Blues star is on the road for 310 days a year

By Will Friedwald
Updated June 07, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

”What are you doin’ out here in your underwear?” asked the hotel housekeeper, glaring suspiciously at B.B. King in the hall of his Indianapolis hotel, the bluesman locked out of his room in the middle of the night. ”It seemed to her,” King says, ”that I wasn’t out there for the reason I said I was.”

You’d think she’d understand: On the road 310 days a year, hopping from hotel to hotel, King got confused. The exit from his room that night was where the bathroom door had been in his last room. Such are the hazards of being the undisputed King of the Music Fests.

For more than 30 years, Riley B. King, now 70, has topped the bill at every kind of open-air concert, be it jazz, blues, rock, or folk. (He’s proud of having missed only 18 days of work in his entire career.) This year, his fifth annual B.B. King Blues Festival tours the States beginning in August.

”The largest crowd I’ve ever played to was at the Chicago Blues Festival about six years ago,” King says of a concert that drew approximately 250,000. ”To me, it looked like a big ocean wave of people, moving back and forth to the music.”

But it’s the informal settings at fests that King likes the most. ”You can bring the family, the kiddies, the teenagers, grandmoms and grandpas,” he says. ”And you don’t have to put on your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.”