I was saddened by the news that Legendary American Blues singer, songwriter and Guitarist B.B. King, sadly passed away 14 May 2015. Born September 16, 1925 King grew up singing in the gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. At the age of 12, he purchased his first guitar for $15.00, or may have been given it by Bukka White, his mother’s first cousin (King’s grandmother and White’s mother were sisters). In 1943, King left Kilmichael to work as a tractor driver and play guitar with the Famous St. John’s Quartet of Inverness, Mississippi, performing at area churches and on WGRM in Greenwood, Mississippi. In 1946, King followed Bukka White to Memphis, Tennessee. White took him in for the next ten months. He returned to West Memphis, Arkansas, two years later in 1948 and performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, and This led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the legendary Memphis radio station WDIA. King’s Spot became so popular, it was expanded and became the Sepia Swing Club.Initially he worked at WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, gaining the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, which was later shortened toBlues Boy and finally to B.B.It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker.
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 later founded Sun Records. Before his RPM contract King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single “Miss Martha King” (1949), which did not chart well. “My very first recordings [in 1949] were for a company out of Nashville called Bllet, the Bullet Record Transcription company,” King recalls. “I had horns that very first session. I had Phineas Newborn on piano; his father played drums, and his brother, Calvin, played guitar with me. I had Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch on tenor sax, his brother, Thomas Branch, on trumpet, and a lady trombone player. The Newborn family were the house band at the famous Plantation Inn in West Memphis.”Performing with his famous guitar, LucilleKing assembled his own band; the B.B. King Review, under the leadership of Millard Lee. The band initially consisted of Calvin Owens and Kenneth Sands (trumpet), Lawrence Burdin (alto saxophone),George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone), Millard Lee (piano),George Joyner (bass) and Earl Forest and Ted Curry (drums). Onzie Horne was a trained musician elicited as an arranger to assist King with his compositions. By his own admission, he cannot play chords well and always relies on improvisation.
This was followed by tours across the USA with performances in major theaters in cities such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and St. Louis, as well as numerous gigs in small clubs and juke joints of the southern US states.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, a fairly common practice at the time. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the burning barrel and sending burning fuel across the floor. The hall burst into flames, which triggered an evacuation. Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside the burning building. He entered the blaze to retrieve his beloved guitar, a Gibson hollow electric. Two people died in the fire. The next day, King learned 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, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over women. King meanwhile toured the entire “Chitlin’ circuit” and 1956 became a record-breaking year, with 342 concerts booked. The same year he founded his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom, with headquarters at Beale Street in Memphis. There, among other projects, he produced artists such as Millard Lee and Levi Seabury.In the 1950s, B.B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “3 O’Clock Blues”, “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.”
King was extremely busy during this period and made 342 appearances and 3 recording sessions in 1956 alone. In 1962, King signed to ABC-Paramount Records, which was later absorbed into MCA Records, and this hence into his current label, Geffen Records. In November 1964, King recorded the Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.King won a Grammy Award for a tune called “The Thrill Is Gone”; his version became a hit on both the pop and R&B charts, It also gained the number 183 spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. He gained further visibility among rock audiences as an opening act on The Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour. 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”.King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2004 he was awarded the international Polar Music Prize, given to artists “in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.”B.B. King in concert in France 1989From the 1980s onward he has continued to maintain a highly visible and active career, appearing on numerous television shows and performing 300 nights a year. In 1988, King reached a new generation of fans with the single “When Love Comes to Town”, a collaborative effort between King and the Irish band U2 on their Rattle and Hum album. Also that year King played for the 1988 Republican National Convention at the behest of the notorious Republican operative Lee Atwater. King has remained friendly with the Bush Family ever since and in 1990 was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts by George H.W. Bushand the Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2008. In 2000, King teamed up with guitaristEric Clapton to record Riding With the King. In 1998, King appeared in The Blues Brothers 2000, playing the part of the lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys, along with Clapton, Dr. John, Koko Taylor and Bo Diddley.
