Life Stories: Bringing B.B. Back

Bringing B.B. Back

A Conversation with Cornelius Meadows and B.B. Little

The following conversation was recorded by B.B. Little’s wife, Hampton, at their home a little more than a year before his death in 2011. He was in poor health and his memory was fading, so he asked his friend, recording artist Cornelius Meadows, to sit down with him and talk about the years leading up to the revival of his career, which B.B. says Cornelius (“Corny”) made happen.

LITTLE: Corny man, I wanted to do this, sit down and get the record straight, you know, about how you brought me back, man. Corny Meadows brought B.B. Little back, you know what I’m sayin?

MEADOWS: I don’t know about that B, I mean I know what you think happened, I know how you think it went down but for my part all I wanted was the great B.B. Little backing me up. You were my hero, you still are. I grew up listening to The Narcoleptics and then you just sort of disappeared on me, on all of us. That was a topic of conversation all the time when I was coming up, playing small clubs. “Where’s B.B. at?”

LITTLE: I was searching for the darkest corner I could find, man.

MEADOWS: Yeah, I know, but at the time, to us, you were like a ghost, you know, a rumor or something. Then I started doing alright, made some records and I got my horn section all  set up like I always wanted it and we had this new sax player…

LITTLE:  White dude named Danny Buchanan, Bucky we called him.

MEADOWS: That’s right. One night I was talking about a sound, I wanted this sound and I didn’t know how to say it so I just said, “Like the Narcoleptics.” Then Bucky says we should have B.B. help us out. “Like hell you say,” I told him. Then Bucky, like it’s as easy as pie just says he’d be happy to talk to you if I wanted.

LITTLE: (Laughing) That’s my boy Bucky, man, he sleeps through earthquakes, you know what I’m sayin? Yeah I met Bucky when I was cleaning up. We went to some of the same meetings. I guess I should ask him if that’s okay to say.

MEADOWS:  Bucky doesn’t care. If you know Bucky an hour you know two things, he’s clean and sober but he toots the sax like a demon in heat.

LITTLE: Sure enough…

MEADOWS: So this is ’84, ’85 and we’re in the studio and you just walk through the damn door one day. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.

LITTLE: I was so nervous. I didn’t think anyone would really know who I was. I was just hoping for a chair in the band, man. All I was thinking was, I hope they let me play.

MEADOWS: I’ll never forget that moment. We’re all staring at you with our mouths hanging open and you say, “I can play a little trumpet if you could use a horn.”

LITTLE: I had no idea I would be a disruption or anything but you called it a day and asked me to have coffee.

MEADOWS: That was a long night that night.

LITTLE: I guess we both had a few things on our mind.

MEADOWS: I dropped you off at your apartment, went home and didn’t sleep at all…

LITTLE: (Laughing) Man, there was no sleep to be had that night. I walked down to the pier with my horn and brought up the sun playing really old stuff and those tug boats honkin back at me. I felt reborn Corny, reborn. I know I’ve told you this before but you brought me back, man. Now look at that, I promised myself I wouldn’t…

MEADOWS: This is an old fight between us B, but you know how I see it. You were already back, I was just lucky enough to be the one who answered the door when you knocked.

[The recording is paused here for an unknown duration]

LITTLE: So I guess we got to work then…

MEADOWS: Yeah we did. The thing is people remember the hit, you know, “We Do Cry,” the whole conversation between me and your trumpet. Everyone forgets that you were part of the horn section for almost every song on the album and they forget that we share producer credit on four songs.

LITTLE: You were generous on the credit for one or two of those songs but that is an old argument too. The thing is that’s how I got The Narcoleptics back together. I was trying to work out these horn parts so I called the guys, except for Butter who was on the west coast. We would work out the parts at the YMCA gymnasium, if you can believe it man, in the middle of the night.

MEADOWS: The success of that album was due as much to you as anything or anyone else.

LITTLE: You did right by us Corny and I never forgot. You did right by me and made it possible for The Narcoleptics to have a swan song.

MEADOWS: That was a hell of a long swan song B…

LITTLE: Some of us had more energy that we thought. I don’t imagine I have a lot of time left to be grateful, Corny, but I am.

MEADOWS: Me too B, me too. I’ve only broken the top 10 once in my career and that was with you and your horn talking back to me. I’m not complaining, I’m doing just fine, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to bring back the magic of those sessions 25 years ago.

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