B.B. King Biography
His reign as King of the Blues has been as long as that of any monarch on earth. Yet B.B. King continues to wear his crown well. At age 76, he is still light on his feet, singing and playing the blues with relentless passion. Time has no apparent effect on B.B., other than to make him more popular, more cherished, more relevant than ever. Don’t look for him in some kind of semi-retirement; look for him out on the road, playing for people, popping up in a myriad of T.V. commercials, or laying down tracks for his next album. B.B. King is as alive as the music he plays, and a grateful world can’t get enough of him.
For more than half a century, Riley B. King – better known as B.B. King – has defined the blues for a worldwide audience. Since he started recording in the 1940s, he has released over fifty albums, many of them classics. He was born September 16, 1925, on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi, near Indianola. In his youth, he played on street corners for dimes, and would sometimes play in as many as four towns a night. In 1947, he hitchhiked to Memphis, TN, to pursue his music career. Memphis was where every important musician of the South gravitated, and which supported a large musical community where every style of African American music could be found. B.B. stayed with his cousin Bukka White, one of the most celebrated blues performers of his time, who schooled B.B. further in the art of the blues.
B.B.’s first big break came in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. This led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis, and later to a ten-minute spot on black-staffed and managed Memphis radio station WDIA. “King’s Spot,” became so popular, it was expanded and became the “Sepia Swing Club.” Soon B.B. needed a catchy radio name. What started out as Beale Street Blues Boy was shortened to Blues Boy King, and eventually B.B. King.
In the mid-1950s, while B.B. was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, a few fans became unruly. Two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall. B.B. raced outdoors to safety with everyone else, then realized that he left his beloved $30 acoustic guitar inside, so he rushed back inside the burning building to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. When he later found out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to give the name to his guitar to remind him never to do a crazy thing like fight over a woman. Ever since, each one of B.B.’s trademark Gibson guitars has been called Lucille.
Soon after his number one hit, “Three O’Clock Blues,” B.B. began touring nationally. In 1956, B.B. and his band played an astonishing 342 one-night stands. From the chitlin circuit with its small-town cafes, juke joints, and country dance halls to rock palaces, symphony concert halls, universities, resort hotels and amphitheaters, nationally and internationally, B.B. has become the most renowned blues musician of the past 40 years.
Over the years, B.B. 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 guitarist’s vocabulary. His economy, his every-note-counts phrasing, has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jeff Beck. B.B. has mixed traditional blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop and jump into a unique sound. In B.B.’s words, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
In 1968, B.B. played at the Newport Folk Festival and at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West on bills with the hottest contemporary rock artists of the day who idolized B.B. and helped to introduce him to a young white audience. In “69, B.B. was chosen by the Rolling Stones to open 18 American concerts for them; Ike and Tina Turner also played on 18 shows.
B.B. was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He received NARAS’ Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1987, and has received honorary doctorates from Tougaloo(MS) College in 1973; Yale University in 1977; Berklee College of Music in 1982; Rhodes College of Memphis in 1990; Mississippi Valley State University in 2002 and Brown University in 2007. In 1992, he received the National Award of Distinction from the University of Mississippi.
In 1991, B.B. King’s Blues Club opened on Beale Street in Memphis, and in 1994, a second club was launched at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles. A third club in New York City’s Times Square opened in June 2000 and most recently two clubs opened at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in January 2002. In 1996, the CD-Rom On The Road With B.B. King: An Interactive Autobiography was released to rave reviews. Also in 1996, B.B.’s autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (written with David Ritz for Avon Books) was published. In a similar vein, Doubleday published “The Arrival of B.B. King” by Charles Sawyer, in 1980.
B.B. continued to tour extensively, averaging over 250 concerts per year around the world. Classics such as “Payin’ The Cost To Be The Boss,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” How Blue Can You Get,” “Everyday I Have The Blues,” and “Why I Sing The Blues” are concert (and fan) staples. Over the years, the Grammy Award-winner has had two #1 R&B hits, 1951’s “Three O’Clock Blues,” and 1952’s “You Don’t Know Me,” and four #2 R&B hits, 1953’s “Please Love Me,” 1954’s “You Upset Me Baby,” 1960’s “Sweet Sixteen, Part I,” and 1966’s “Don’t Answer The Door, Part I.” B.B.’s most popular crossover hit, 1970’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” went to #15 pop.
B.B. passed away in his sleep on May 14th 2015
B.B. King had been playing Gibsons for over 40 years when he and Gibson officially joined forces in 1982. B.B.’s personal touches on his signature model include the fine-tuner tailpiece, the semi-hollow body with no soundholes and, of course, the name that has adorned his guitars throughout his career Lucille.
Body: Laminated maple, Maple center block Neck/Profile
Fingerboard/Inlay: Ebony/Pearl block
Scale/Nut Width: 24 3/4″/1 11/16″
Binding: Multi-ply top and headstock , single-ply fingerboard and back
Pickups: 490R Alnico magnet humbucker, 490T Alnico magnet humbucker
Controls: Two volume, two tone, three-way switch, six-position Varitone, stereo/mono jacks
Finish: Cherry, Ebony
The Life Of Riley
BB King “The Life Of Riley” is the much-lauded feature documentary film on the extraordinary life of Blues legend B.B. King. You can purchase the DVD & Blu-ray here.
King worked closely with Director Jon Brewer for 2 years to create this powerful film. The heartfelt contributions from a plethora of music’s superstars were a vast indication that this was the time for his story to be told. At 88 years old, King, his family, friends and contemporaries unveil the true-life drama that was the springboard for the future ‘King of the Blues’.
Battling unrelenting racism and the humiliation of segregation whilst working in the cotton fields as an orphaned child, King lived to overcome the toughest critics in the entertainment industry and ultimately be hailed as one of the kingpins of an entire genre of music. This candid biopic of the life story of one of our living legends is highlighted by rare archive footage and beautifully shot scenes of the deep American south. Informative and visually stunning, The Life of Riley is the definitive document of a true American treasure.
“We all have idols,” said King. “Play like anyone you care about, but try to be yourself while you’re doing so.”
The Life of Riley includes appearances and contributions from: Aaron Neville, Bill Cosby, Bill Szymczyk, Bill Wyman, Bono, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Willis, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Carver Randle, Derek Trucks, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Joe Walsh, John Mayer, John Mayall, Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mick Taylor, Morgan Freeman, Paul Rodgers, Rev. David Matthews, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Slash,, Susan Tedeschi, Tina France, Walter Trout, and Wayne Cartledge.
B.B. King: The Life of Riley is available from:
B.B.%20King – Life Of RileyAmazon Streaming Video*
* Amazon PRIME Members: This movie is included with your Prime membership!
Museum & Clubs – Places to Go
- B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
He started life as Riley B. King in one of America’s most impoverished places, the Mississippi Delta. He had little but the dream in his heart and a destiny that would take him around the world. Now he’s an international music icon, and Blues aficionados from all over the planet want to hear more and know more about B.B. King.
That’s what’s going to happen. With the building of the B.B. King Museum in King’s hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, the artifacts from his 60-year career will be on permanent display.
In B.B. King’s eyes, however, something far more important will take place within the walls of the museum: It’s called the Delta Interpretive Center. And it may be the bridge from abject hopelessness to lives of fulfillment for Delta youth, many of whom have few expectations beyond poverty, unemployment and untimely deaths.
- B.B. King Blues Club & Grill
New York City location
- B.B. King’s Blues Clubs
Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, West Palm, and Las Vegas