On March 29, 2006, King played at Hallam Arena in Sheffield, England supported by Northern Irish guitarist Gary Moore, with whom King had previously toured and recorded, and on June 28, 2009 King returned to Wembley arena with British blues icon John Mayall. In July King went back to Europe, playing twice at the Zürich at the Blues at Sunset and the 40th Montreux Jazz Festival where he jammed with Joe Sample, Randy Crawford, David Sanborn, Gladys Knight, Lella James, Andre Beeka, Earl Thomas, Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin, Barbara Hendricks and George Duke. In November and December, King played six times in Brazil. .”In June 2006, King was present at a memorial of his first radio broadcast at the Three Deuces Building in Greenwood, Mississippi, where an official marker of the Mississippi Blues Trail was erected. The same month, a groundbreaking was held for a new museum, dedicated to King. in Indianola, Mississippi. The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center opened on September 13, 2008. In late October 2006, he recorded a concert CD and DVD entitled B.B. King: Live at his B.B. King Blues Clubs in Nashville and Memphis. which was his first live performance recording in 14 years.On July 28, 2007, King played at Eric Clapton’s second Crossroads Guitar Festival with 20 other guitarists to raise money for the Crossroads Centre for addictive disorders. Performing in Chicago, he played “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss”, “Rock Me Baby” and “Thrill is Gone” ( with Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin. Also in 2007, King accepted an invitation to contribute to Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard Records). With Ivan Neville’s DumpstaPhunk, King contributed his version of the title song, “Goin’ Home”.
In 2007 King performed “One Shoe Blues” on the Sandra Boynton children’s album Blue Moo, In June 2008, King played at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee; he was also the final performer at the 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival on June 8, 2008, and at the Monterey Blues Festival, following Taj Mahal. King was also inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame alongside Liza Minnelli and Sir James Galway.In July 2008, Sirius XM Radio’s Bluesville channel was renamed B.B. King’s Bluesville. On December 3, King was the closing act at the 51st Grammy Nomination Concert, . On December 30, 2008, King played at The Kennedy Center Honors Awards Show; his performance was in honor of actor Morgan Freeman.European Tour 2009, Vienna, July 2009In Summer 2009, King started a European Tour with concerts in France, Germany, Belgium, Finland and Denmark.In March 2010, King contributed to Cyndi Lauper’s album Memphis Blues, which was released on June 22, 2010.King performed at the Mawazine festival in Rabat, Morocco, on May 27, 2010. On June 25, 2011 King played the pyramid stage at The Glastonbury Music Festival. On the June 28 he opened his new European tour at The Royal Albert Hall, London, supported byDerek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood, Mick Hucknall and Slash.Barack Obama and B.B. King singing “Sweet Home Chicago” on February 21, 2012On February 21, 2012, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama hosted, “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues”, a celebration of blues music held in the East Room of the White House and B.B. King was among the performers. Later on that night, President Obama, encouraged by Buddy Guy and B.B. King, sang part of “Sweet Home Chicago”. On March 22, 2012, King played a concert at the Chicago House of Blues, where Benson made a guest appearance and both King & Benson held a jammin’ session for over 20 minutes, it was also the celebration of Benson’s birthday.King performed on the debut album of rapper and producer Big K.R.I.T., who also hails from Mississippi.On July 5, 2012, King performed a concert at the Byblos Festival, Lebanon.
Over a period of 64 years, King has played in excess of 15,000 performances. A feature documentary about B.B. King narrated by Morgan Freeman, awas released on October 15, 2012. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, earning the nickname “The King of Blues”, and one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” (along with Albert King and Freddie King). King is also known for performing tirelessly throughout his musical career appearing at 250-300 concerts per year until his seventies. In 1956 it was noted that he appeared at 342 shows. Rolling Stone ranked King number 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time (previously ranked number 3 in the 2003 edition of the same list) and was ranked No. 17 in Gibson’s “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time” and is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, earning the nickname “The King of the Blues”.
Over the years, King has developed one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. He borrowed from Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and others, integrating his precise and complex vocal-like string bends and his left hand vibrato, both of which have become indispensable components of rock guitarists’ vocabulary. His economy and phrasing has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. King has mixed blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop and jump into a unique sound.