Congrats to the King of the Blues and our longtime friend B.B. King
, who celebrates his 89th birthday this week. B.B. King has been such a constant and comforting presence in the world of music that it's probably lost on a good deal of blues lovers just how revolutionary his stinging left-hand tremolo and sharp bends sounded when he hit it big in the late '50s with records like "Rock Me Baby" and "Sweet Sixteen." When he signed to ABC Records in the '60s, "The Thrill Is Gone" made him the first blues artist to reach the Top 20. But King made his splash in music as a vocalist before revealing his revolutionary style with singles like "Sweet Sixteen" and "Rock Me Baby." Check out "She's Dynamite," one of his first great cuts made at Sun Studios in Memphis under Sam Phillips.
Guitarists to the left and right of B.B.'s sound--and that includes Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Gary Clark, Jr, Buddy Guy, Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Son Seals, Robert Cray, and probably about 50 others--all acknowledge that B.B. is the man who showed them what an electric guitar could do.
And though King swears he doesn't play rhythm, Austin residents tell of a famous good-natured three-guitar pull between Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughn at the Continental Club where B.B. backed up the brothers playing killer rhythm, patiently watching the two duel it out, until finally B.B. called an end to the fracas with a sky-splitting bend that brought the house down and left the brothers laughing like two school kids whose Dad just reminded them who was boss.
Check out the recent documentary B.B. King--The Life of Riley
, featuring narration by Morgan Freeman and interviews with Slash
, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood as well as new and vintage footage with Buddy Guy, Carlos Santanta, Dr. John, Leon Russell, and John Lennon
For the uninitiated, take a listen to B.B. King Live at the Regal or Live at Cook County Jail and prepare to be schooled. They are two of King’s greatest recordings and are a must-have for any great record collection. (John Lennon quotes "Live at the Regal" throughout Abbey Road.)
King worked extensively with Epiphone on the Lucille
model and there's no other archtop like it in the world (except B.B.'s, of course). Epiphone's Lucille
will get you where you need to go and B.B. stands by it all the way. He did, after all, design it. Long live the King and Happy Birthday B.B. from your friends at Epiphone. The thrill lives on.