"When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille." - B.B. King

B.B. King is probably one of the most influential blues artists ever. And that has not to do with outstanding virtuoso playing ability, whisky drenched voice or short life span. Instead he has brought the mainly black blues to the more white rock'n'roll artists. I'm not saying that there wouldn't be white blues artists without him, but I believe that there would be significantly fewer.

B.B. King was born as Riley B. King in Itta Bene, Mississippi, on September 16, 1925. During his early years he played blues and gospel on the streets for change. At the age of 22 he hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee, to pursue a career in music.

In 1951 he had his first major hit with "3 O'Clock Blues", which was followed by national tours where he could do up to 342 performances in one year (1956). At this time he changed his name to Beal Street Blues Boy, which changed to Blues Boy King. That in turn was abbreviated to B.B. King.

During this period he played in a small town in Arkansas, a fight broke out, a stove was knocked over setting fire to the place. Once outside B.B. realised that he had left his guitar on stage. He ran back in and managed, albeit only just, to save his beloved guitar. He later found out that the fight had been over a woman called Lucille, and he has named his guitar Lucille ever since. She has been replaced with new Gibsons during the years, but is still Lucille.

What makes B.B. so influential is his clean playing style. He plays few notes with lots of bends and left hand vibrato, rather not playing a note than a lot, and he never does chords. Another funny thing with B.B.'s playing is that he can't play and sing at the same time. He either sings or plays. Among his own influences are artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker.

As I sit and write this I realise that, although I would not describe B.B. King as my favourite artist, he is still the one I've seen most times live. I think it's around eight, and they've all been really fun concerts. He always has a really great band and the last four times (at least) he had a very funny trumpet player with him. Big as a house, but dancing along and swinging his head back and forth like his neck was made of rubber. I've been sure every time that he would either hurt his neck or lose his head. Literally. B.B King is still, at 75, doing around 200 concerts a year. Astonishing!

Through the years B.B. King has often been considered as a less worthy blues musician, mainly because his music is easily accessible and that he makes a big show of his stage performances. However, 50 years of more or less constant touring and recording I think proves the opposite. If nothing else, have a look at the list of awards and prices below.

Editor's note: B.B. King died on April 15, 2015, of complications arising from his diabetes.

B.B. King Addendum Of Awards & Appearances

Born Riley King on the sixteenth of September 1925, he was raised by a foster family in Mississipi, before moving to Memphis, Tennessee. There he met Sonny Boy Williamson II(Rice Millar), who ran the King Biscuit Boy radio show, who gave him a ten minute spot as DJ, where he was nicknamed Blues Boy, which was abbreviated to the familiar B. B. that he uses today. When not on the radio, King played with various jazz and blues musicians.

King cut his first record, Miss Martha King, with Bullet Records, and immediately afterward moved on to Modern Records, appearing on their RPM label until he signed up with ABC-Paramount in 1961. Three O'Clock Blues was a huge R&B success in 1950, followed by a long string of classics, such as Woke Up This Morning, Sweet Little Angel, Eyesight to the Blind. Inspired by his cousin, Bukka White as well as clean-jazz musician Charlie Christian, contrasting with the raw, earthy sound of Muddy Waters and Elmore James. This allowed King to attract white as well as black audiences.

In Chicago, in what is considered B.B. Kings finest hour, he recorded Live at the Regal in the early 60's. However, his most significant move came when he, along with rock and roll producer Bill Szymczyk, he created Live and Well. One side he cut with his band during a show at New York's Village Gate, the other in a studio in Los Angeles with a small combination of white musicians and top black session artists such as Al Kooper, Hugh McCrackin, Herbie Lovelle, Paul Harris and Jerry Jemmott. The same musicians, minus Kooper, played on Completely Well, a modern swing album, which included several jams and the sensational The Thrill Is Gone, where King used strings against a blues setting. The album provided B.B. King with his second million-seller, a hit in the US.

After that, King found himself playing increasingly in rock venues, adjusting his style using Joe Walsh, Leon Russell and Carole King on Indianola Missisipi Seeds.

King became interested in Prison Welfare, and recorded Live In Cook County Jail, before moving to London, where he recorded B.B. King In London featured Ringo Starr, Peter Green, Alexis Korner and Steve Marriott.

A renowned showman, King is known world-wide for his guitar solos, having inspired both Clapton and Hendrix. By his own confession however, he cannot play rhythm or sing whilst he plays.

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