Riley BB King Gibson Lucille has been called the “King of the Blues” and
More than any other musician of the postwar era, King brought the blues from the margins to the mainstream. His influence on a generation of rock and blues guitarists – including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan – has been inestimable. “We don’t play rock and roll,” he said in 1957. “Our music is blues, straight from the Delta.” Yet without formally crossing into rock and roll, King forged an awareness of blues within the rock realm, particularly in the Sixties and Seventies.
Born on a cotton plantation in tiny Itta Bena, Mississippi, in 1925, King moved to Memphis, Tennessee in his early twenties with the intention of making his living playing the blues. He landed a regular spot as a deejay and performer on radio station WDIA, where he became known as the Beale Street Blues Boy (hence, “B.B.”). BB king gibson lucille also built a reputation as a hot guitarist at the Beale Street blues clubs, performing with a loose-knit group known as the Beale Streeters. This group included BB King Gibson Lucille vocalist Bobby Blue Bland, a longtime peer and collaborator.
King began recording in 1949 and signed with West Coast record man Jules Bihari a year later. He would record prolifically for the Bihari brothers’ labels – RPM, Kent and Crown – through 1962. King’s first BB King Gibson Lucille hit, “Three O’Clock Blues,” topped the rhythm & blues chart for five weeks in 1952. Other classics cut by King in the Fifties include “Sweet Black Angel,” “Every Day I Have the Blues” and three more R&B chart-toppers: “You Know I Love You,” “Please Love Me” and “You Upset Me Baby.”
Dissatisfied with royalty rates and songwriting credits, King signed with ABC-Paramount in the early Sixties, when his contract with the Biharis expired. At that time, ABC was cultivating a stable of black artists that included Ray Charles, Lloyd Price and Fats Domino. They paired King with an arranger, and his studio records took on a more polished, sophisticated and eclectic tone. Pushing the blues in new directions, King was rewarded with such breakthrough hits as “The Thrill Is Gone,” which featured his soulful voice and guitar over a backdrop of strings. He also cut raw, energetic concert LPs – Live at the Regal (1965) and Live at Cook County Jail (1971) – that are classics of the genre.
Live at the Regal, recorded before a lively crowd at a black Chicago nightspot of longstanding, is the perfect match between performer and audience, with the latter’s enthusiasm fuelling the former’s fire. Other highlights of his lengthy tenure at ABC include a pair of mid-Seventies live albums with Bobby Blue Bland and Midnight Believer, a jazzy BB King Gibson Lucille collaboration with the Crusaders. Blues purists treasure such back-to-the-roots efforts as Lucille Talks Back (1975) and Blues ‘n’ Jazz (1983). Favorites of rock fans include Indianola Mississippi Seeds (1970), which found King joined by Leon Russell, Joe Walsh and Carole King; B.B. King in London (1971), made with a host of British rock musicians; and Riding With the King (2000), a collaboration with Eric Clapton. King won Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Blues Recording for Live at the Apollo (1991) and Blues Summit (1993).