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B.B. King

Universally hailed as the reigning king of the blues, the legendary B.B. King is without a doubt the single most important electric guitarist of the last half century. His bent notes and staccato picking style have influenced legions of contemporary bluesmen, while his gritty and confident voice -- capable of wringing every nuance from any lyric -- provides a worthy match for his passionate playing. Between 1951 and 1985, King notched an impressive 74 entries on Billboard's R&B charts, and he was one of the few full-fledged blues artists to score a major pop hit when his 1970 smash "The Thrill Is Gone" crossed over to mainstream success (engendering memorable appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand). Since that time, he has partnered with such musicians as Eric Clapton and U2 while managing his own acclaimed solo career, all the while maintaining his immediately recognizable style on the electric guitar.

The seeds of Riley B. King's enduring talent were sown deep in the blues-rich Mississippi Delta, where he was born in 1925 near the town of Itta Bena. He was shuttled between his mother's home and his grandmother's residence as a child, his father having left the family when King was very young. The youth put in long days working as a sharecropper and devoutly sang the Lord's praises at church before moving to Indianola -- another town located in the heart of the Delta -- in 1943.

Country and gospel music left an indelible impression on King's musical mindset as he matured, along with the styles of blues greats (T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson) and jazz geniuses (Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt). In 1946, he set off for Memphis to look up his cousin, a rough-edged country blues guitarist named Bukka White. For ten invaluable months, White taught his eager young relative the finer points of playing blues guitar. After returning briefly to Indianola and the sharecropper's eternal struggle with his wife Martha, King returned to Memphis in late 1948. This time, he stuck around for a while.

King was soon broadcasting his music live via Memphis radio station WDIA, a frequency that had only recently switched to a pioneering all-black format. Local club owners preferred that their attractions also held down radio gigs so they could plug their nightly appearances on the air. When WDIA DJ Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert exited his air shift, King took over his record-spinning duties. At first tagged "The Peptikon Boy" (an alcohol-loaded elixir that rivaled Hadacol) when WDIA put him on the air, King's on-air handle became "The Beale Street Blues Boy," later shortened to Blues Boy and then a far snappier B.B.

King had a four-star breakthrough year in 1949. He cut his first four tracks for Jim Bulleit's Bullet Records (including a number entitled "Miss Martha King" after his wife), then signed a contract with the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based RPM Records. King cut a plethora of sides in Memphis over the next couple of years for RPM, many of them produced by a relative newcomer named Sam Phillips (whose Sun Records was still a distant dream at that point in time). Phillips was independently producing sides for both the Biharis and Chess; his stable also included Howlin' Wolf, Rosco Gordon, and fellow WDIA personality Rufus Thomas.

The Biharis also recorded some of King's early output themselves, erecting portable recording equipment wherever they could locate a suitable facility. King's first national R&B chart-topper in 1951, "Three O'Clock Blues" (previously waxed by Lowell Fulson), was cut at a Memphis YMCA. King's Memphis running partners included vocalist Bobby Bland, drummer Earl Forest, and ballad-singing pianist Johnny Ace. When King hit the road to promote "Three O'Clock Blues," he handed the group, known as the Beale Streeters, over to Ace.

It was during this era that King first named his beloved guitar "Lucille." Seems that while he was playing a joint in a little Arkansas town called Twist, fisticuffs broke out between two jealous suitors over a lady. The brawlers knocked over a kerosene-filled garbage pail that was heating the place, setting the room ablaze. In the frantic scramble to escape the flames, King left his guitar inside. He foolishly ran back in to retrieve it, dodging the flames and almost losing his life. When the smoke had cleared, King learned that the lady who had inspired such violent passion was named Lucille. Plenty of Lucilles have passed through his hands since; Gibson has even marketed a B.B.-approved guitar model under the name.

