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The Blues: BB King

Updated on November 4, 2015

BB King: One of the Greatest Blues Men of all Time

BB (short for "Blues Boy") King was born in Itta Bena, in the Delta, in September of 1925, the son of hard working Mississippi sharecroppers.

He was named after an uncle, and dubbed Riley B. King.

Riley's mother died when he was only nine, and he was sent to live with his grandmother in Kilmichea, Mississippi. Although he was given the opportunity to live with his father, who had been deserted earlier by his mother , young Riley decided to stay in Kilmichea. Sadly, his life was turned upside down once again when his grandmother died five years later in 1940.

The early years

Riley lived with his father for two years, became homesick for the Kilmicheal area. He returned when he was just 16 to return to school and continue singing with a gospel group.

The Cartledge's, a local White family, took Riley in and he worked to earn his keep. They were very kind to Riley, and even loaned him $2.50 to buy his first guitar from a local man. By the end of 1942, Riley had decided to move to the Delta in search of a better life; He was also thinking about forming a better singing group with his cousin.. In the spring of 1943, Riley to Indianola, Mississippi.

Riley was able to find work with a local planter, and.worked on his plantation as both a sharecropper and a tractor driver. For this,

he was rewarded with a buck.

Worried Dream...

"Last night I dreamed about my baby, I work up and the tears were runnin' all down my face."

Worried Dream

It was to be nearly twelve years between BB King's first album, Singin' the Blues, and his first real commercial success, Blues on Top of Blue, which was released in 1966 and climbed to 46 on Billboard's R&B chart.

"Worried Dream" is one of the songs from Blues on Top of Blue - hope you enjoy it!

I've included the Fleetwood Mac cover of this song from 1968, when the Fleetwood Mac was a Blues band. The guitar styling is superb.

BB King: Worried Dream

"I'm crazy about Lucille."


"...when I went in the army I picked up on Lucille, and started singing blues."

King released Lucille as an LP in 1968, and it, too, made it to the Billboard charts at #192 in in the United States. "Lucille," the title song, isn't a great one as Blues go, although King's guitar work is superb. What makes the song a winner is the story being told... you can listen and almost walk with BB from the Delta to Chicago...



The Downloadable MP3 Album


Lucille Lyrics

BB King

I don't make it a practice to include full lyrics from the songs I feature. Anyone who wants them kind find them quickly on the web. In this case, however, the lyrics really tell the story of BB King's dedication, determination and ultimate success better than any biographer possibly could. I encourage you to read them, beginning to end:

"The sound that you're listening to is from my guitar that's named Lucille. I'm very crazy about Lucille. Lucille took me from the plantation. Oh you might say, brought me fame.

"I don't think I could just talk enough about Lucille. Sometime when I'm blue seem like Lucille try to help me call my name.

"I used to sing spirituals and I thought that this was the thing that I wanted to do. But somehow or other when I went in the army I picked up on Lucille, and started singing blues.

"Well, now when I'm paying my dues, maybe you don't know what I mean when I say paying dues, I mean when things are bad with me. I can always, I can always, you know like, depend on Lucille.

"Sort of hard to talk to you myself. I guess I'll let Lucille say a few words and then.

"You know, I doubt if you can feel it like I do. But when I think about the things that I've gone through, like, well for instance, if I have a girlfriend and

she misuses me, and I go home at night, maybe I'm lonely, well not maybe, I am lonely, I pick up Lucille and it bring out those funny sounds that sound good to me, you know. Sometime I get to the place where I can't even say nothing.

"Look out.

"Sometime I think it's crying.

"You know, if I could sing pop tunes like Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Junior, I don't think I still could do it, 'cause Lucille don't wanna play nothing but the blues. I think I'm, I think I'm pretty glad about that. Cause don't nobody sing to me like Lucille.

"Sing, Lucille.

"Well, I'll put it like this. Take it easy, Lucille. I like the way Sammy sings and I like the way Frank sings, but I can get a little Frank, Sammy, a little

Ray Charles, in fact all the people with soul in this.

"A little Mahalia Jackson in there.

"One more, Lucille!

