Interview: Shirley King talks Blues For A King and Growing Up With B.B. King

At age 70, Shirley King has just released a new album featuring a bevy of stellar guitarist backing her such as Joe Louis Walker, Martin Barre and Steve Cropper.

In case you haven’t guessed, Shirley is the daughter of B.B. King.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Shirley, who was in her home in Chicago, about making the album and growing up as B.B. King’s daughter. She also touches on the tough time she went through when her father passed away.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Or read a transcription of the interview here:

M:You’re in Chicago right?

S: Yeah, I’m in Chicago and I am just like, happy. I’m so happy to be here in Chicago but now I’m so hyped up, I can’t wait to start touring so I can talk to all you guys in person. I live in Chicago, I’ve been here ever since 1967.

M: How is Chicago these days? We watch from afar here on the news and we’re seeing all sorts of stuff happening.

S: It is. You know, we barely just really started to come out and in the end he’s scared to go anywhere because people out here and marching and looting and doing stuff and you don’t wanna catch the disease and you know, it’s just many things going on and I’m trying to stay focused because I feel so blessed to have this CD coming out and everything happening for me. I’m not wrapping myself up in it but we had a pretty cool day here today. Our Mayor is like a mother hen so she’s out running round, going to people’s neighbours going ‘Get in that house.’ We got a mamma for a mayor so things are pretty good here.

M: That’s good to hear because I’ve been talking to musicians all over the States in the last couple of weeks and I get a different story depending if it’s LA or New York or Chicago. In fact, I just spoke to Joe Louis Walker last week who’s on your album.

S: Right, and Joe Louis is…we’re kinda like every place I talk to somebody he’s like, oh, we got an interview with Joe, oh, we have just talked to Joe and I’m like ok me and Joe got it going on. We might not know it but we might be the husband and wife of the blues from now on now.

M: I like it. We haven’t had one of those yet.

S: Ok, yeah. He’s such a nice guy.

M: He definitely seemed that way. So the album Blues For A King, you have a lot of different people guesting, a lot of guitar players especially, what was the idea behind that? Where did that come from and how long have you been working on it?

S: Actually, this CD was a whole brainstorm, John (Lappen) and Brian (Perera) from the record label. I had nothing to do with it. I had nothing to do with it, I didn’t even know what I was gonna be doing. Because I was paid to do an album. The record company paid me to do an album and by me thinking they know I’m a blues person so they’re gonna have me doing some blues stuff, they’re gonna let me do some stuff with my daddy, this is gonna be really cool, this is gonna be really cool here, I’ll be with a label and I’m doing, man they sent me them songs, I was like what? What? What is this? You know they were like songs that I’ve heard but would I ever think I’d be singing them? Oh no. And I was just blown away, I mean, if I hadn’t spent the money already, I would have probably said no. But I’m so glad that John, he did not stop. He kept pushing me cause he just thinks I’ve got this very phenomenal voice and he was determined to make me do this album so he told me just do the best you can, just do it cause we ‘re gonna fix it up when you get though because they set me a trap and I have to…it wasn’t me in the studio with none of these musicians. These musicians came in and did the vocals alone. I wasn’t there. It was not me. We came together, so when they got through doing this, I really didn’t know how it was gonna work but I didn’t worry about it because, like I said, my dad always told me when somebody pays you to do something, don’t ask questions.

M: I love that.

S: Do the best you can. And so that’s why they done paid you. So like I said, I’m so glad that I did it because the reviews and the people that are talking to me and the people that are saying they love it and it’s just blowing my mind.

M: Very cool.

S: Yeah. And the song were all so legendary because these are songs that we heard from rock artists and everything but to know that one day, you might be introduced to these phenomenal guitar players that played on these songs and these hits will come back and everything must return so to know that I’m on songs that were hits and now I’m re-doing them over, you know, you can’t ask for a better cover song. If you’re gonna do any covers, this would be the way you want to do it.

M: Yeah. I’ll tell you the one that blew me away the most, was your version of Hoodoo Man with Junior Wells and Joe Louis Walker. That’s the dirtiest sound I’ve heard in a long time.

S: I know and somebody, cause when I found out who I was gonna be doing it with, I put it on Facebook and somebody came on and said, ‘are you losing your mind? How are you gonna do a duet with Junior Wells, he’s been dead for a hundred years’. And I said, I’m going by what the record label company told me, they said I’d be doing a duet with Junior Wells and I’m gonna be doing a duet with Junior Wells.

M: There you go.

