“So, what happened was, it was B.B. King’s 50th anniversary album. I was working at the warehouse in the early 80’s and whatever sessions were going on, I would try and get involved. Sid Seidenberg was BB’s manager and he was pals with Henry, so they recorded in our studio.
Now, Henry wasn’t the world’s best communicator about BB King was coming. You had to figure shit out for yourself a lot of times. So one day I see Dave Crawford (legendary Atlantic Records producer), and Luther Dixon (songwriter for Elvis, The Beatles, B.B. King, Jackson 5, many more), and Sid Seidenberg (Manager for Gladys Knight, and B.B. King). Bobby Caldwell was in there doing some drum programming. He had a drum machine early on, and he was working on the sessions, and y’know there was a fair amount of cheap weed and cheap Liberty City cocaine in the foil pouch, like 80% cut, and ten percent cocaine, and ten percent God knows what!
And, I had a car, and I had time, and I had ambition, so I started hanging around and asking these people if they needed lunch or anything from the store. One day Bobby Caldwell didn’t have a ride so I took him over to Brickell. I went back to the studio and there were Dave and Luther and they were nice and friendly with me. They were gonna be in Miami for several months writing and producing the BB King album. I remember Henry was excited about having them cover Little Beaver, “Katie Pearl.”
So I would hang around, and these guys hired me to be their driver. That was the beginning of my career. They would bring in different musicians to work during the day putting tracks together and preparing for Mr. King to come into town and he would arrive and they would have X amount of songs ready and he would go over the tracks and lay some vocals and sit in the studio and come up with some leads, and do the rhythms as they came up.
They were writing and changing and arranging and then one day they were working on a song and they had Dave on the piano and I was across from Luther at the table and he started writing a verse and looking for a word to rhyme with the preceding phrase and I came out with a line that rhymed and everything stopped. Dave stopped playing. Luther looked at me. The room went quiet. And he said, “You’re not a part of this. You’re not in this. If you want to watch, you need to keep your mouth shut. Nobody asked you to contribute anything here.”
I went totally cold and felt humiliated and embarassed and said sorry and lowered my head for the rest of the session and watch these two master songwriters as they wrote and crafted this song for BB King.
I did that for weeks. Running them to Liberty City to get cheap weed and cheap cocaine and go back into the room. And they would always let me do some of the drugs. They would get like 25 or 50 bucks a clip and sniff a little blow and smoke some weed and I would run them all over town for a couple of months watching how you write charts and tell musicians their parts and I was watching and absorbing all this.
So one day they decide to start working on songs and as I was sitting at the table, Luther looks at me and says to Dave, “You wanna let the kid in on this one?”
Dave said, “Yeah, you can get in on this one.”
When they came up with a line, I could finish a phrase with a rhyme, which was a great feeling and I ended up writing three songs with them: two for BB King and one for Wilson Pickett. BB recorded one of those two songs for his 50th anniversary album.
One night during those sessions, James Brown and Pickett were doing a show on Miami Beach at a hotel, and the crowd was small. About three hundred people. Small room. And it was amazing in such a small venue to see them perform. I didn’t realize it but my dad was at the same show. I was there to meet Wilson Pickett and go over songs with him after the show. And James made a shoutout to Henry; and he had all this energy in his set. He did everything. He dropped down to one knee. He threw his cape off. He rocked that fucking house. It was impressive.
Not long after that, the BB King album production wrapped, Dave got called back to New York, and Luther had business here with his Jamaican wife and their soda import company. I remember Luther at his house saying, “Let’s go see if there’s a check today!” The mailbox money was rocking for that guy and I thought to myself, “Songwriting. I’d like to get involved with that.”
These days I have hundreds of published works, and I’m very grateful for that.
Weeks later, Dave said “Go see Wilson Pickett at this club there in the Grove, on Biscayne Bay…” So here I am, skinny little white kid going to Wilson Pickett’s dressing room in 1984 0r 85′ and he tells security, “Let him in, that’s one of my writers.”
BB King was the same way. He’d be working in the studio and I’d say, “I’m going to the store, need anything?”
He would reach in his pocket and pull out a huge wad of hundred dollar bills with some ones on the outside and he would peel off about six dollars and say, “Let me put something in the kitty.” He had this big stack of cash. He’d say, “Get me some tea and honey. I’m gonna be singing tonight.”
There’s a lot more details to this story that haven’t been revealed yet, so stay tuned for the podcast, books, movies, tv shows, soundtracks, and the like. All in all, it was a tremendous experience working on BB King’s 50th anniversary album, and it gave me the motivation to keep pushing forward in this music business that we all so adore.”
©Jacob katel and ©Henry Stone Music USA Inc. All Rights Reserved.