B.B. King on why Elvis Presley didn’t give him a “chill”

Mississippi legend B.B. King is known as one of the apical progenitors of the rhythm and blues tradition. His unique and innovative approach to the electric guitar made him a prominent name in the Mississippi Delta Blues scene during the 1950s, eventually earning him the affectionate title ‘The King of the Blues’ among fans and peers.

King’s solo-heavy style was recognised by fluid string bends, vibrato and staccato picking. His foundational work would ultimately inspire a generation of rock guitarists over the latter half of the 20th century, including Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. Although he passed away in 2015, King’s colossal shoulders continue to carry an unimaginable weight of emerging talent.

Shortly after King emerged, a salient star in the early 1950s, Elvis Presley began making his mark with a deal at Sun Records. The company’s eminent producer, Sam Philips, wanted to bring the sound of Black American music to a wider audience and found the perfect conduit in Presley.

“I liked his voice, though I had no idea he was getting ready to conquer the world,” King reflected on his early impression of the so-called ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’. At that point, he dismissed the burgeoning style as “just more white people doing blues that used different progressions,” according to the book King of Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King.

Elsewhere in the book, King remembered meeting Presley and his Sun Records peers Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. This group was known informally as The Million Dollar Quartet. “I saw all of them, but they didn’t have much to say,” King said. “It wasn’t anything personal, but I might feel a little chill between them and me.”

“Elvis was different,” however, King recalled. “He was friendly. I remember Elvis distinctly.” He added that the singer was “handsome and quiet and polite to a fault.”

Though famously cordial, Presley was hugely inspired by King and treated him with optimal respect. King recalled that Presley “spoke with this thick molasses Southern accent and always called me ‘Sir.’ I liked that. In the early days, I heard him strictly as a country singer.”

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