Shirley King Talks
About Her New Album
And Being The
Daughter Of A Legend
June 21, 2020
Shirley King knows a thing or two about the blues. The eldest daughter of B.B. King got a relative late start in the music business. Having tried several different career paths earlier in her life, Shirley decided to give music a shot in the early 1990's and has gained quite a following since.
King just released a new album titled Blues For A King, that features several great musicians such as Steve Cropper, Pat Travers, Martin Barre, Elvin Bishop and Joe Lewis Walker.
We had the chance to talk with Ms. King to discuss her new album as well what it was like growing up with a famous father.
GD: Congratulations on your new album, I got the chance to listen to it and it sounds great!
SK: Thank you! I am so honored to have so many people that have interviewed me, nobody has disappointed me about this CD like I was with myself. I wasn’t as happy as I should have been. But now, you're gonna have to put my head in a wheelbarrow to carry it around because it’s so big. (laughs)
GD: You have a pretty wide range of songs on the record, how did you choose those songs for your album?
SK: I would love to take credit for that. That was Cleopatra Records and John Lappen’s process. I just went in there and did what they told me to do. They paid me before I even went into the studio. So I already started spending the money, so I had no other choice but to do what they told me to do. So it was all their idea, I had nothing to do with it.
GD: Did you end up working with the featured guests in the studio, or was the music already done?
SK: I’ve never met not one of the musicians besides Junior Wells. He is dead, so they had to bring him back from the grave to do this with me. I’ve never met any of these guitar players, not-a-one of them! To put the icing on the cake, I’ve never Brian (Perera) who owns the record label and I’ve never met John (Lappen) who’s doing all of this work for me. I don’t know nobody!
GD: That’s incredible. With the technology we have today to do that, it’s amazing.
SK: It is!
GD: I read where you stated that Etta James was a role model for you and you got to meet her at a young age. Why did you choose to cover “At Last” for this record?
SK: Remember, I had nothing to do with the selection of the music at all! Most people that read anything about Shirley King, they will know that Shirley King is a great admirer of Etta James. I guess that’s how they came up with that. Out of all the songs they could have picked from Etta James, they picked the one that intimidated me the worst! I can’t imagine anyone but Etta James singing “At Last.” At thirteen, I saw her on stage singing and when she did that song, I just melted.
I wasn’t a blues singer. My whole thing growing up was that I hated the blues. The blues took my father away from me. I had no need to sing the blues. Etta James song was selected by them and was pushed on me to sing it. Now, I’m glad I did because that would have been how I could remember Etta James if I close my eyes. So “At Last” was a very challenging song for me because I had to do it Shirley King’s way. Like I tell people, I can sing one of my dad’s songs but I can not sound like B.B. King. I can not sound like Etta James, and I wouldn’t even try. But I hope people know I did it out of honor, because I did not want to replace her.
And I didn’t get to meet her. She was not a people person. When I was on the road with my father, my son got in contact with her and he had her call me on one of my birthday’s. He had her talk to me on the phone and I almost died! That was the only time I ever talked to Etta James. My father said, “Let me tell you something about that woman. She’s on my show and she don’t even speak to me! She used to be my girlfriend.” I said, “Why didn’t you marry her so she could have been my step-mama?” (laughs) She’s just not a people person.
GD: I think my favorite track on the album is “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Martin Barr did some fantastic guitar work on that song and your singing is spot on. What is your favorite song on the new album?
SK: I hate to go against you, but my favorite song is “Hoodoo Man.” You might want to ask me why? Well, I’mma tell you anyway. It was a blues song and it was a song I was more familiar with than the other songs. Once I started doing “Can’t Find My Way Home” I would cry at night when I would come home and think about it. It was a research song for me, since I had lost my father, I had to find my way to where I was when he was living. That song started touching me spiritually. I wasn’t familiar with that song. I really wasn’t familiar with any of the songs.
GD: Looking back, what was it like growing up with a famous father?
