B.B. King – Blues Guitar Music Legend

One of my favorite guitarists has always been blues guitar music legend BB King! He is arguably the most influential and certainly the most visible blues guitarist in history. Other famous guitar players such as Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Keith Richards, Billy Gibbons and Mike Bloomfield have all acknowledged their debt to BB King. And, BB King’s playing today remains just as fresh, vibrant and alive as ever!

Riley King was born in Mississippi in 1925 to Albert and Nora King. His mother left her husband for another man when BB was 4 years old and he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother also in Mississippi without objection from his father. Nora had 2 other husbands and BB was shuffled back and forth between them and his grandmother. His musical education began when he started singing in the Sanctified Church, whose preacher Archie Fair was his uncles’ brother-in-law. Archie Fair strummed some gospel guitar songs and gave the curious youngster his first enticing taste of playing on the strings. BB’s mother died in 1935 but fortunately not before she could call her 9 year old son to her side before passing.

Afterwards, BB went back to stay with his grandmother and attended the Baptist sponsored Elkhorn School where he continued strengthening his young voice in the gospel choir. When his grandmother died in 1940, the 14 year old tried tenant farming on her land until later that year when he left for the Delta to live with his father and extended family for the next 2 years. By the age of 15 he was already playing on street corners. He had discovered that he could make more money in tips in one day of playing guitar than he could for a whole week’s work picking cotton! Soon he was doing singing commercials on Memphis radio stations and from that he moved on to getting his own show. It was at this time that he picked up the nickname “BB” which was short for “Blues Boy”.

His popularity continued to grow and eventually he was signed to the RPM record label. His first hit “3 O’Clock Blues” went to Number 1 on the rhythm and blues charts and heralded the arrival of a blues guitar superstar. BB continued touring and recording throughout the fifties, but it wasn’t until the sixties that his name became familiar to white audiences. In 1970 he won a grammy award for his monumental hit “The Thrill Is Gone”. To this day, he continues to tour over 200 days a year and to record with his band and with other artists as diverse as Larry Carlton and U2. His numerous television and film appearances along with countless awards continue to affirm his stature as an all time blues guitar great. Fortunately, for aspiring blues guitarists there is a wealth of instructional blues guitar tab books as well as a DVD course taught by BB King himself!

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