Valley man who was organist for BB King remembers the music legend

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
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As BB King is being mourned by fans around the world, one of his former band members remembers him as more than a great musician.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As BB King is being mourned by fans around the world, one of his former band members remembers him as more than a great musician.

"If you were a musician and you listened to BB play, you learned something and you were a better musician. But the greatest thing I can say I learned from him was being a better human being, no doubt about it."

Duke Jethro lives in Los Banos. He was King's organ player from 1963 to 1968. He played up to 300 shows a year, recorded half a dozen albums.

Jethro said, "In the mid 60's I guess I played on all of his recordings."

Blues aficionados know him as the piano player on Kings first live album, "Live at the Regal." It was recorded in 1964. Jethro recalls how BB forced him to play the piano because the organ was broken.

"They didn't bring the organ what am I gonna do... He said, 'Well you have to play Piano,' I said I can't play the piano... he said, 'Well just sit there and pretend that's what you do most of the time anyway.'"

But Jethro did not pretend and "Live at the Regal" is today considered Kings best album. But Jethro says both he and King did not understand what all the fuss was about.

"Everybody acted like it was something special," Jethro said. "To us, it was just another night. Just another day at the office. We didn't know the album would turn out like it is."

For Jethro playing with King was the highlight of his musical career and a challenge.

Jethro explained, "He would open up with "Every Day I Have the Blues" after that we would have no idea what we would play the rest of the night. We never knew what he was gonna play next or what key he was gonna play in but we always managed."

But after 5 years. Jethro found the road too much.

"You wake up in the morning you can't remember what city you are in," said Jethro. "You go to sleep in one city and wake up on another one."

After leaving King's band, he formed his own but gave it all up a couple of years later. "I quit the music business and went back to engineering."

Duke Jethro's real name is Jethro Pollard. He had college degrees in music and electrical engineering. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. A pilot. When King discovered him playing in a club in LA, Jethro was working as a musician at night, and engineer by day. He gave up music in 1970 and moved to the Bay Area. He worked at Philco, Lockheed, IBM and others as an electrical engineer. His old Hammond organ is hidden under boxes in his garage. Now 79, he hasn't played in years. But cherishes his time with BB, the King of the Blues.

"There is no after BB King," Jethro said. "There was before BB King, but there's no after because there's nobody that can carry on what left behind."

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