"Take it easy now.

"You know, I imagine a lot of you wanna know, a lot of you wanna know why I call the guitar Lucille. Lucille has practically saved my life two or three times. No kidding, it really has.

"I remember once I was in an automobile accident, and when the car stopped turning over, it fell over on Lucille, and it held it up off me, really, it held it up off me. So that's one time it saved my life.

"The way, the way I came by the name of Lucille, I was over in Twist, Arkansas, I know you've never heard of that one, have you? And one night the guys started a ball over there, you know, they started brawling, you know what I mean. And the guy that was mad with his old lady, when she fell over on this gas tank that was burning for heat, the gas ran all over the floor.

"And when the gas ran all over the floor, the building caught on fire, and almost burned me up trying to save Lucille. Oh I, I imagine you're still wondering why I call it Lucille, the lady that started that brawl that night was named Lucille.

"And that's been Lucille ever since to me. One more now, Lucille.

"Sounds pretty good to me. Can I do one more?

"Look out, Lucille.

"Sounds pretty good. I think I'll try one more. All right."

"I love the way she spreads her wings"

Sweet Little Angel - from "Live and Well"

Live and Well was BB King's real breakthrough album. It made it to #11 on Billboard's R&B Chart, #17 on the Jazz chart, and #56 on the overall United States Chart.

"Black Angel Blues", also known as "Sweet Black Angel" or "Sweet Little Angel", is a blues standard that has been recorded by numerous blues and other artists, including Big Mama Thornton, whose laid back blues suited the song perfectly, and Tampa Red, who released his version in 1949. Like BB King, he changed the song's name to avoid being politically incorrect.

The song was first recorded in 1930 by Lucille Bogan - BB King changed the title from "Sweet Black Angel" to "Sweet Little Angel" because "black" wasn't a cool word back then.

I have covers of "Sweet Little Angel" from Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters - there are zillions of others. BB's version made it to #8 on the Billboard R&B Chart.

"Sweet Little Angel" is my pick for the #1 hit on the album...tell me what you think...

The National Medal of Arts


The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and ceremoniously presented the award by the President of the United States. (Courtesy Wikipedia

BB King was awarded this high honour in 1990, at the age of 65.

The Thrill Is Gone

This song earned BB King the 1971 Grammy for the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. My favorite version is his duet with Tracy Chapman, which I've included below. It's also been covered by Aretha Franklin and many others, but no matter how you slice it, however, this song belongs to BB.

A Grammy Hall of Fame Award was given to "The Thrill is Gone" in 1998. The award is given to recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have "qualitative or historical significance."

"You know you done me wrong baby, and you'll be sorry someday "

Every Day I Have The Blues

I've included two versions here, because I want you to enjoy the contrast between the featured version and the second one, which was made decades earlier when BB King sat in with Derek and the Dominos. I prefer the second version, but I'll leave it to you to decide.

Live at San Quentin - 1990 Grammy Winner: Best Traditional Blues Recording

BB King & Katie Webster - Since I Met You Baby

"I`ve traveled for miles around

It seems like everybody wanna put me down"

Blues Man - Blues on the Bayou

Which is your favorite tune?

Take your pick, and tell us why you chose the one you did...

Which of the tunes on this lens did you enjoy the most?

See results

Who do ya love?

It's really impossible to choose one artist who stands out from the others on this list - they're all legends - but do the best you can :-)

Who is your favorite electric Blues artist?

See results
BB King receives National Medal of Freedom from President Bush
BB King receives National Medal of Freedom from President Bush

The Presidential Medal of Freedom


The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is-along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress-the highest civilian award in the United States. It recognizes those individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." (Courtesy Wikipedia)

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Like BB King? - Drop us a note and shout it!

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    • Nightcat profile image


      6 years ago

      Good Lord yes I like him! BB has to be one of the best known bluesmen, so he's done a lot for the blues.

    • FantasticVoyages profile image

      Fantastic Voyages 

      6 years ago from Texas

      BB King is probably one of the greatest blues artists ever. Love him! Great article, I especially like the info on his early years.


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