(CBS News) ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- A lot of the news is about our institutions and how they're doing: Wall Street, the military, the presidency. We wanted to check up on another American institution: B.B. King, the King of the Blues. He just turned 88 and we were granted an audience.
He does not walk easily anymore, but on stage on this particular night in Atlantic City, N.J., B.B. King's fingers can still fly.
We asked him if he was still getting better as a guitarist. "I hope I am," King said. "I can't always tell because I still can't play like I want to play."
He's the last of the legendary bluesmen who emerged from the Mississippi Delta.
"It's good for me when I'm feeling bad," he said about blues music. "And good for me when I'm feeling good."
The son of sharecroppers, Riley B. King was born on a cotton plantation outside Berclair, Miss., and started working at age 7. He once said he picked 400 pounds of cotton a day.
King was 22 when he hitchhiked north to play music in Memphis, where he soon picked up the nickname "blues boy" or "B.B." In 1952, his song "Three O'Clock Blues" hit number one on the R&B charts, and B.B. started touring black theaters across the country. He played "342 one-nighters" in 1956, as he now recalled.
Watch B.B. King perform with President Obama at the White House from 2012:
But King wouldn't play to a white audience until 1967, when rock promoter Bill Graham invited him to the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
"And that was the beginning of B.B. King in rock and roll," said the bluesman. "Not playing rock and roll, but in rock and roll. And I've been doing it ever since."
He influenced Jimi Hendrix, opened for the Rolling Stones, and has played with Eric Clapton and U2.
Rolling Stone magazine once ranked him the number three guitar player of all time. "I don't believe that," King said when told about that. "But I'm not going to tell them" (laughs).
The King of the Blues is still king of the road, playing 125 dates a year, including one at the White House last year where he performed his biggest hit "The Thrill Is Gone."
As for whether he can keep this pace up, King said, "I don't know. I've been doing it. (laughs) I wonder sometimes."
Is retirement in his vocabulary? "Never heard of it," he answered.
It's simple, B.B. King said. "If I stop, I don't get paid."