Any B.B. King biography will rightly dub him “The King of the Blues," a well-earned title for one of the most original and influential guitarists in music history. B.B. King was given his nickname "B.B." when he worked as a DJ in Memphis (his real name being Riley B. King). The original nickname was “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which of course was eventually truncated to B.B. Born the son of a sharecropper. B.B. King knew suffering first hand, encountering racism and segregation at an early age.
He never allowed these horrible experiences to impede his music or his career, amassing 15 Grammy Awards before his death in 2015 at the age of 89. Unlike many blues players, King has always been armed with an electric guitar (he admits that he doesn’t even care for the acoustic) and emphasizes single-note lines rather than alternating rhythm and lead work (in fact, he claimed that he simply couldn’t sing and play at the same time).
While known for his two main hits “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “The Thrill is Gone,” King enjoyed a long and fruitful career, still touring until the end of his life (200 - 300 dates a year were not uncommon). While undeniably a blues player, King influenced a countless number of blues, rock, and R&B players, with players like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan amongst his most devoted fans. His collaborations with such diverse groups as U2 showed that for King, it was all about the music, not maintaining rigid distinctions in genres. And such collaborations have paid off. Recording "When Love Comes to Town” with Irish rock band U2 in 1988 exposed King to an even wider audience.
Noted for his singing vibrato, muting and staccato technique, and revolutionary string bends, King was also known for his guitar "Lucille," a Gibson ES-355, and usually played through a Gibson Lab Series combo or, when unavailable, a Fender Twin. For the record, there was no single one "Lucille" guitar, the name being bestowed on a number of King's favorite instruments. The name was bestowed on the original "Lucille" after King rescued the guitar from a fire that had been started due to a fight over a woman named, you guessed it, Lucille.
While King played (and likely created) his share of standard blues guitar licks, he could surprise the listener by, say, deftly alternating between the major and minor pentatonic scales (and even combining them). The scale known as the "B.B. King Blues Box" demonstrates the theory behind the beautiful simplicity behind some of King's most well-known lines (see below).
Though he is no longer with us, B.B. King and his legacy will be forever preserved through his music and the influence of his guitar playing on countless musicians the world over.