Great River Road 30 - King Biscuit Time Show, Helena, AR

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.

So yes.

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.

Sunshine Sonny Payne - the DJ of King Biscuit Time.

Since 1951.

During the King Biscuit Show

During the King Biscuit Show

Original drum from the original King Biscuit Boys

Original drum from the original King Biscuit Boys

Autographed music equipment cases as the Delta Cultural Center.

Autographed music equipment cases as the Delta Cultural Center.

These guys were from Poland, spending a couple weeks on their bikes in the USA

These guys were from Poland, spending a couple weeks on their bikes in the USA

Abandoned building in Helena

Abandoned building in Helena

Our rig parked by the stage in Helena, AR.

Our rig parked by the stage in Helena, AR.

Old mural in downtown Helena

Old mural in downtown Helena

Another abandoned building just itching to be a photographic backdrop.

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

Retirement.

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.

RV Parking

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?

Shoutout

Our special thanks to Kimberly Williams from the Arkansas Tourism Department for working with us to have a great experience in Arkansas.

1 Comment Great River Road 30 - King Biscuit Time Show, Helena, AR

  1. Picture of Stephen Stephen November 20, 2015

    Enjoyed reading about your crossroads visit and king biscuit visit w sonny.  Thank you.  Stephen

Comments are no longer accepted on this article.