The King of Blues

“Learn to play what YOU like to hear” – B.B. King. 

This is our studio tagline, so it’s only appropriate that we share exactly who King was. You could probably assume that King was a great guitarist and singer, but he was so much more than that. He was one of the trailblazers of blues music and would become an inspiration for generations of musicians. 

King’s youth

Born Riley B. King, his formative years were spent as an orphan on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. He was introduced to music at his local gospel church and loved it. He started out his music career as a boy playing on street corners around town for spare change. Even from a young age, he was constantly on “tour”. By the time he was 22-years-old, King set his sights on something bigger than Delta, Mississippi and hitchhiked his way to Memphis to pursue a music career. 

Burka White, King’s cousin and popular blues star, taught him the ropes of blues music while they were living together in Memphis. King quickly became popular and even secured a 10-minute spot on a local radio station, which was dubbed “King’s Spot”. King got his nickname “B.B.”, which stands for Blues Boy, from the folks who worked at the radio station. 

The height of his career

King had a very distinct style that was based off of local blues guitarists such as T-Bone Walker, Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He was well known for his lyrical single string responses and distinctive vibrato. However, we can’t talk about King’s style without mentioning his guitar, Lucille. He played this Gibsons guitar for over 40 years and even ran into a burning building to rescue her one time. 

When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.

King caught his big break in 1951 when his record “Three O’clock Blues” topped the charts. He spent much of the remainder of his life on tour; he usually played close to every night of the year with his 13-piece band. King paved the way for other black musicians in a time when the music industry was extremely segregated. He won 15 Grammys and introduced blues to white listeners with his 1969 recording of “The Thrill is Gone”.

King continued to evolve as a musician as time went on. He collaborated with top rock and roll artists during the height of this era. Some of the artists he worked with include Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt. King won many awards and honors throughout his more than half-century career, including membership to the Blues Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He even has a museum in his hometown of Delta, Mississippi.

Riley “B.B.” King came from nothing and turned himself into the King of Blues. Listen to all of King’s greatest hits on this Spotify playlist.

We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about, but try to be yourself while doing so.

Learn to play what YOU like to hear

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