S: Yeah, when they sent me that I was like,  ‘oh no, I am on an album, a song with Junior Wells’. How ironic is that? Because when I came to Chicago, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy was the blues brothers of Chicago. I mean, they worked together, they always was together, they were entertainers together and so I saw Junior Wells but I didn’t get a chance to sing with him because I wasn’t singing at that time and by the time he passed, I only had saw Junior Wells, I had never performed with him so to be able to say one day now I can walk down the street and say, oh I performed with Junior Wells. That’s gonna be the highlight of my life. It’s gonna be the highlight of my life and being a Chicago person, I’m gonna get a lot of respect here in Chicago for that because Junior Wells was very loved in Chicago.

M: Yeah. So, I assume the record company chose the guitar players, like Duke Robillard and Pat Travers and Martin Barre and Harvey Mandel. Are there any of them you actually know and have a musical relationship with other than here?

S: No, no, no. The only person I knew of, the only person that I knew of, was Joe Louis Walker and that’s because when my daddy passed, he had did some stuff with my dad and when my daddy passed, he was the only famous guitar player that called me and asked how I was doing and checked on me and acted like I meant something to him because I was B.B King’s daughter. He was the only one who did that. So to come around and end up being on an album with him, I never would have thought it. I mean, I’d never met him. He was gonna be playing in Chicago last year, and because of this virus his tour got chopped up and he didn’t come here. That would have been my first time meeting Joe. I’ve never met him. Never even talked to him on the phone, And the rest of the guitar players, I didn’t really know. That was all done up by John cause John has the connections with all those kinds of people because he’s been working with them a long time.

M: It must have been a tough time for you when your father passed away. He’s the kind of guy you just assume was gonna be around forever. I’ve seen him many times myself and he’s one of a kind.

S: The last interview I just did, I would not spend that much time doing that with you because everybody told John a certain amount of time and I’m trying to stick to the schedule. I don’t care about people going over but I don’t want to be the one to do it. But, we talked about, because the things that people did to my dad when he got sick and was leaving here hurt me so bad and so I went through almost a breakdown of how they treated my father. But then, to see that later on my father wasn’t here to protect me, it really kind of put me in a very dark place but I got on Facebook and I started having Facebook fun and talking to my Daddy’s fans and friends and people that really loved him and everything and missing him, so then I had somebody to grieve with because the people that my daddy left behind calling him family, none of them talked to me. It’s like I don’t exist. So I have friends and B.B King’s fans or B.B King, people that love B.B King that have helped me last through all the five and a half years that my dad has left. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know if I would be here because they were pretty dark times. I mean, I didn’t even know about my daddy passing. A news reporter had to call and tell me because the fight was going on when he had got sick so by the time he was too sick to take care of himself, I just lost my dad without even saying goodbye to him. So I didn’t want to go on the news media and use the news media to disrespect my daddy’s legacy so I turned to Facebook live and became whatever, a comedian, a singer, I do Facebook live to a point where people are every Friday waiting on me to come on Facebook live.

M: I love it.

S: They kept me for five years.

M: A lot of people have bad things to say about social media and Facebook, but I’ve found myself personally it’s a great way to connect with people. I think it’s just the way you approach it.

S: It is, it is. Because people love talking to me about B.B King. I made it a place where you talk to Shirley King about B.B King and Shirley King’s got some stuff going on so you talk to her and then people like the way I sing so sometimes I go on there and play my music for them. I mean, I’m a regular DJ on Facebook live and at first, Facebook live got it where you stay on for so many minutes then you’ve got to go out. Man, Facebook started letting me be on there for two and two and a half and three hours and somebody said, wait a minute. Facebook don’t let nobody do that, I said well they let me do it. I said, they must be liking what I’m doing and joining because they let me do long shows and if I can get all those shows off of there, I would have a heck of a video keepsake.

M: That’s fantastic.

S: Yeah, I’ve burnt Facebook up for the last five and a half years since my father been gone, cause that was my councilor and I let people know no political and no religious stuff on here. This is all about Shirley King and B.B King.

M: Right, right.

S: Yeah. That way you don’t fight with nobody. There have been people coming on there trying to talk to me about something else, wait a minute, ‘scuse me? I said, I think this is my page. You don’t like what I got on my page, you go away.

M: That’s right. One thing I wanted to ask you about, is you were born in 1949 right?

S: Yes.

M: So you grew up in the 1950’s and I just love the music of the 1950’s, I’m completely obsessed by it. I’m wondering, obviously you’re in a unique position, your fathers a huge musician at that point and a big blues star, what was your first musical experience? What did you hear that turned you on as far as music goes back then?