The 1950s saw King establish himself as a perennially formidable hitmaking force in the R&B field. Recording mostly in L.A. (the WDIA air shift became impossible to maintain by 1953 due to King's endless touring) for RPM and its successor Kent, King scored 20 chart items during that musically tumultuous decade, including such memorable efforts as "You Know I Love You" (1952); "Woke Up This Morning" and "Please Love Me" (1953); "When My Heart Beats like a Hammer," "Whole Lotta' Love," and "You Upset Me Baby" (1954); "Every Day I Have the Blues" (another Fulson remake), the dreamy blues ballad "Sneakin' Around," and "Ten Long Years" (1955); "Bad Luck," "Sweet Little Angel," and a Platters-like "On My Word of Honor" (1956); and "Please Accept My Love" (first cut by Jimmy Wilson) in 1958. King's guitar attack grew more aggressive and pointed as the decade progressed, influencing a legion of up-and-coming axemen across the nation.

In 1960, King's impassioned two-sided revival of Joe Turner's "Sweet Sixteen" became another mammoth seller, and his "Got a Right to Love My Baby" and "Partin' Time" weren't far behind. But Kent couldn't hang onto a star like King forever (and he may have been tired of watching his new LPs consigned directly into the 99-cent bins on the Biharis' cheapo Crown logo). King moved over to ABC-Paramount Records in 1962, following the lead of Lloyd Price, Ray Charles, and before long, Fats Domino.

In November of 1964, the guitarist cut his seminal Live at the Regal album at the fabled Chicago theater and excitement virtually leaped out of the grooves. That same year, he enjoyed a minor hit with "How Blue Can You Get," one of his many signature tunes. "Don't Answer the Door" in 1966 and "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss" two years later were Top Ten R&B entries, and the socially charged and funk-tinged "Why I Sing the Blues" just missed achieving the same status in 1969.

Across-the-board stardom finally arrived in 1969 for the deserving guitarist, when he crashed the mainstream consciousness in a big way with a stately, violin-drenched minor-key treatment of Roy Hawkins' "The Thrill Is Gone" that was quite a departure from the concise horn-powered backing King had customarily employed. At last, pop audiences were convinced that they should get to know King better: not only was the track a number-three R&B smash, it vaulted to the upper reaches of the pop lists as well.

King was one of a precious few bluesmen to score hits consistently during the 1970s, and for good reason: he wasn't afraid to experiment with the idiom. In 1973, he ventured to Philadelphia to record a pair of huge sellers, "To Know You Is to Love You" and "I Like to Live the Love," with the same silky rhythm section that powered the hits of the Spinners and the O'Jays. In 1976, he teamed up with his old cohort Bland to wax some well-received duets. And in 1978, he joined forces with the jazzy Crusaders to make the gloriously funky "Never Make Your Move Too Soon" and an inspiring "When It All Comes Down." Occasionally, the daring deviations veered off-course; Love Me Tender, an album that attempted to harness the Nashville country sound, was an artistic disaster.

Although his concerts were consistently as satisfying as anyone in the field (King asserted himself as a road warrior of remarkable resiliency who gigged an average of 300 nights a year), King tempered his studio activities somewhat. Nevertheless, his 1993 MCA disc Blues Summit was a return to form, as King duetted with his peers (John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Fulson, Koko Taylor) on a program of standards. Other notable releases from that period include 1999's Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan and 2000's Riding with the King, a collaboration with Eric Clapton. King celebrated his 80th birthday in 2005 with the star-studded album 80, which featured guest spots from such varied artists as Gloria Estefan, John Mayer, and Van Morrison. Live was issued in 2008; that same year, King released an engaging return to pure blues, One Kind Favor, which eschewed the slick sounds of his 21st century work for a stripped-back approach. A long overdue career-spanning box set of King's over 60 years of touring, recording, and performing, Ladies and Gentlemen...Mr. B.B. King, appeared in 2012. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Mr. B.B. King

Disc 1
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Track List: Keep It Coming (Radio Single)

