BB King Explains Why Elvis Presley Is Different From Any Other Rockstars
BURBANK, CA - JUNE 27: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley performing on the Elvis comeback TV special on June 27, 1968. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
One of the many legendary rock musicians who helped make way for Elvis Presley was B.B. King.
King believed that Presley stood out from a number of his peers. Nevertheless, King did not really embrace the legend that surrounded the “Heartbreak Hotel” singer.
As mentioned in the book King of Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King, published in 2021, King had the chance to meet several other musicians, including Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. These artists were all part of a famous group called The Million Dollar Quartet, and they were associated with Sun Records at various points.
The Unforgettable Encounter
King shared his thoughts about these performers. He noted:
“I saw all of them, but they didn’t have much to say. It wasn’t anything personal, but I might feel a little chill between them and me.”
While he didn’t explain why he felt this disconnect, he didn’t experience the same distance with Presley, known for the hit “All Shook Up.”
King remembered that Presley “was different.” “He was friendly.” Presley thanked King with igniting his career and treated him like king. He described Presley as “handsome and quiet and polite to a fault.” Recalling Presley as saying:
“He 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’s Resentment of Losing to Elvis Presley
King thought Presley had a good voice. He stated:
“I liked his voice, though I had no idea he was getting ready to conquer the world.”
In spite of this, he rolled his eyes at the signature style of the so-called King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, calling it “just more white people doing blues that used different progressions.”
He made a comparison between Presley and Arthur Crudup, who originally wrote and performed the song “That’s All Right.” King mentioned that Presley was performing songs similar to those of Crudup, but they were being labeled as “rock ‘n’ roll.” King believed that this labeling was a way to highlight that Presley was not Black.
During that era, Presley received much more attention from Black audiences compared to King. In the 1950s, Presley achieved great success on the R&B charts with songs like “All Shook Up,” “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” On the other hand, King had fewer successful songs during that time.
Film Featuring “Love Me Tender” Singer Spotlights Blues Icon
In Baz Luhrmann’s movie Elvis, the portrayal of the friendship between King and Presley was a smaller aspect. The film depicts their bond as friendly, although King points out the unequal treatment they received due to their racial backgrounds, with Presley being treated better.
The movie helped introduce the younger audience to the music of Presley, particularly his song “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Additionally, the film resulted in a soundtrack album titled “Elvis,” which had a decent level of success. It reached the 26th position on the Billboard 200 chart and remained on the chart for a total of 26 weeks. It’s possible that the movie might also spark interest among viewers in King, his musical work, and his life story.
While King didn’t gain as much fame as Presley, there’s hope that this could change over time.