’t know anything about writing anything, hardly my name.  But I came up with it. “Pepticon sure is good, you can get it anywhere in your neighborhood.” That was the beginning of B.B. King. – B.B. King


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