We meet a Blues Legend and are challenged to redefine the idea of retirement.
First, I Was Surprised
When I heard the words “Delta Blues” I never thought - hey, Arkansas! I would only ever think about the state of Mississippi.
This is what travel does for me.
Visiting this region we’ve learned that technically the Mississippi Delta lies east of the Mississippi River (hence leaving out Arkansas).
Cotton, however, flourished on both sides of the river - and blues music grew out of the cotton fields.
Arkansas = Blues.
Then I Was Confused
Growing up in West Michigan I listened to WLAV which is a classic rock station out of Grand Rapids. They ran a weekly show called the King Biscuit Flower Hour which featured live performances mostly by classic rock bands.
Researching the Arkansas portion of the Great River Road I kept coming across mention of a show called King Biscuit Time.
Turns out the latter was just riffing on the former’s name and fame and adding some “hippie power” to it (being 1973 and all).
Then I Was Charmed
He came shuffling in using a walker.
Short dude - reminded me of my grampa the way he came up to my shoulder.
Yea - a bit hard of hearing. But if you spoke up he was right there with you.
Curious about where you were from. Playful banter served up with a wry twist.
Autographed music equipment cases as the Delta Cultural Center.
These guys were from Poland, spending a couple weeks on their bikes in the USA
Abandoned building in Helena
Our rig parked by the stage in Helena, AR.
Old mural in downtown Helena
Another abandoned building just itching to be a photographic backdrop.
Sonny Sunshine Payne doing his thing on King Biscuit Time.
Then I Was Amazed
B.B. King’s first hit was “Three O Clock Blues” in 1952 - a year after Sonny starts hosting King Biscuit Time. B.B. goes on to a career spanning 7 decades and 50 albums, playing live almost up to the time he passes earlier this year at 89 years old.
Our boy Sonny?
Still hosting his radio show. You can hear the episode we sat in on here.
Sonny turns 90 this year.
I’d love to spend a day with Sonny - just prodding him to tell stories.
He’s a vet (lied about his age to join the Army), a musician in his own right (played bass with Tex Ritter), and knows all the blues greats and has many fans in the music industry (people like Robert Plant and Elvis Costello have made the trek to Helena to meet Sonny).
Then I Was Challenged
The concept & formula of retirement is so baked into our American Culture and the closer we get to that age the less we think of it. If Sonny Payne lived the formula and retired at 65 we’d have missed out on 25 years of him.
I’m willing to argue it’s his love for music and having a daily task to do that’s kept him going. Take that away? Retire him? I’d expect he’d have withered away.
If you visit Helena in an RV you can possibly find parking next to the stage used for the Blues Festival - we were there on a weekday morning however, so we aren’t sure if this lot fills up at other times.
Have You Listened?
Have you listened to King Biscuit Time?
Our special thanks to Kimberly Williams from the Arkansas Tourism Department for working with us to have a great experience in Arkansas.