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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