Sunday, May 17, 2015

ATM Remembers: B.B. King (1925-2015)

At The Matinee remembers iconic blues guitarist B.B. King, who died on May 14th in Las Vegas at the age of 89.

He was born as Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi.  The son of sharecroppers on a tenant farm, King's parents separated when he was 4 years old.   He played music on street corners before living with his cousin, blues musician Bukka White in Memphis, Tennessee in 1947.  King's passion for blues music was influenced by blues guitarists T-Bone Walker, Django Reinhardt and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

King would perform on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio program, which led him to a job at Memphis radio station WDIA, where he became a disc jockey and performed on air. Riley King's nickname was the "Beale Street Blues Boy," settling for "B.B." as his name.  In 1951, B.B. King recorded his first hit song on the RPM label, "Three O'Clock Blues."   Shortly thereafter, he would perform as a traveling musician, and was known for playing 342 evening performances throughout 1956.

King was known for his guitar, named "Lucille."  His first guitar was an acoustic guitar while performing at a dance hall in Arkansas.  While King was performing, two men were fighting over a girl named Lucille.  The two men kicked over a stove in the venue, and started a fire.  King left his acoustic guitar in the burning building, and rushed back to retrieve his instrument.  After King realized the reason why the two men were fighting, he decided to name his guitar "Lucille."  He had several iconic "Lucille" guitars throughout his career (the Gibson ES355 model).

In 1961, B.B. King signed with the recorded music division of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).  In 1965, he released one of his popular live concert albums, Live at the Regal.

In 1970, King released his iconic crossover hit, "The Thrill Is Gone," which was a smash success on both popular and blues music charts.

B.B. King set himself apart from the usual blues musician, by playing high up on the neck of the guitar, giving a "signature sound" to his songs. with his left hand vibrato style and his vocal-style string bends.  King's guitar styling would influence modern blues and rock musicians, including Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Bruce Springsteen- just to name a few.

B.B. King won 15 Grammy awards. and was given a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1988.  In 1984, King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.  In 1994, he was awarded with the Kennedy Center Honors by President Bill Clinton.  In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In 2012, King performed "Sweet Home Chicago" for President Barack Obama at The White House.  President Obama would join King on stage during the White House concert, alongside icons Mick Jagger and Ry Cooder.

Farewell to the "father" of modern blues, B.B. King (1925-2015).

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