S: Well, one of the things I was telling another one of the interviewers is that my father was not playing on the stage with blues musicians. He was only blues on the shows with people like James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke. So I’m sitting on stage watching people like that, Etta James. I mean, I’m sitting on the stage watching soul, R & B superstars, dancers. and people that perform. When I came to Chicago, that’s when I ran into the blues there and it became the blues all the way. But at first, the music started with gospel, then I went to going to shows watching my dad, watching James Brown, Jackie Wilson, so it was entertainment. Then I came to Chicago and it became Chicago style blues, brought here from Mississippi so I got a chance to just involve all the music. My father was coming here because he had a manager here once upon a time so I was able to see people like Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, Johnnie Taylor. I mean, I’ve actually been involved with all of the music, then I met some of the gospel singers, famous gospel players on my own because i was in show business all these years. I was a dancer for twenty one years and I went from dancing to singing so I didn’t have to go and get a day job. So when I wasn’t singing the blues, I was still around stars cause I was the show dancer for the shows and we always did it big, we didn’t have no one guitar player ODing all night. When you would come to a black show, a show where it was in our neighbourhood and it was our show, you came in there and saw fashion, you saw everybody up in there being entertained by dancers, singers, comedians. I mean, you know shows were shows. And that means that I was exposed to that kind of group, Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, I knew Walter Jackson, I knew Jesse Jackson’s brother, uh, Chuck Jackson, I knew Billy Stewart, Alvin Cash, I mean, I knew all these different stars, The Dells, I was the dancer on their show when the Jackson Five was just getting started. So I mean, I’ve been totally engrossed in entertainment all of my life. All fifty years, I had a four year, about three and a half, four year relationship with Al Green, we were boyfriend and girlfriend for a while.

M: Oh man.

S: Oh yeah, I had Teddy Pendergrass looking at me a little bit cause I was a dancer with that THING! You know when you’re a dancer, you get all the men stars but I’ve been exposed to entertainment all my life and I’ve been exposed to all kinds from dancers to singers to comedians. I knew Pigmeat Markham. I didn’t get a chance to meet Moms Mably but there were times she was performing, at the  Regent Theatre when my dad was coming there and that was before I came to Chicago. And then, when I was about thirteen, about fourteen years old, my father had us living in California and he was trying to stay with his second wife and spend time with her so he was doing, when they would have me to come and work at a club like four, five nights a week in LA. He was working at a place called the Five Four bar room, they sent Stevie Wonder there to be an opening act for my daddy at this club and he called his staff thinking, hey you’re around the age of my daughter, I want you to meet my daughter. So he had his sister and he had Stevie Wonder’s people to bring him over to our house where we were living at, he was supposed to come over and eat dinner and so I said meet him and I went and tried to make some extra money off him coming over there, I went and sold some people around the corner tickets. Fifty cents they’d  take a peep. They seen Stevie Wonder coming over to my house cause nobody believed I I was B.B King’s daughter. I have been all my life trying to prove to people I was B.B King’s daughter. So I told them to come and stand around the corner, I had fifty cents out of all of them and they looked people around the corner and then make sure Stevie Wonder was there and then left right. Man, that limousine pulled up and the people got out and went to open that door that let Stevie Wonder out there and they all ran around there, howling at the car. Oh my God. I ain’t gonna tell you, I’m not gonna tell you what happened next. I had to sleep on pillows for about ten days. I’ve had some really good times through my dad. Really just great times. Things that I can talk about and they either make you laugh or they make you say what? B.B? Yup. No I’m not gonna go into right now telling you about when I wanted my daddy’s attention and I acted like I was trying to commit suicide and I drank a lot of pepper and all kinds of stuff out the kitchen, trying to get sick so I could get some attention from him. Man, they called and told him what I had did, he came over there with a cigar and chewing it and looking at me and I thought I was gonna die cause my dad has never hit me but all he had to do was put that look on me. I could never stand for my father to be mad at me. I really, like I said, I’m gonna have a very interesting, for however long the lord lets me stay here, I’m gonna have a very interesting life cause I’ve already made up my mind, I will talk about Shirley King where nobody’s gonna get a chance to cash on in me after I leave this earth. Because people are gonna know about me from me. They’re not gonna get some researched stuff. They’re not gonna hear it from the book, they’re gonna hear it from Shirley King.

M: It must’ve been tough having a father who was always on, I mean, B.B King is notorious for doing like three hundred shows a year. It must’ve been rough on you.

