At 80, Thrill Not Gone For King

Blues legend B.B. King expresses his gratitude for local and corporate support for the museum being built in his honor in Indianola, Miss., June 10, 2005. The museum, to be finished by 2007, will showcase the various phases of King's career with a state-of-the-art theater, a studio and artifacts.
Through his agile fingers, still soft despite decades of making love to the taut strings of his guitar, B.B. King becomes immersed in his music.

The high-pitched wail of the notes he coaxes out of the instrument, nicknamed Lucille, is salve to the soul of the nearly 80-year-old bluesman, who shows no signs of slowing down as he prepares to kick off a world tour.

It's been a good year for King, named by Rolling Stone magazine as the third-greatest guitarist of all time. He's recording a new album of duets with Elton John, Eric Clapton and Gloria Estefan, a memorabilia book bearing his name soon will be released, and he recently broke ground on the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretative Center in this small Mississippi Delta town.

Yet King, acclaimed around the world, still laments what he believes is a lack of respect for blues music in America, where radio stations mostly play hip-hop, pop and rock.

"We get treated poorly," he says. "I'm thinking about the younger ones, who are coming along today, not B.B. We've had several superstars, like the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, like the young Robert Cray, and they don't get play. They don't get exposed."

Blues music is a historical form, inspiring rock guitarists such as Clapton and Jeff Beck, but radio stations don't consider it as commercially viable as other genres, says Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor of Rolling Stone.

"That certainly doesn't mean it's not significant. How much jazz gets played on the radio?" DeCurtis says.

Floyd Lieberman, King's manager, says there's been a slight resurgence of the blues with the advent of XM Satellite Radio, on which King serves as Mayor of Bluesville.