Mr. King, may I please move your Twinkies?
In 2006, I was invited by B.B. King to create his 80th Birthday commemorative work of art.
He was performing at an Indian casino/resort in the California desert and my friend, Manu, who was the Consul General of Finland, was a B.B. King fanatic and he asked if he could be my assistant. Although I have never used an assistant, nor did I know and still do not know what I would do with one, I eagerly said yes because he was a friend and I knew we would have a great time.
When we arrived at the casino a couple hours before the show, they took us onto Mr. King’s bus and told us to go to the back. We walked to the back and B.B. was sitting there. By the way he said hello, I could tell he’d had thousands walk that walk to his quarters and he wasn’t really in the mood to do whatever he had to do on this particular day. We greeted and he asked what we needed. I said, “Mr. King, I am the artist that you requested to have your birthday portrait created by.” He then asked if I needed anything and I said it would be good if he had his guitar for the portrait.
Immediately, he shouted to the front of the bus, words I will never forget—”Kenny, bring me Lucille.” For those that do not know, Lucille is the name of his guitar and it is probably up there as one of the most iconic things in the history of music. And let me confess, I was also a B.B. King fanatic and bought my first vinyl of his when I was a child—an album called “Live in Cook County Jail,” in which he performs at a correctional facility in Illinois with a simple rope separating him from the prisoners.
As we were waiting for Kenny to bring Lucille, I began to prepare. There was one thing in the composition that I did not think would be so good and started to move it. It was a huge box of twinkies. Not just twinkies—Fat Free Twinkies. I asked Mr. King if I could move them and he muttered, “you already did.” Okay, he was not pleased with me, yet.
So here comes Kenny and Lucille and he’s starting to warm up to Manu, as they are in a conversation about a performance he gave in Finland. I pull out my 1970s Polaroid camera—which was the camera I used up until a few years ago. It was painted blue and looked more like a toy than something a professional used and it caught Mr. King’s attention. I explained to him that it was a process of photography in which I carved into the images while the emulsions in the film were still wet, and that was what gave a painterly look to my work. He liked that and so the obstacles of the creative collaboration were cleared and we began our work. After some time of working, he asked, “Son, did you get what you need?” as it was almost time for him to go on stage. “Almost, Mr. King,” I said.
Mr King smiled and brilliantly said something that I now hear in my head when I am working all of the time. “That’s the trouble with us artists. We always think we can do a better job.”
With that said, I finished the first portion of my work—the shooting part. After I have my image, I need to heat up the one that I like best, keeping it warm in my armpit before I go into it and perform the carving process. I had to get to work. But, I had one problem. Mr. King warmed up to us so much, was so amused by the fact that I put the pictures in my armpit and would not stop chatting us up. Finally, I told him I needed to go and get to work. He asked if we were staying for the show and saw to it that I was set up with a table backstage so I could see the show and work on the pictures at the same time.
After the show at about midnight, Manu and I hit the road, hauling it back to Los Angeles through the desolate desert. About an hour into the drive, Manu turned to me, and in a thick Finnish accent, asked “what’s a twinkie?”
I laughed and began to explain to him. But how can you explain a twinkie? There were lights ahead, a 24 hour gas station. I pulled over, bought us a two pack of Hostess Twinkies (they were not fat free) and we ate ’em.
This was the only time I ever brought something with me to a shoot to get signed. It was my first vinyl and I used to listen to it, fascinated with all of the voices of the prisoners in the background.
Hear side 1 right here:
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