Before we get started, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I adore the blues. You can reference my post on Aynsley Lister as well and you’ll see what I mean so I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the many virtues of Blues again. Wouldn’t want to be redundant.
On with the post…
It is a well-known fact that B.B. King’s guitar is named Lucille.
B.B. King said Lucille was a reminder for him, both not to brawl over a woman and never to run into a burning building. There’s a great story there, and if you listen to his song “Lucille” you’ll hear it in his own words. Playing guitar was B.B. King’s life. It was such a part of him and his style seems to have a personality all it’s own, so I’m not surprised in the least that his guitar had a name. Lucille’s sound is very identifiable, and it was strongly linked to King’s singing voice as well. He would essentially sing duets with Lucille, trading off lyrics in his voice and soulful expression from Lucille.
B.B. King is the prototypical blues guitarist, and the way he plays that lovely guitar Lucille is something that guitarists have striven to emulate for decades. I myself am primarily a bass player, but one day I hope to be proficient enough on the guitar to play delta blues like B.B. King, though I know I’ll never achieve his level of skill.
B.B. King (whose name was Riley, actually) was heralded as the King of the Blues, along with Freddie King and Albert King, and rightly so. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and boy was B.B. an expert at the Blues. Something I don’t think a lot of people realize is how much work is involved in being a professional musician. B.B. King wasn’t a great guitar player because he was just naturally gifted. He wasn’t just “discovered” one day – he set out to make it happen. He was a phenomenal musician because he dedicated his life to being so, even at the cost of other things. For example, his two divorces have been attributed to his heavy work schedule, something like 250 performances a year. In fact, in 1956 alone he had 342 performances and three recording sessions. He played and performed until he died, just as he said in his song “Riding With The King”
B.B. set the stage for blues artists for decades. And let’s be real, if your career is playing a genre of music spans 60-odd years, you probably have had some influence over a lot of musicians.
In fact, B.B. King has more albums on Spotify than Aretha Franklin, more than 70, and I’m not ashamed to admit I lost count. He led an incredibly long career, spanning from 1949 to 2015 when he died. He was a dedicated musician as well as a philanthropist. He was very public about being diagnosed with diabetes, and ultimately it was consequences from his diabetes that led to his death.
If you want to know more about B.B. King’s life and career, I really recommend the official BB King website, there’s a great article on the main page that gets into it a bit more.
I fell into a Youtube rabbit hole in getting ready for this post, and there were too many great videos for me to share. Please feel free to check out some of it, there are tons of amazing videos of him playing with other renowned guitarists. For this post, I’ll stick with this simple version of “Sweet Sixteen”
There are obviously a lot of great songs and albums in his repertoire, though a number of them have repeats and a number are live albums. If I were to suggest any of his Albums, I would first suggest his collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With The King, it is now one of my favorite albums ever. I would also suggest Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. B. B. King, as a fantastic collection of all his best tunes. Don’t disregard his earlier work either, I was jamming out even when I made it back to his albums from the 50’s and 60’s.
As far as individual songs go, I now have 26 of his songs in my own music library, though I could easily add more. I’ll spare you the whole list and just give you my top 10 favorite tracks. This doesn’t include his collab. stuff, by the way, so feel free to check that out on your own if you’re interested, especially the album Deuces Wild.
Top 10 tracks:
“The Thrill Is Gone” – this song alone has something like 50 versions by B.B. King on Spotify.
“How Blue Can You Get” It took me a while to realise this was a song sampled in a super chill song I know called “Standing Outside A Broken Phonebooth” by Primitive Radio Gods.
“To Know You Is To Love You”
“Is You Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)”
Seriously go listen to some B.B. King. Right now. Don’t let this important part of your personal music education get away from you!