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Why B.B. King Felt Elvis Presley Wasn’t Like Other Rock Stars

B.B. King was one of many classic rock stars who paved the way for Elvis Presley. King thought Elvis was different from several of his contemporaries. Despite this, King did not fully buy into the mythology surrounding the “Heartbreak Hotel” singer.

B.B. King said Elvis Presley didn’t give him the chill that Johnny Cash did

According to the 2021 book King of Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King, King met Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Each artist was a member of The Million Dollar Quartet, a group of famous musicians who were each signed to Sun Records at one point.

King discussed the performers. “I saw all of them, but they didn’t have much to say,” he said. “It wasn’t anything personal, but I might feel a little chill between them and me.” He didn’t reveal why he felt this “chill,” but he didn’t feel it with the “All Shook Up” singer.

“Elvis was different,” King recalled. “He was friendly. I remember Elvis distinctly.” King called him “handsome and quiet and polite to a fault.” Elvis credited King with inspiring his career, and treated him like royalty. In King’s recollection, Elvis “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.”

B.B. King resented that Black audiences preferred Elvis Presley to him

King felt Elvis had vocal talent. “I liked his voice, though I had no idea he was getting ready to conquer the world,” he said. Despite this, he rolled his eyes at the so-called King of Rock ‘n’ Roll‘s signature genre, dismissing it as “just more white people doing blues that used different progressions.”

King compared Elvis to Arthur Crudup, the artist who wrote and originally performed “That’s All Right.” “[He]was doing Big Boy Crudup’s tunes, and they were calling that ‘rock ‘n’ roll,’” he said. “And I thought it was a way of saying, ‘He’s not Black.’”

King didn’t garner as much attention from Black audiences as Elvis did at that time. In the 1950s, Elvis had huge hits on the R&B charts such as “All Shook Up,” “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Meanwhile, King barely had hits.

A recent film about the ‘Love Me Tender’ singer had the blues icon as a minor character

King’s relationship with Elvis was a minor part of Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis. The film portrays their friendship as warm, although King notes how Elvis is treated far better than him on account of his race.

The film introduced many young fans to the “Can’t Help Falling in Love” singer. In addition, the movie produced a soundtrack album, Elvis, which became a modest hit. It reached No. 26 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 26 weeks in total. Perhaps the movie will also get moviegoers interested in King, his music, and his life story.

King didn’t receive as much recognition as the “Jailhouse Rock” singer but hopefully that will change with time.

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