Aptly named as he is now considered the reigning monarch of blues, Riley "B.B." King's career has spanned nearly seven decades, not only influencing countless musicians, but also leaving an indelible mark on the history of contemporary music. Born in… Read more
Aptly named as he is now considered the reigning monarch of blues, Riley "B.B." King's career has spanned nearly seven decades, not only influencing countless musicians, but also leaving an indelible mark on the history of contemporary music. Born in 1925, King began playing guitar at age 12 and later became a DJ for the local radio station WDIA (where he also was given the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to B.B.).
Growing up in the heart of the Delta, country and gospel music was an early influence on B.B. King, and as he matured, he fell towards the styles of blues musicians like T-Bone Walker (who King actually met while at WDIA) and jazz vanguards like Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.1949 saw King sign to RPM records where he recorded numerous sides in Memphis, many produced by Sam Phillips, who would later found Sun Records.
King's first national, chart-topping success came in 1951 with "Three O'Clock Blues." During this time, King first named his trademark guitar "Lucille." The story of Lucille is one unto itself; apparently during a show in Arkansas, two men, fighting over the same woman, got into a physical altercation that ended with the venue being set ablaze. Amidst the smoke and flames, King ran back into the club to retrieve his guitar, risking his life. Upon making it out with his beloved instrument, B.B. King discovered the woman in question was named Lucille, a name that has since stuck with King's guitars throughout his career.
During the 1950s, B.B. King was quite successful in the R&B market, charting 20 times. 1964 saw the release of King's much acclaimed and highly popular Live at the Regal. The record seemed to transcend the genre and caught the attention of audiences well beyond blues and R&B fans. King's most recognizable hit, "The Thrill is Gone", crossed over to top the pop charts (a rare achievement for a traditional blues based song). The tune also earned King a Grammy. King further advanced his crossover appeal opening for the Rolling Stones 1969 American tour. King built on that visibility with a pair of huge sellers, "To Know You Is to Love You" and "I Like to Live the Love", which highlighted the prolific output of material during the '70s.
By this time B.B. King had made his mark on the music world as a hallowed guitarist, bluesman, performer, and all around icon. But with a life defined by music, King was in no mood to retire from his first love. King continued to tour and release material well into the '00s, working with some of the biggest names in the business like Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, and Etta James to name a few.