BB King Biography - Long Live!

Author: Peter J. Black 

Born as Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi, B. B. King as he is popularly known was possibly the most respected, successful, and most recognized blues guitarist and singer-songwriter of his era.

He is also known for his captivating expression and Rolling Stone Magazine raked him 3rd in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". This is some accolade, when you consider the great guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Peter Green and Jordan Rivers.

His early exposure to the guitar was made possible by his parents Alfred King and Nora Ella King who made him join a local gospel group when he was twelve years old. This probably helped him develop what Edward M. Komara described as "a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed".

King worked as a tractor driver while seeking out Bukka White, his cousin and inspiration. He stayed with White for the next ten months, but was forced to return to Mississippi because of hardship. After two years and with more preparation he went back to Memphis, this time with the opportunity to work as a singer and disc jockey at the local R & B station, WDIA. It was during this period that he got the nickname "B. B." which was a shortened form of "Beale Street Blues Boy".

B.B. King had his first vocal recordings in 1949 under the Los Angeles based RPM Records. Even before this contract, in the same year he released the single "Miss Martha King" with Bullet Records, although this did not do very well in the charts.

With Millard Lee on the lead, King formed the B.B. King Review, his own band with the original members Calvin Owens and Kenneth Sands (trumpet), Lawrence Burdin (alto saxophone), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone), Millard Lee (piano), George Joyner (bass) and Earl Forest and Ted Curry (drums). King was assisted by Onzie Horne in the musical arrangements. The band's popularity grew so fast that it had 342 concerts booked in 1956, a record-breaking number that assured their success.

King also founded Blues Boys Kingdom, his own record label, in the same year. Millard Lee and Levi Seabury made their names as artists under this label, although King had to give up the record company due to the pressures of his own very busy schedule as a performing and recording artist.

King's name in R & B emerged in the 1950s when he scored an impressive list of hits including "You Know I Love You", "Woke Up This Morning", "Please Love Me", "When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer", "Whole Lotta Love", "You Upset Me Baby", "Everyday I Have The Blues", "Sneakin' Around", "Ten Long Years", "Bad Luck", "Sweet Little Angel", "On My Word of Honor", and "Please Accept My Love".

His version of "The Thrill Is Gone" won him a Grammy Award, and charted well in both pop and R & B. The song was also listed at no. 183 in the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" by The Rolling Stones Magazine. Early in 1980 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

In the 1980s, King focused more on television appearances and performances and less on recording. With shows and appearances of more than 300 nights a year, he was able to maintain his presence in the industry. With the release of his single "When Love Comes To Town" in 1988, King was able to reach a new generation of fans. He played as lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys in the 1998 The Blues Brothers 2000 along with Eric Clapton to record "Riding With The King".

Because of age and health reasons, BB King has cut his touring schedules since 2004, and when his UK and European Farewell Tour commenced in 2004 he was no less than 80 years old. Nevertheless, he played in every single gig and set during that tour. It says a lot for the man and his attitude towards his fans that he could make such an effort for them at such an advanced age.

His recent activities involved various commitments such as attending a commemoration of his first radio broadcast at the Thee Deuces Building in Greenwood, Mississippi in June 2006. In the later part of the same month at Indianola, Mississippi, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the inauguration of a new museum that was dedicated to him.

BIB King record a concert CD and DVD in October 2006. This was entitled "B.B. King Live" and was done at his B.B. King Blues Clubs in Nashville and Memphis. He was also able to help Eric Clapton raise funds for the Crossroads Centre for addictive disorders on July 28, 2007 during Clapton's second Crossroads Guitar Festival. He was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in June 2008.

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This BB King biography was originally published at http://encyclopediaofblues.com/?p=40 

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