Comments

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My uncle r.i.p
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Just heard BB sing A Better World Somewhere - I hope he found it.
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Love Love Love this man and his music. R.I.P. Mr King
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King. Of. The. Blues !!!! R. I P. B B !!!!!!
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We done lost OUR good thing....... . .
GOD BLESS YOU, MR. KING!!!!!
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What time will be on Beale street
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sekasman
Love You
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YOU WILL BE MISSED!!!! RIP ONE OF THE GREATEST!!!!
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My husband and I r n our 50's we saw mr. King here n Oklahoma 7/8 yrs ago, he said that was the best concert he had ever been to, cause he played that guitar and had a real band,today there r no real bands only beats. Thanks me. King 4 keeping it real
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Saw him twice n my life once with bobby bland years ago best concert I've ever seen will never forget B.B. Love him so much. My heart is broke, and why hasn't there been a tribute to him on t.v.
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johnk2302
The Bluest of the Blues
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lecountee
R.I.P King of the Blues!
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You will be greatly missed! R.I.P B.B. !!!!
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6swag9me rest in pepperonis mr.mlgquicks c o p e r
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Rest in Peace B.B, you were the best there was and ever will be- there is only one King!!
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Rip
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marbigpup
The Best!!!
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gailb999
Rest in Peace. You will be missed.
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RIP
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deziner77
Why hasn't the biography been updated? @Pandora get with it! RIP Mr. BB King
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was fortunate to see him perform three times in person, an unforgetable treat. He will be missed.
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Rip Mr. King
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Going to miss him he's in soul heaven with his friends Bobby bland Johnnie Taylor Tyrone Davis etc.
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The King has Passed on
But his Music Will live on
FOREVER !
Rest in peace B.B. King
And Thank you
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soulgrenade9
Beale Street Blues Boy or B.B. King for short. Nice.
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The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock and Roll. Thanks for that beautiful song Muddy.

Mr BB King, Mr Muddy Waters, Mr Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Howlin Wolf, Mr Albert King, Mr Freddie King. Mr.Albert Collins, Mr all you guys laid a lot of ground work for what we listen to today called Rock and Roll. Thank you for all the great music. Can't forget about Johnny Winter an Little Stevie Ray as we used to call him in Dallas when he was a kid. What a great venue being played in Heaven.
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you will be missed
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R.I.H. B .B. KING
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God blessed the earth with B.B. King, now heaven is blessed.
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Thanks for great music BB...we'll miss you.
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d.eddinger
Thanks BLUES BOY. We did lose a King. Say to Lucille. RIP
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You gave us so much more than the Blues.You gave us You......... . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Thank you for everything!! ! ! ! R.I.P.
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R.I.P to the greatest of all times a musical legend!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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One of the greats. Best blues artist ever
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B.B KING You will be MISSED, RIP!!!!!
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PEACE, Luciille haunts my soul.
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Its hard to be live my favorite blues singer is gone
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RIP B .B KING
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RIP BB!
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R.I.P. B.B.King. Your sound will forever live on!! <3
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R.I.P King
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billielofton
Mr bb king
There is not a day that I don't listen to your music I grew up listen to your music I love you and your music
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purplegirl19 6 8
Wow, still in shock. Can't tell you the number of times I've cried. You have no earthly idea what your music has done for me There's no greater duo than you and Lucille. I thank God for blessing the world with you for as long as he did. No one will ever take your place with me. You truly are the king of the blues forever with me. You will live on forever in my heart.
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As fellow Mississippia n im proud to this is the best music. Fyi the rest of the world owes something the kine
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BB King could touch your soul with a single note from Lucille R.I.P. you will be missed
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Amazing music! This man played Lucille!! Saw him twice in NY with my mom he was one of her favorites!
R.I.P. Mr. King and thank you for sharing your talent.
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ninette703
Your Soul is resting and your music will continue to touch so many. The love, passion and soul of you had for your music was truly a gift and amazing.
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R.I.P, Mr.B.B.King. Your music will certainly never be forgotten by any blues lover.
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BB King not forgotten his music live on his musical never stop he's now with all the Great blues guitars long live the King of blue never gone
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