S: Well, it was very rough that’s why I would’ve never chosen to do the blues because I felt the blues took my father away from me. And my father was like my best friend. He was the man, you know, as a kid, I even had the little crazy thing going on where I was gonna marry my daddy one day. I mean, I was totally engrossed in him and I didn’t even know about him being famous. I was just overwhelmed with him as a child. And so like I said, there were days when I really hated the blues because I said if he wasn’t trying to sing the blues, he would be here with me and when he would come see me, he would have to get in the bed and lay beside me and let me go to sleep so he could leave cause if he tried to leave and I’m crying and falling all out and everything, he just would be so sad to leave me. But then if he let me go to sleep and he took up out of there and I’d thought I was a fool wake up and see he’s gone, I’d know my grandfather would take over. So I knew not to act crazy once B.B king was gone. I have very amazing stories that I want to share with the world and that’s coming really soon because I’m working on a movie.

M: Oh great.

S: Yeah, I’m working on a movie. I can’t tell B.B King’s story, but I can tell Shirley King and B.B King’s story and because we had the same kind of experience in the blues business for all these years that I went into it, cause I’m twenty years behind my daddy in the business. he did seventy years and I’ve done almost fifty.

M: And I would imagine a book would be in order as well as a movie.

S: Well, I have one book out that they ripped me off and not paying me for, but that book was just a little bit about what was going on when my daddy passed. I’m getting ready to write the real one now. The real one is gonna talk about Shirley King because it’s the question that everybody asks. Everybody wants to know how it feels to be B.B King’s daughter cause they got him on such a pedestal, it’s almost like oh my God, B.B King’s daughter, can I just touch you? And I’m like umm yeah, how much you got? You gonna pay me? Nah, but I just think it’s so amazing how my daddy is to some people like a God and so that’s why I always have to keep on proving myself being B.B King’s daughter. I always had to fight every day at school cause the kids would tell me that wasn’t my daddy. Now, I am …. as my daddy, but when they get through with me I’d be almost like yeah I wonder if he is my dad. I ain’t living in Hollywood, I don’t have, you know they would say things like, if you were B.B King’s daughter, you would be living blah, blah, blah. Or you would have this and that and I would let them convince me like that. And so when I came to Chicago, I didn’t have to be B.B King’s famous daughter to dance but once I went from dancing to the blues, it’s always been the same thing.

M: Now, do you have plans once the covid virus thing is over with in the States? Are you gonna be working and touring or playing out or what does the future hold for you?

S: Well like I say, Cleopatra and John have did such a good job getting people to know Shirley King so I’m hoping when this door opens up, because you know, they’ve got Joe Louis Walker that was working all over the place, so it’s people like that are gonna be ready to work as soon as they say let’s go to work. So I think that John and Cleopatra Records might be wanting to put me out there Joe Louis Walker and then I did a lot of shows where people want to rehire me now that they heard about the CD, I’ll be getting requests to be hired so I think it’s gonna be pretty good. I think I will pick up where I left off before my father left this earth cause when my father left this earth, I pretty much just got shut down. I wasn’t doing hardly nothing I was totally depressed and the lawsuits wouldn’t stop coming and the state would start fighting and so that had me pretty depressed but now I thank God have opened up the doors for people now to hire Shirley King or for Shirley King to be able to go out here and perform and get paid, actually make a little money.

M: Well it sounds like you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and about how things are going and that’s a good thing so hopefully the rest of the year will be better than the first half of this year.

S: Yeah, I’m hoping the same thing but I need this time to study my show and learn the music and so actually this is good for me because I need this time to regroup and be the best artist I can be on stage. I don’t want to run out there with a new CD and people coming to my shows and requesting the song and I don’t know them because I haven’t had a chance to learn them. So I’m kind of glad I’m not ready to run out there right now and I was doing some dental work and all that so I’m sure enough not ready to run out there, I want to be completely together. I want to be the hottest seventy year old woman anybody’s ever seen. I got the little hip that will move a little bit but if they ain’t moving good I take my hands and shake it around cause people are used to me showing out on stage and I don’t know how much I’ll be showing out but I’m gonna be like my daddy. I’m gonna sit in a chair and shake it. You’re gonna get it one way or another!

M: I bet. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I really appreciate it. I’m enjoying the record and hopefully nothing but good things will happen for you from now on.

S: Thank you so much and I will be calling you back on Zoom just so you can see this beautiful face looking good.

M: Alright, I’ll hold you to that.

S: Ok then, you have a great night and God bless you and thank you for sharing your time with me.

Shirley King’s Daughter Of The Blues is out now.

Marty Duda
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