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BB King: On The Road In '68

In 1968, BB King was at the height of his powers. This classic report captures life in the eye of the storm from a US journalist out on tour with the star...

In the 1950s and early 1960s, touring black bands regularly played San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium – the Fillmore district was the city’s Harlem. So when BB King showed up there for a gig in February 1967, he expected the same old sea of black faces. To his astonishment, a sea of white faces greeted him. Promoter Bill Graham had just started booking the Fillmore for his psychedelic dances and, advised by blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, he booked BB to give the emerging hippie audience a chance to hear the blues straight from the source.

The hippies loved BB’s blues, and over the next three years, they helped him break through to a national and international audience. Dozens of magazines interviewed him, his singles edged into the charts, and by ’69 he had become the Duke Ellington of the blues, playing and singing better than ever before, his control tighter and his emotional range wider.

“Yes, I’m liking success, all of it,” he said one night in the dressing room.” My music is getting out, and I don’t have to worry where the next dollar is coming from no more. I’m not rich, understand, but farther from the edge than ever before.”

In the fall of ’68 I had travelled with BB in the deep south; there and then the edge was a lot closer.


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