Personalities | B.B. King | Ambassador of Blues | Guitar Heroes

The bluesman who took the blues into the mainstream, B.B. King (b. 1925) is also its ambassador to the world. His solid, seasoned style is heard internationally.

King’s style draws on the Mississippi blues of Elmore James and Muddy Waters, the Chicago blues of Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, and the West-Coast blues of T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson, all filtered through his distinctive vibrato and the phrases that flow out of his beloved Gibson ES-355, named Lucille. His feel for the blues is consummate and instinctive, his licks coming seamlessly out of vocal lines or horn riffs, always with room to breathe within the song.

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, King was raised in a farming family and found his voice in a gospel choir. He started playing the guitar in his teens and moved to Memphis in his early twenties, securing a sponsored radio spot. Recruiting a band, he embarked on the chitlin’ touring circuit around the American South, honing his style and arrangements.

King scored a No. 1 rhythm and blues record with ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ in 1951, and followed it with a string of hits: ‘You Know I Love You’ (1952), Please Love Me’ (1953), ‘You Upset Me Baby’ (1954), ‘Sweet Little Angel’ (1956) and ‘Sweet Sixteen’ (1960). In the 1960s, as his blues waned in favour of soul and Motown, King signed to major label MCA to broaden his audience. Live At The Regal (1965) failed in that respect, although it has been acclaimed as one of the greatest blues albums ever recorded. But later in the 1960s, he found an appreciative audience in the rock scene, scoring a Top 20 hit with ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ in 1970.

In subsequent decades, King regularly toured the world, taking on the ambassadorial role that enabled him to survive passing fashions and occasionally hitting the spotlight, as with his collaboration with U2 in 1988 on ‘When Love Comes To Town’. In 2006, he undertook a farewell world tour, but since then, the performances, and awards and accolades, have mounted. In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2007, King was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Brown University. In 2009, Time named B.B. King third on its list of the 10 best electric guitarists of all time. He continues to perform worldwide.

Essential Recordings

Solo: Singin’ The Blues

Solo: Live At The Regal

Solo: Indianola Mississippi Seeds

with Eric Clapton: Riding With The King

Personalities | Freddie King | Bringing Blues to Rock | Guitar Heroes


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