“I was barely 11 years old, when one of the greatest influences of my life, Robert Johnson, was recording just across the street from this (Majestic) theater recording his first ever songs (at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio) and that had a lot to do with where I am today.
“Johnson came from the same dirt Elvis and so many of us did. 'It was the world of sharecropping, and to survive that hard work bending over all day long, there would be plenty of singing. Elvis’s momma and daddy did their share of it—both the picking and the singing. It was called survival. It was called life. It was just as important to us as water. It was as important to those of us who had it in our souls as the water.
“The other big influence was Jimmy Rogers. Some people want to say he was the Father of Country Music, but like Elvis, he was more than that. He was a big influence on not just me. I used to listen to my aunt’s records of Jimmy Rogers and that was a real treat. I liked that ‘Mississippi Delta Blues’ and to listen to him yodel.
“I never did yodel…but Jimmy Rogers could sure yodel. He was very good at it. But yes, he influenced more than country music, he influenced Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as much as he did Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. See, Elvis did that too, but only much wider. Elvis influenced everybody’s music and it was for the good of all of us.
“Now, where did Jimmy Rogers learn his music from? He learned it working alongside the black railroad workers and hobos. Elvis lived and played with black children back in (Tupelo) Mississippi. He told me that when he was just a baby and his mama had to work, he was cared for sometimes by his grandmamma, but mostly by a neighbor black lady.”
B.B. King in an interview with Jack Dennis, San Antonio Examiner (thanks to Julian Taylor for pointing this one out). Pictured above, Elvis, singer Claudia Ivy, and B.B. King at the WDIA Goodwill Review on December 7, 1956. Photo © Ernest C. Withers