B.B. King: Master of the Blues Guitar

B.B. King, the guitar god of all guitar gods, passed away on May 18 at the of age 89 in Las Vegas.For boomer blues and rock fans, B.B. King was the guitar god of all guitar gods. The Mississippi-born bluesman, who passed away at age 89 on May 14 in Las Vegas, was a seminal influence upon rock greats such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix.

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With the Gibson ax that he called Lucille, King infused country blues with urban intensity, playing a ringing, wailing vibrato that, as a New York Times writer put it, “coiled and leapt like an animal” on such songs as “Every Day I Have The Blues” and “You Upset Me Baby.” Here are some interesting facts about King and his career.

  • B.B. stood for “blues boy,” and his real name was Riley B. King (his middle initial didn’t stand for anything).
  • In 1956, he set what might be an endurance record for touring musicians by playing 342 one-night stands.
  • He once ran out of a nightclub fire in Arkansas, and then rushed back in to retrieve his guitar.
  • At his legendary 1968 performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco that made him a crossover star, he saw lines of long-haired hippies waiting to get in and thought that his manager might have given him the wrong address.
  • U2 introduced him to a new fan base of younger boomers by featuring him in a duet with Bono on “When Love Comes to Town” in the documentary Rattle and Hum.
  • Singer Bobby “Blue” Bland once worked as his chauffeur.
  • In 1991, he opened an eponymous blues nightclub in Memphis that became the first in a national chain.
  • He once described his guitar sound as “nothing pretty, just trying to please myself.”


Here is King performing “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1993.

Photo: Getty Images

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