B.B. King

B.B. King is Gone. The Thrill is Not

B.B. King, who died in 2015, is one of the most important musicians the U.S. has produced. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Here is part of the very well written very well written bio at the Hall’s site:

As a guitarist, King is best-known for his single-note solos, played on a hollowbody Gibson guitar. King’s unique tone is velvety and regal, with a discernible sting. He’s known for his trilling vibrato, wicked string bends, and a judicious approach that makes every note count. Back in the early days, King nicknamed his guitar “Lucille,” as if it were a woman with whom he was having a dialogue. In fact, King regards his guitar as an extension of his voice (and vice versa). “The minute I stop singing orally,” King has noted, “I start to sing by playing Lucille.”

There have been many Lucilles over the years, and Gibson has even marketed a namesake model with King’s approval. King selected the name in the mid-1950s  after rescuing his guitar from a nightclub fire started by two men arguing over a woman. Her name? Lucille.

It’s interesting that one of King’s early  influences was Bukka White, an important blues player, who was a cousin on his mother’s side.

The New York Times obit, written by Tim Weiner, says that King “married country blues to big-city rhythms” to create an unmistakable sound. The theme – that King was instrumental in increasing the reach of the most American of genres – continues in the piece:

The music historian Peter Guralnick once noted that Mr. King helped expand the audience for the blues through “the urbanity of his playing, the absorption of a multiplicity of influences, not simply from the blues, along with a graciousness of manner and willingness to adapt to new audiences and give them something they were able to respond to.”

King, born in 1925 on a plantation near Itta Bena, Mississippi, was the son of sharecroppers. The story of King’s growth and maturation is a trip through blues history. As a youth, he sang in the gospel choir at the Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael, MS. Wikipedia offers two stories on how he got his first guitar. One is that he bought it for $15. The other is that blues guitarist White – a cousin on his mother’s side – gave it to him.
Riley B. King — The “B” apparently doesn’t stand for anything — was, of course, better known as BB. That stood for Blues Boy, which had been shortened from “Beale Street Blues Boy,” his performing name in Memphis.
King, born in 1925 on a plantation near Itta Bena, Mississippi, was the son of sharecroppers. The story of King’s growth and maturation is a trip through blues history. As a youth, he sang in the gospel choir at the Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael, MS. Wikipedia offers two stories on how he got his first guitar. One is that he bought it for $15. The other is that blues guitarist White – a cousin on his mother’s side – gave it to him.

In 1943, he left Kilmichael and played guitar with the Famous St. John’s Quartet in Inverness, MS. This included radio exposure. Three years later, he moved to Memphis and lived with White for most of a year. He “began to develop an audience” when he made appearances on Sonny Boy Williamson’s show on KWEM in West Memphis.

The story moves on from there. It includes a key turning point, according to Wikipedia:

It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker. King said, “Once I’d heard him for the first time, I knew I’d have to have [an electric guitar] myself. ‘Had’ to have one, short of stealing!”

In the clip above,King is introduced in the above clip by Jimmy Walker, of Good Times fame (“Dyn-O-mite!”). The song is How Blue Can You Get? Below King sings “Just a Little Bit of Love” on the show “The Music Scene” in 1969.

Last year, Tristan Ettleman ranked the top B.B. King albums. His top five: “Live in the Cook County Jail,” “Friends,” “To Know Your is to Love You,” “B.B. King Sings Spirituals” and “Completely Well.” He does nice short synopsies of each.

 

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