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B. B. King

B.B. King

B. B. King
Start Year 1925
Genre(s) Blues
Label(s) Geffen

Riley B. King aka B. B. King (born September 16, 1925) is an American blues guitarist and songwriter. He is widely considered one of the best (and most respected) blues musicians in the world. One of his trademarks is the naming of his guitars "Lucille", a custom he began in the 1950s.

Early years

Born in Berclair, Mississippi, just outside of Indianola, Mississippi, King spent much of his childhood sharing time living with his mother and his grandmother and working as a sharecropper. King has said he was paid 35 cents for each 100 pounds (45 kg) of cotton he picked before discovering his other talents. At an early age, King developed a love for blues guitarists like T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson and jazz artists like Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Soon King was cultivating his own musical skills singing Gospel music in church. He initially started busking on the streets of Indianola but soon learned a valuable marketing lesson - the gospel tunes he played were well received by passersby, but tips unfortunately came in the form of praise and pats on the back, not loose change. Once King changed his tune (literally) and began singing about things to which everyone could relate, most notably the dynamics of man-woman relationships, his fortune quickly changed. In just eight hours on the streets of Indianola, for example, he could clear $10 or more. Making music was more lucrative and less time-consuming than picking cotton, and the regimented routine improved King's chops and confidence considerably.

In 1943, King moved to Greenwood, Mississippi, and while there had his first radio broadcast in the now historical Three Deuces Building (222 Howard St), home of the former WGRN radio station. Three years later, King moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he finely honed his guitar technique with the help of his cousin, country blues guitarist Bukka White.

In the winter of 1949, King played at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. In order to heat the hall, a barrel half-filled with kerosene was lit, This was quite common. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the burning barrel and sending burning fuel across the floor. This triggered an evacuation. Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside the burning building. He entered the blaze to retrieve his guitar, a Gibson acoustic. Two people died in the fire. The next day, King discovered that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. King named that first guitar Lucille, as well as every one he owned since that near-fatal experience, "to remind me never to do a thing like that again."

Eventually, King began broadcasting his music live on Memphis radio station WDIA, a station that had only recently changed their format to play all-black music which was extremely rare at the time. On the air, King started out using the name "The Pepticon Boy" which later became the "Beale Street Blues Boy". The name was then shortened to just Blues Boy and, eventually, simply "B.B."

Recording years

In 1949, King began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles based RPM Records. Many of King's early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who would eventually found the legendary Sun Records.

In the 1950s, King became one of the most important names in R&B music, collecting an impressive list of hits under his belt that included songs like "You Know I Love You," "Woke Up This Morning," "Please Love Me," "When My Heart Beats like a Hammer," "Whole Lotta' Love," "You Upset Me Baby," "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Sneakin' Around," "Ten Long Years," "Bad Luck," "Sweet Little Angel," "On My Word of Honor," and "Please Accept My Love." In 1962, King signed to ABC-Paramount Records.

In November of 1964, King recorded the legendary Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

King first found success outside of the blues market with the 1969 remake of the Roy Hawkins tune, The Thrill Is Gone," which became a hit on both pop and R&B charts, which was rare for an R&B artist. King's mainstream success continued throughout the 1970s with songs like "To Know You Is to Love You" and "I Like to Live the Love." From 1951 to 1985, King appeared on Billboard's R&B charts an amazing 74 times.

Going mainstream

The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw King recording less and less, but maintaining a highly visible and active career appearing on numerous television shows, major motion pictures and performing 300 nights a year. In 1988 he reached a new generation of fans via the single "When Love Comes To Town", together with the Irish band U2. In 2000, King teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton to record Riding With the King.

In 2003, he shared the stage with the rock band Phish in New Jersey, performing three of his classics and jamming with the band for over 30 minutes.

In 2004, King was awarded an honorary Ph.D from the University of Mississippi and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize, for his "significant contributions to the blues". King had also donated his extensive blues collection to the Ole Miss Center for Southern Studies.

In June 2006, King will be present at a memorialization of his first radio broadcast at the Three Deuces Building in Greenwood, Mississippi, where an official marker of the Mississippi Blues Trail will be erected.

Over the years more than 100 BB King concerts have been broadcast, at least partly, on radio and TV in many countries.

At 80, King has lived a very full and active life. He has been a licensed pilot, a known gambler and is also a vegetarian, non-drinker and non-smoker. King has lived with diabetes for over ten years and has been a visible spokesman in the fight against diabetes, appearing in advertisements for diabetes-management products.


  • According to a 2003 listing in Rolling Stone magazine, B.B. King is the greatest living guitarist, and ranked 3rd among the "100 greatest guitarists of all time" (behind late Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman).
  • He is mentioned in the Beatles' song "Dig It".
  • He has made guest appearances in numerous popular television shows, including "Sanford and Son," "The Cosby Show," "The Young and the Restless," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," and "Sesame Street".
  • For much of his early career, he was usually seen playing a Gibson ES-355TD-SV guitar. This model was discontinued in 1980, being replaced by a Gibson BB King (Lucille) model, which is still available today.
  • B.B. King has also used other guitars, such as a Fender Telecaster, Gibson ES-330, Gibson ES-335, Gibson ES-345, Gibson ES-5, and Gibson ES-175. However, he is not as closely associated with these guitars as he is with the ES-355 and his Lucille signatures, produced by Gibson.
  • April 2006: Playing his 10,000th show at his New York City Club, King's triumph was marked as bitter sweet, having in the previous week experienced he deaths of his son to cancer and 14 year-old grandson in a store shooting.
  • Each year, during the first weekend in June, a B.B. King homecoming festival is held in Indianola.



  1. King of the Blues (1960)
  2. My Kind of Blues (1960)
  3. Live at the Regal (Live, 1965)
  4. Lucille (1968)
  5. Live and Well (1969)
  6. Completely Well (1969)
  7. Indianola Mississippi Seeds (1970)
  8. B.B. King In London (1971)
  9. Live in Cook County Jail (1971)
  10. Lucille Talks Back (1975)
  11. Midnight Believer (1978)
  12. Live "Now Appearing" at Ole Miss (1980)
  13. There Must Be a Better World Somewhere (1981)
  14. Love Me Tender (1982)
  15. Why I Sing the Blues (1983)
  16. B.B. King and Sons Live (Live, 1990)
  17. Live at San Quentin (1991)
  18. Live at the Apollo (Live, 1991)
  19. There is Always One More Time (1991)
  20. Deuces Wild (1997)
  21. Riding With The King (2000)
  22. Reflections (2003)
  23. The Ultimate Collection (2005)
  24. B.B. King & Friends: 80 (2005)

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