Sink or Swim - Advice from B.B. King
From "Sliced Bread" by Rosemary Phillips
A producer called and asked me to go and talk with B.B. King at a Vancouver night club to check him out for a possible interview for Hourglass (1976). The idea of meeting B.B. King, King of the Blues, made me nervous. Politicians and dignitaries really didn't phase me, but B.B. King? He was so good at the blues that when I had last seen him live in concert at Massey Hall in Toronto he got a standing ovation just for walking on stage.
I was weak-kneed and my insides blooped, but I pretended I wasn't bothered. I coolly walked into the club and stated I was with CBC Hourglass and had an appointment. I was led to the dressing rooms where B.B. King stood waiting for me. He offered me a seat and we chatted about his music and his show, about his life and his interests, and about the possibility of a TV interview.
During the discussion B.B. King made mention that he was exceedingly concerned about adult literacy in the United States and that he wanted to start up a TV show somewhat like an adult Sesame Street to encourage adults to learn to read. We agreed this interest of his would make for a really good interview, something in addition to his guitar work, something human, social and caring.
During our discussion I babbled about the difficulty I was having in a particular relationship with a man in the States. I was amazed, I had the King of the Blues lending a sympathetic ear to my sad, blue story.
Then, as I left the dressing room, he asked, "Would you be interested in helping me out by working on the show in Tennessee?"
Back at CBC the producers really liked the idea of an interview in which B.B. King would talk about his vision and his dream. But, by the next day circumstances had changed and the producers asked me to arrange for B.B. King to appear in the studio with his guitar and just play a couple of tunes. That didn't sit well in my gut and I was thoroughly disappointed. So was Mr. King. As time ticked on even that request was cancelled. I was really upset and moped around the office blaming myself for letting him down. I did not enjoy having to call him. Regardless, when I gave him the news Mr. King still insisted I give him a call within the next few months.
Two months later I was on the road again, heading east, and stopped in at Duluth, Minnesota, to stay with my man-friend. The situation was still not comfortable but I kept hoping it would work out. Part of me knew I was just hanging on, and in doing so I was becoming somebody I didn't like, full of anger and frustration. My man-friend was also getting frustrated with my inability to make a decision to stay or go.
One morning I went to a pay phone and called B.B. King's office in Tennessee. He was on tour, as usual, yet I managed to get him at his hotel in New Hampshire. He was pleased to hear from me but this time he carried the sad news, "The show isn't in place yet, so I don't have anything to offer you at the moment. But, please keep in touch." Then he asked, "Are you still with that guy?"
"Yes," I replied.
He then said, "I have something to ask you. If you're out in a row boat with a friend and the boat tips over and sinks, and your friend is drowning, are you going to reach out and grab him and drown with him, or are you going to save yourself and swim for shore?"
I felt like I had just received a swift kick in the butt. I knew what I had to do and couldn't thank B.B. King enough for helping me see that I needed to leave my man-friend and continue my journey east to Toronto.
"As long as there are Blues, I'll be singing them." B.B. King