December 13, 2023

B.B. King

On September 16, 2011 B.B King turned 86. He has been playing the blues since World War II and he is one of the greatest guitarists who have ever lived. This is the first part in a series that is being made here at Jamorama about the players who have influenced the way we play guitar.

BB was born on a plantation in Mississippi in 1925. His family was poor and as a youth he played guitar for spare change to help his family. Even at a young age he traveled from town to town refining a technique and style that would change the way people played guitar and make B. B. King a house hold name.

The first time B.B. King appeared to a large audience was in 1948 on a radio station in Memphis. This would become a regular set where King would play every week. This along with a gig at a popular restaurant and bar gave King some momentum and popularity.

BB King began to tour around the South then eventually nationally, allowing many people to hear his new style. On one of the many gigs King played over the years a fight erupted in the crowd. This fight led to a kerosene stove being knocked over and a wild fire raged. King along with patrons and staff ran from the building. However King had left his favorite guitar in the burning building. Ignoring the risk he ran back into the fire to retrieve his prided position. When the smoke died down King discovered that the men where fighting over a girl called Lucille. Since that day has named ever guitar he has owned ‘Lucille’ so he remembers never to get upset over a women.

Though BB King was popular until the late 60s his audience was still mainly black. This was until he was chosen to open for the Rolling Stones on a world tour. Also many other famous white musicians were openly proclaiming King’s brilliance. King’s introduction to the mainstream audience caused his popularity and record sales to soar.

BB King’s style and tone is easy to identify. His wild string bending and vibrato are distinctive and his gravelly voice cuts through recordings and adds character to his music. In contrast to many skilled guitarists he has a remarkable economy and restraint with his playing. King only plays for the song and doesn’t get involved in over indulgent extended solos. Also because of the length of his career BB King has been through many musical trends and styles. This has meant that his style is a collection of many genres and in a sense King has created his own style.

BB King has been inducted into the Rock and Roll and the Blues Hall of Fame. He has received a Grammy and many honorary doctorates including one from Yale. Even though he is 86 BB King still tours playing his songs to the world. His legacy to music and guitar playing cannot be overestimated and for that reason the music and the man will never be forgotten.

Ahhh! What a big influence BB king was, is and will be in every guitarists life!


Riley B. King

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