On this day in 1925, Riley B. King, better known as legendary blues guitarist B.B. King,
was born in Indianola, Miss. King remains the consummate blues musician, and his style
of singing and playing has inspired artists from all musical genres for half a century.
As a child, King lived with his mother and his grandmother. He worked as a
sharecropper, like his father, and sang gospel at church. In 1946, King moved to
Memphis, Tenn., to seek out his cousin, country-blues guitarist Bukka White, who taught
him to play blues guitar. King was influenced by blues legends such as T-Bone Walker,
jazz greats such as Django Reinhardt and early country music.
King started playing music live on Memphis radio and gigged in local clubs. He was a DJ
in the early '50s under the name "Beale Street Blues Boy," which evolved into his
nickname, "B.B." In 1949, King recorded his first sides for Bullet Records, including "Miss
Martha King," in honor of his wife. He then signed to Los Angeles-based RPM Records,
where he was often produced by Sam Phillips.
King first topped the R&B chart in 1951 with "Three O'Clock Blues." Around this time, he
named his guitar "Lucille," after a woman who inspired a fist fight between two of King's
acquaintances that resulted in a fire -- which King braved to save his guitar. Every one of
King's favorite axes since has been named "Lucille."
King's many R&B hits in the '50s included "You Know I Love You," "Woke Up This
Morning," "When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer," "Whole Lotta Love" and "On My Word
In 1962, King followed Ray Charles to ABC Records. Three years later, he recorded his
classic album Live at the Regal and had a hit with one of his trademark songs,
"How Blue Can You Get." King had an R&B top 10 hit in 1966, with "Don't Answer The
Door," and again in 1968, with "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss."
King hit the pop big-time, which has eluded so many blues artists, with his 1970 version
of Roy Hawkins' "The Thrill Is Gone." The track highlighted violins instead of the horns
King usually employed. King continued to experiment during the '70s, trying his hand at
Philadelphia soul and recording "When It All Comes Down" with the jazz-loving
Crusaders. He also had a minor hit with Love Me Tender (1982), an album of
country songs that many critics deemed an artistic failure.
King, always a road warrior, continues to tour, though he now records less frequently.
His 1993 album, Blues Summit, featured John Lee Hooker, Etta James and other
In 1987, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the following year, he
was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
King toured with U2 at the height of their popularity and recorded with the Irish
superstars on "When Love Comes to Town," a track from their Rattle and Hum
In 1997, King became the third artist ever to receive the Blues Foundation Lifetime
Achievement Award. He now owns B.B. King's Blues Club, in Hollywood, Calif., where
he played a few gigs earlier this year.
In 1965, when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was revolutionizing rock with their
blues-based sound, the group's legendary guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, said he learned to
play guitar "by copying B.B.'s licks." He wasn't the only one.
Other birthdays: Bernard Calvert (Hollies), 55; Betty Kelly (Martha and the Vandellas),
54; Kenney Jones (Small Faces, Faces, the Who), 50; Bilinda Jayne Butcher (My Bloody
Valentine), 37; and Richard Marx, 35.