Born Riley B. King, 16 September 1925, Berclair, Mississippi
Nicknamed “The King of the Blues”, B.B. King is one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century and perhaps the most famous blues singer of all time.
The son of sharecroppers, King was born in 1925 on a cotton plantation called Berclair, near the town of Itta Bena, Mississippi. He considered the nearby city of Indianola to be his home. His parents separated when he was four ; his mother died when he was nine, after which he was brought up by his maternal grandmother. He moved to Memphis in 1947, where he met Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), who was running the "King Biscuit Time” radio show on WDIA. Williamson gave him a 10-minute spot as DJ and it was there he was nicknamed Blues Boy, which became shortened to simply ‘B.B.’. King's first record, “Miss Martha King”, was issued by Bullet Records in 1949. Immediately afterwards he went to Modern Records, appearing on their RPM label up to the time he signed with ABC-Paramount in 1961. Many of his early RPM recordings (1950-52) were produced by Sam Phillips at his Memphis Recording Service.
His first chart entry was “Three O’Clock Blues”, recorded at the YMCA in Memphis, under the supervision of Sam Phillips. It reached the # 1 spot on the R&B charts in February 1952 and stayed there for five weeks. This was soon followed by two other number ones, “You Know I Love You” (1952) and “Please Love Me” (1953). Between 1951 and 1985 King hit the Billboard R&B charts no fewer than 74 times and he also scored 35 pop hits (between 1957 and 1989). Throughout the 1950s he built a formidable reputation on RPM and its successor Kent. Other hits from this period include “Woke Up This Morning” (1953), “Please Hurry Home” (1954), “You Upset Me Baby” (his fourth and last # 1, 1954), “Whole Lotta Love” (1954), “Every Day I Have the Blues” (1955, his theme song, and his first million seller). “Ten Long Years” (1955), “Bad Luck” (1956), “On My Word Of Honor” (1956) and “Sweet Sixteen” (1960). Influences were his cousin, Bukka White, who taught him the finer points of blues guitar, but also T-Bone Walker, Elmore James and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian. His sound went more urbanized during the proceeding decades, but the guitar was biting just as ferociously.
After signing with ABC-Paramount in 1962, King's commercial success initially took a downturn. Most of his hits from the 1962-68 period were older recordings that Kent continued to release. At ABC and its subsidiary BluesWay, King became more of an album artist and from 1968 on his LPs began to enter the albums charts. “Completely Well” (1969) reached # 38 in 1970 and the single drawn from it, the sensational "The Thrill Is Gone”, became his biggest pop hit, peaking at # 15. It was his second and last million seller.
By then, King had a large white following without losing the black audience that had supported him for many years. It took some 15 years for white audiences to discover B.B. King. This came about through the wave of white, blues-oriented rock started by gifted youngsters like Eric Clapton in the UK and Mike Bloomfield in the USA. Especially the British performers awoke America to a thing they had always overlooked and brought recognition for King, who until 1968 had been confined to a dreary circuit of one night performances in back-country roadhouses and big-city ghetto clubs. In 1969 he performed for an audience of over 6,000 at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall. From then on, King found himself booked increasingly into rock venues.
The 1970s were a particularly productive period, with many album releases. Success continued in the next two decades. Through it all, King has toured as prolifically as any performer in history. The road has been his home since the mid-1950s. He reportedly performed 342 shows in 1956 alone and he’d average more than 200 shows annually even into his seventies. In 1987 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. B.B. King passed away on May 14, 2015. He was 89.
More info : https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/bb-king
Official website : http://www.bbking.com
Autobiography : B.B. King with David Ritz, Blues All Around Me : The Autobiography of B.B. King. New York : Avon, 1996. 336 pages. (Paperback : New York : Spike, 1999.)
Recommended listening :
Acknowledgements : Pete O’Gorman, Shaun Mather, Wikipedia.
YouTube (emphasis on his more rocking recordings) :
Dik, December 2017
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