The 30 Best B.B. King Quotes

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The Mississippi-born blues musician B.B. King is one of the signature artists of the distinctly American genre.

The guitar player, who played with pristine tone and timing, lived to be 89 years old before he passed away in 2015.

With a six-string style that is sung with bent and staccato-plucked strings, King’s name lives on famously. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987—a long way from being born on a cotton plantation. Known for songs like “The Thrill Is Gone” and “Lucille,” he’s one of the best-selling blues musicians ever.

But here we wanted to dive into what the artist had to say about his well-known songs. What did King think about life and love, his craft, and the world at large? Without further ado, here are the 30 best B.B. King quotes.

1. “If you can’t get your songs to people one way, you have to find another.”

2. “There are so many sounds I still want to make, so many things I haven’t yet done.”

3. “I started to like blues, I guess when I was about 6 or 7 years old. There was something about it, because nobody else played that kind of music.”

4. “Everything I record, I just try to sound like me and come up with songs that suit what I do, and then just go for it.”

5. “As for my band, well, my mentors were Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Jimmie Lunceford, and no one had a band more smartly dressed than Duke.”

6. “I have not been a good father, but no father has loved his children more. Like my father, I decided the best thing I could do for my kids was work and provide. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do that. Unfortunately, my work was on the road, and that meant a life of one-nighters.”

7. “Sometimes I just think that there are more things to be said to make the audience understand what I’m trying to do more. When I’m singing, I don’t want you to just hear the melody. I want you to relive the story because most of the songs have pretty good storytelling.”

8. “I’ve always tried to defend the idea that the blues doesn’t have to be sung by a person who comes from Mississippi, as I did.”

9. “I would sit on the street corners in my hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, and I would play. And, generally, I would start playing gospel songs. People would come by on the street – you live in Time Square, you know how they do it—they would bunch up. And they would always compliment me on gospel tunes, but they would tip me when I played blues.”

10. “I bought my first electric guitar when I moved to Memphis; a Gibson with a DeArmond pickup which I used with a small Gibson amplifier.”

11. “I never wanted to be like other blues singers. I might like hearing them play, but I’ve never wanted to be anyone other than myself. There are a few people that I’ve wished I could play like, but when I tried, it didn’t work.”

12. “I was a regular hand when I was 7. I picked cotton. I drove tractors. Children grew up not thinking that this is what they must do. We thought this was the thing to do to help your family.”

13. “I didn’t want to disrespect my parents, so I never played blues around the house. But I knew then, the same as I know today, that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I think that before they died, they both felt very proud of me.”

14. “Back when we was in school in Mississippi, we had Little Black Sambo. That’s what you learned: Anytime something was not good, or anytime something was bad in some kinda way, it had to be called black. Like, you had Black Monday, Black Friday, black sheep… Of course, everything else, all the good stuff, is white. White Christmas and such.”

15. “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

16. “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die to get there!”

17. “Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you. I could play the blues and then not be blue anymore.”

18. “Jazz is the big brother of the blues. If a guy’s playing blues like we play, he’s in high school. When he starts playing jazz it’s like going on to college, to a school of higher learning.”

19. “I’m trying to get people to see that we are our brother’s keeper. Red, white, black, brown or yellow, rich or poor, we all have the blues.”

20. “I don’t try to just be a blues singer—I try to be an entertainer. That has kept me going.”

21. “I never met a woman I didn’t like. I love ’em all, in their different ways.”

22. “My wife Martha used to call me Ol’ Lemon Face because of my facial contortions when I play Lucille. I squeeze my eyes and open my mouth, raise my eyebrows, cock my head and God knows what else. I look like I’m in torture when in truth, I’m in ecstasy. I don’t do it for show. Every fiber of my being is tingling.”

23. “I liked blues from the time my mother used to take me to church. I started to listen to gospel music, so I liked that. But I had an aunt at that time, my mother’s aunt who bought records by people like Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and a few others.”

24. “I almost chopped my thumb off once. Just before I left home, I was about ten or eleven years old, and I was trying to open a bone. Can you imagine that? A bone! I was trying to get the marrow out of a bone, and I took the ax, and I went to chop it, and something slipped, and the ax went right down there and damn near cut it off.”

25. “If my fans want to do something for me when that time comes, I say, don’t waste your money on me. Help the homeless. Help the needy… people who don’t have no food… Instead of some big funeral, where they come from here and there and all over. Save it.”

26. “I’ve seen myself on those lists of the 100 best guitarists, and if they think that I’m that good, thank them. Thank God for them. But I don’t think so.”

27. “I’m more careful about my hands than about what I eat and most anything else because my hands have been my living. My hands have been able to help me learn. My hands have taken me around the world. So I’m very proud of my hands.”

28. “I never use that word, retire.”

29. “I don’t have a favorite song that I’ve written. But I do have a favorite song: ‘Always on My Mind,’ the Willie Nelson version. If I could sing it like he do, I would sing it every night. I like the story it tells.”

30. “When I do eventually drop, I pray to God that it’ll happen in one of three ways. Firstly, on stage or leaving the stage, then secondly in my sleep. And the third way? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself!”

Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images

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