SK: At first, he wasn’t famous to me, he was just my daddy. But when I would go out there and be around him and there was James Brown and Jackie Wilson, I was hooping and hollering. They were famous, but my dad was just my dad. As I grew older and found out who he was, he was like god in my life. I realized how hard he worked to become the person he was. Then I would see these other superstars, and they would start melting down under my dad and eventually, he became this god in my life. The other (famous)people, were just people that he knew. I don’t see my dad as somebody that’s famous, I see him as someone that I loved. I always wanted him to be with me.
GD: Did you ever go on tour with him as a child?
SK: I didn’t go on tour with him. But when I got a little older, I was always complaining that he didn’t spend any time with me so he had to teach me a lesson. He was going to take me on the road for three weeks, but I think it only lasted one week. I didn’t know it was that much hard work. I’ll never forget, he was performing in Palm Springs. He did the show and you just don’t go to bed after the show. You have to stand there and let him talk to all of the people after the show. Then, you get to the hotel and there would be family there waiting on him, so you have to sit there.
The next morning, I overslept. I woke up and they left me at the hotel! I jumped up and saw the bus pulling out. I thought “Oh my god, they done left without me!” I went running down the pavement, the sidewalk was hot! He was trying to teach me a lesson. He said a lot of people eat and take care of themselves off of what I do. If I’m late for a show or if something happens, I hurt a lot of people, including you. I can’t give you money if I don’t make any money. They were all on the bus laughing, and I could have slapped everyone on that bus after they stopped and let me on. Every morning after that, I was in the lobby two hours before them because I was never going to be late again. I had learned my lesson. When it became too hard, he let me go home. He let me know he was out there working hard. Even though it’s show business and it looks easy, he would let me see that it isn't.
GD: Music wasn’t your first career choice, why did it take awhile for you to decide to become a blues singer?
SK: As I said earlier, I didn’t like the blues because it took my father away from me. If I was going to be in the music world, I would have been in gospel or R&B. Most people in the Afro-American community would tell you that they don’t like the blues because they live the blues.
I came in it because I didn’t have to go through what others did. I was already on the ladder, all I had to do was keep climbing. I came out here being B.B. King’s daughter. I started singing the blues because I had danced for twenty-one years and I didn’t want to do it any more. My kids had grown up. I didn’t want to do what my father had done to me. Being a touring artist makes you leave your kids and I didn’t want to do that. I danced because I didn’t have to travel, I stayed right in the city of Chicago and worked for twenty-one years. Now, I go to a blues club and I’m ready to sing the blues, but I don’t know the blues. I’m living in the city where the blues is, and I was watching one night and my girlfriend let me up on the stage. I was used to the stage, because I was a dancer but I didn’t know the blues. I went up there, didn’t know the words, didn’t know my key, I looked out and saw the whole crowd looking at me, so I started dancing. I was gonna get over one way or the other! I saw the club owner sitting there, and sat in his lap and by the time it was over, I got a standing ovation. About a month later, I was working at the club.
GD: That is great! Did you ever get to perform with your father?
SK: Only one time, I got the chance to be the opening act. They called it the Chicago Blues and we went to Italy and there were about six acts over there. My dad was the headliner and I got to be a part of that package. My father didn’t want me to be his opening act. He wanted me to go out there and make a name for myself. It hurt me at first, but my dad didn’t think it was good because people were trying to live off other people’s name.
GD: When things get back to normal, are you planning on touring with this record?
SK: If Cleopatra Records spent all this time, trying to pull this great thing off. I feel they intend on putting me out there. I’m sure when it’s time, they have something planned. They have me and Joe Lewis Walker, kinda doing the same thing. Joe is already a touring artist. They might have up their sleeve putting me out there with Joe a little bit because he did two songs on there. (her new record). Because they’ve been so good to me, I will listen and do what they tell me to do.
GD: I hope to see you in Cleveland!
SK: You know what, I did one the best, most wonderful shows in Cleveland! I’ve worked in Akron, I’ve worked in Cincinnati, I’ve worked all these places! I worked like B.B. King, I just wasn’t getting paid like him. I’m excited to get out there!
GD: I appreciate your time and I wish you the best of luck!
SK: Thank you so much!
Shirley King's new album Daughter Of The Blues is available now at Amazon.com.