BB KING - Real Guitar Hero - Guide to The World's Best Guitarists
B. B. King and his guitars
If you consider the development of rock and roll as a giant mansion, with lots of rooms for each of the different styles and artists over the years, the cornerstone would have to be Riley B. King. Better known as B. B. King, he was old school before it was cool, and like the cornerstone of a building, he is barely visible now. Yet nearly everything stands upon the foundation he (and a few others) laid. Guitar hero of Guitar heroes, you won't find BB King in many your guitarists' record collections which is truly sad. Like Jimi Hendrix, he singlehandedly showed the world what the guitar COULD sound like, and made it sound like no other. One of the best guitarists in the world, BB King is still touring today.
A Guitar Great
For fifty years, he has influenced every guitarist that picks up the instrument, whether they knew it or not. Some of the more well-known players that have cited King's influence include Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards—6 of the top 10 guitarists Rolling Stone named in their top 100 guitarists of all time—and King himself was number three on that list. I saw BB King 2 years ago in London and he was truly amazing, although there is no doubt, when he puts down that guitar, he is certainly showing his age, as is his right. And I do wonder how many of the other world's best guitarists will be strutting their stuff or playing live to packed stadiums every night in their eighties.
B.B. KING - Every Day I Have The Blues
A Mississippi Boy In Memphis
It's been said that before B.B., everyone played the electric guitar like it was an acoustic hooked up to a speaker, but he took the instrument and gave it a life of its one. String bends that make you want to cry and solos that sound just the way a blues solo should—like it was a woman wailing her long-lost lover—have earned him another nickname, too: King of the Blues. But it wasn't always that way. King grew up on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta and tried to make it big for the first time in Memphis in 1946, but returned home after a few months. Undaunted, he allegedly saved up his money for two years before returning to Memphis again, this time with a gig as a DJ at a local radio station.
During his time at the radio station, King met T-Bone Walker and heard him play "Stormy Monday"—and in his own words, "knew I had to have one [an electric guitar, that is] myself!" Other early influences on King included Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson and Bukka White, King's cousin, as well as jazz guitarists Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.
Why BB King's Guitar is Named Lucille
The Origins Of "Lucille" the guitar(s)
For anyone who's just getting into B. B. King, the story of how King's guitars obtained their nickname of Lucille goes like this. Playing one night at a dance hall in Arkansas, the kerosene barrel that was used for light was knocked over and set the place on fire. King made it out safely, only to realize that he had left his beloved Gibson acoustic inside. He ran back into the burning building to get it, and almost joined the two other people that did perish in the fire that night. The next day, King heard that the fight that knocked over the kerosene barrel had been over a woman named "Lucille," and christened his guitar after her, "to remind himself never to do a thing like that."
Of course, every guitar he's played since has been named Lucille.
So what was the original Lucille? It seems it was stolen in New York City some time after, so it may be impossible to know for sure. His first guitar was a Stella acoustic, but the first "Lucille," was a Gibson acoustic of some sort. Once he made the switch to electric, King played a Gibson ES-335, and then an ES-355. The biggest difference between the two guitars is that the 335 is a hollow-body guitar, while the 355 is a solid-body. He has referred to the 355 as a "big-brother" to the wildly popular Gibson Les Paul, and has been playing it for at least the last 25 years.
BB King - How Blue Can You Get
BB King / Gary Moore - The Thrill is Gone
Live At The Regal
Trying to pick out just a few hits from the hodgepodge of popular B. B. King songs from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and even '90s is a bit like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. However, if there's a definitive B. B. King album it would have to be 1964's Live At The Regal.
From the rockin' opening to Memphis Slim's "Everyday I Have the Blues," to the moving rendition of "Help the Poor," the audience was B. B.'s best friend that night.
Other classic B. B. King tracks on the album include "Sweet Little Angel," and "How Blue Can You Get," and "Woke Up This Morning." And no King collection would be complete without "The Thrill Is Gone," his most famous track to date.
Through it all, he's been using "Lucille," which was usually a modified black Gibson ES-335 semi-hollow electric guitar with two humbucker pickups or the ES-355 solid body with the same setup. Amplifiers usually included either a Lab Series L5 2 x 12 combo or Fender Twin Reverbs with Altec Lansing speakers.
A BB King Signature Lucille
B.B. King - Blues Boys Tune
In 1982, Gibson finally honored King's years of faithfully playing their instrument with the introduction of the B. B. King Signature model "Lucille." Basically an ES-355, the guitar's modifications include a fine tuner tailpiece, a semi-hollow body with no soundholes, a 6-way tone control knob, and (what else?) "Lucille" engraved in the headstock. King also has his own set of strings, listed as Signature Gauge .010, .013, .017, .032, .045, and .054.
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