Author's Note to the German Edition
"B.B. King Der Legendare Konig Des Blues"

by Charles Sawyer

Hannibal Verlag, Vienna, 1995. Translated to the German from
"The Arrival of B.B. King" Da Capo Press, 1982. Copyright © Charles Sawyer, 1995.

Since its first publication in 1980 this book has enjoyed a life far beyond any reasonable expectation. The English language edition has been in print for all but a brief time during these fifteen years and I still get letters and postcards from new readers who find that the book has touched them in some personal way. This success is in stark contrast with the pre-publication story of the book. The difficulties it encountered finding its way into print reflect the special obstacles faced by blues music and its most famous practitioner in particular. Between 1970 when I began circulating a proposal and sample chapters for a book on B.B. King among publishers, and 1980 when Doubleday announced the publication of the hardback edition of this book, fifty-three publishers passed judgment on the prospects for this book and fifty-two declined the chance to publish it.

The reasons given for rejecting the book were the usual smoke screen of ambiguities intended to blunt the author's disappointment, but the subtext of the rejection letters and the editors' comments by telephone revealed the deep skepticism verging on cynicism with which the conventional wisdom looked upon race, music, and the connection between intellectual values and popular culture. What was missing from their calculations was the willingness to believe that B.B. King had become a true hero of the American public. To publishers B.B. was merely the best artist from a musical genre they had relegated to the margins of pop music culture. Like the pundits and public moralists of the mid-1950's who considered Elvis Presley and Rock n' Roll to be only passing fancies, they considered the rise of blues and B.B.'s emergence as mere trends, just secondary side-effects, "epiphenomena" philosophers would call them, in the flux of the entertainment industry. A few publishers declared firmly that they understood the paramount importance of blues to our musical heritage and B.B.'s place in that context, but did not believe that these facts translated into ringing bookstore cash registers. These few who grasped B.B.'s historic importance rated the market for a book on Eric Clapton to be worth hundreds of thousands of sales, but believed that a book on B.B. King would sell too few copies to pay for its printing costs. The life story of the white superstar was a guaranteed success but the life of the black master from whom he had learned a substantial part of his craft was only grist for the ghostwriter's mill which would be ground down to a page or two in the bestseller about his white disciple.

Matters stand differently now. Today, because of the great stature B.B. has attained in the meantime, publishers would vie for the right to offer the book, if it were unpublished. Except for the brief few years during the mid 1970's when he experimented with self-management, his popularity has risen steadily from the time of his arrival in 1968 through today, and continues to rise. This feat should not be taken for granted, for 1980 might as easily have been the zenith of B.B.'s rise. Instead of continuing toward the stratosphere of superstars he might have slid into obscurity and become the marginal figure that publishers in the 1970's were so sure would be his fate. The history of popular culture is littered with stories of brilliant artists like Little Willie John, the inspiration of James Brown, who burned brilliantly and then burned out, or curiosities like Tiny Tim, who held the American public in rapt fascination for one television season with his strange persona, quavering soprano voice, and furtive ukulele strumming, only to slip into an oblivion so complete that today, walking through an airport terminal, he can't even draw a second look.

In September, 1980, backstage at the Beacon Theater in New York City a small party was held to celebrate the publication date of the first hardback edition of this book. B.B. King said the greatest pleasure in seeing the book published was knowing that when he is long gone there will be something left of him, something people can read to learn how he lived and how he made his music. Thus the appearance of this book in German is further affirmation of the legacy of B.B. King and certain to make him all the more proud.

In researching the new final chapter for this book I received invaluable help from Marcia Grodsky at the library of The University of Pittsburgh, Erica Wissolik at the Library of Congress, and James Carmin at the University of Oregon Library. I am deeply grateful to them for their invaluable help. The discography was prepared by the noted British discographer, Les Fancourt, to whom I am indebted. I am also deeply grateful to Cherie Hoyt, my wife, whose superb editorial hand improved every page.

Go To:

Robert Johnson / W.C. Handy / Willie Dixon

The Delta Map / The Essays / The Index

The Bluescasts To The Introduction The Blues Mall
The Blues News The Gutbucket The Blues Links

The Blue Highway
For the 'Buked and Scorned

Copyright © 1995-2004 by Charles Sawyer