Saturday, January 3, 2015

BB KIng: History and Album Guide

Riley B. King was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, in 1926. He is still active today as a blues performer well into his eighties. He is currently a resident of Memphis, Tennessee, the city he came to in the Forties to play music and work as a radio DJ.

King arrived in Memphis with his cousin, the country blues guitarist Bukka White, and landed a job as a disc jockey on the Memphis radio station, WDIA. It was here that he was coined “BB,” a moniker which means, “blues boy.” In 1949, he landed a recording contract with RPM Records. Many of his early recordings were produced by Sam Philips who would later found Sun Records. He also assembled a band which came to be known as the BB King Review.

During 1949, King played at a honky-tonk where a fire broke out during one of his shows. As the patrons, musicians, and King fled the bar, King realized that he had forgotten his guitar inside. He battled the flames as he reentered the burning structure in order to save his forgotten guitar. He later heard that the fight in the bar was about a girl named, “Lucille.” King named his guitar after the girl and Lucille, the guitar has been with him ever since.

By the Fifties, King had become one of the biggest names in the blues, amassing numerous hit recordings and touring almost constantly. Among his hits during the Fifties were, “3 O Clock Blues,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” Whole Lotta Love,” “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “Ten Long Years,” and “Bad Luck.” He gained a reputation as one of the best guitarists in popular music with his economical style which featured string bending and heavy vibrato. Every rock guitarist that followed would be influenced directly or indirectly by King’s style of playing.

In late 1964, King would perform a show at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. The performance was recorded, and the resulting album, “Live at the Regal,” would be hailed as one of the best live blues or rock recordings of all-time. King had a huge hit in 1970 with the song, “The Thrill is Gone.” The song would appear on both the pop and R&B charts. By 1964, King had signed with ABC Records which would be absorbed into MCA Records and then Geffen Records, his current label.

In addition to Live at the Regal, “Live in Cook Country Jail” (1971) is an excellent live album. “Completely Well” (1969) and “Indianola Mississippi Seeds” (1970) are outstanding studio albums. Several greatest hits collections are also recommended especially for his earliest work. Among these albums are: “The Best of B.B. King” (1973), “The Best of B.B. King Volume One” (1986), “The Best of B.B. King Volume Two” (1986), “The Vintage Years” (2002), “Original Greatest Hits” (2005), and “Gold” (2006).