April 25, 2017 – Calep Emphrey (played blues with all 3 Kings) was born on May 1, 1949 in Greenville, Mississippi. He started out playing a whole range of wind instruments such as French horn, saxophone, baritone horn and a lot of other brass instruments in the Coleman High School band while growing up. The high school band director Wynchester Davis had a band called the Green Tops, which went all around the state. He went on to play in a concert band in college at Mississippi Valley State, where he was a music major in 1967-1968.
Professionally, he started off with Little Milton about ’69 in Greenville. (Milton was from the Greenville area and Emphrey used to hang around him a lot.) Milton needed somebody to fill the drummer position and he called Calep, who admitted, “I couldn’t make no money with the French horn.”
“I did a thing in WattStax with him. I did several tunes on an album. We also did WattStax Two. I left Milton and went with Freddy King. He was paying more money. Yeah, and then I left Freddy King and went to Albert King. Albert gave me a call and I was with Albert and then B.B. gave me a call. The bass player had recommended me. His bass player at that time was Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner. They called him. I knew him from the Little Milton days. We used to play together there. BB’s drummer [before me] was Starks, but everybody called him “Jabo,” his nickname. He used to play with James Brown. I joined B.B. in ’77. I jumped right into it. I studied it and listened to it and Yeah, I stayed nervous for 31 years. I’m a musician. I try to play all four corners. Compared with the Miltons and the Albert Kings, the B.B. King Band is more fulfilling because you get a chance to play a lot of places ordinary musicians don’t get a chance to go—a widespread audience.” I’ve visited 90 countries in my time with BB.
Calep was especially known for his left handed shuffle, something not a lot of drummers master and the philosophy of simple is better. “Blues players nowadays want to make it too busy. To me, playing less is more. My favorite drummer was Al Jackson at Stax Records. Matter of fact, I just got a video on him. I let my students look and listen to that. All that guy did was play, and stay in ‘The Pocket’.
Calep Emphrey had also a brief encounter with Hollywood when he appeared in the 1993 movie ‘Heart and Souls’ as a member of BB King’s band. After 40 years on the road, he finally decided to strike out on his own and formed his own Calep Emphrey Blues Band, and issued an album, Handcuffed to the Blues, in 2010. Dividing his time between his 3 favorite hobbies Cooking, hunting and fishing and professional accomplishments of recording, touring and teaching, he stated that he was having a good life during the last 7 years on earth.
During his circa 40 year career, some of the more notable albums Emphrey played on included “Waiting for Little Milton” while with Little Milton in 1973, followed by the B B King long-players “‘Now Appearing’ at Ole Miss” (1980), “Live at San Quentin” (1990) and “Makin’ Love Is Good for You” (2000).
Calep Emphrey died from natural causes on April 25, 2017. He was 67.
Emphrey is probably “jamming right now with Freddie King, Albert King and B.B. King.”