An audience with the King

November 27, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Tom Borum of Hagerstown has learned that the next time he goes to chat with B.B. King, he needs to take a notepad and pencil.

B.B. King is performing at 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 1, at The Maryland Theatre.

Today, Borum is known locally for fronting the blues band Rudy and the Bluefish, but in 1970 he was a student at the University of Maryland at College Park. As part of an independent study project on the history of rock 'n' roll, Borum and a pal were allowed to interview King at Cole Field House prior to the bluesman's performance.

Borum says he and his friend were "high-tech" for the time and took a tape recorder to record the interview.

"We didn't bother to take paper and pencil," he says.

A year earlier, in 1969, Borum had seen King perform at the Atlantic City Pop Festival in New Jersey. (The music festival was overshadowed a few weeks later, Borum adds, by another little festival in Woodstock, N.Y.)


At the Atlantic City festival, Borum saw King share the stage with Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane. It was festival overrun with hippies, but King commanded the stage.

"He looked out of place wearing a suit," Borum recalls. But it only took a few notes and Borum says the audience loved him.

The following year King released "Indianola Mississippi Seeds," which is a favorite album of Borum's and influential in his own music.

What Borum found was a gracious interviewee. He says King entertained the two college students with tales about how his beloved guitar, Lucille, got her name and about his early influences. King even played them a few guitar riffs as he chatted with the students.

One thing that King told Borum about music was that the guitar was an extension of the voice. "He has so much to say with each note," Borum says.

It's a lesson that Borum says he took to heart and has always remembered when performing in front of his own audiences.

Toward the end of the interview, Borum says King's band was on stage warming up the audience. King's stage manager told him that he needed to get ready to go on stage. Borum says King told him, "Listen, I'm talking to these fellows."

King chatted with Borum and his friend for a little while longer. He says he never felt that King wanted to rush. At the end of the interview, Borum says King gave them his phone number and address in New York and told the young men when they were in his neighborhood to drop in.

"As dumb as we were, we didn't write down the number," Borum says with a laugh.

Borum says he lent the cassette tape to a friend who inadvertently left the cassette in a hot car, damaging it. His friend threw out the cassette before even talking to Borum.

"I could have fixed it," he says.

Don Oehser of Shepherdstown, W.Va., has had the chance to meet King several times over the years. The first time he recalls seeing him was in 1969.

Oehser says King was the opening act for Canned Heat, "a white-guy blues band from San Francisco," at an Alexandria, Va., roller rink. Oehser says even then he knew that the band should have been opening for King instead.

"By that time he had already been on the road for at least 20 years," he says.

After one show at Georgetown University in the early 1970s, Oehser and his mother were able to meet King backstage. Once behind stage, Oehser's mother proposed marriage to King.

"He said, 'Well, I'm already married, but I appreciate it,'" Oehser recalls with a laugh.

Oehser, who is known locally for being a member of Singin' the Bones and who has taught music for years, says King has brought class to the blues. He says he's also tried to teach his students that "they should say something with each note." It's something that, he says, King has always done.

Oehser says there are three kings in music: Albert, Freddie and B.B. He says King's trills are distinctive. He says King's voice is "powerful and deliberate."

He says if you'd draw a straight line back from B.B. King and Chuck Berry's musical influences, it would point straight to T Bone Walker.

"If you'd cut T Bone Walker in half, one side would be B.B. King, the other side would be Chuck Berry," he says.

King's refined style with his jazz influences made an indelible mark on the history of music.

"B.B. King is to the electric blues guitar as Chuck Berry is to rock 'n' roll guitar," Oehser says.

As for Borum, he and his band will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28, at the Mecklenberg Inn in Shepherdstown, just days before he'll see King in concert.

He says he's hoping to get another chance to meet King again when he goes to the Monday evening.

He says he'd like to know if King would remember that evening and if that offer to stop by is still open.

And as for the lost of the cassette, Borum is philosophical. "I may have lost the tape, but I never lost B.B. King's message: Play from the heart and make every note count," he says.

If you go ...

WHAT: B.B. King

WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 1

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

COST: $59.50 to $99.50

MORE: To purchase tickets call 301-790-3500 or visit

For more information about Rudy and the Bluefish, visit

For more information about B.B. King, visit

For more information about Don Oehser, visit

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