With a career spanning over 6 decades, B.B. King was probably the greatest star of the blues ever. He brought the electric blues sound to the world with his infamous partner “Lucille” in tow and became an icon that transcended the genre and deeply penetrated the American cultural landscape. His name is known worldwide as a blues icon. Here are 11 cool things you may not have known about the incomparable legend B.B. King:
1. 3 o’clock Blues:
When B.B. King scored his first big hit with “3 o’Clock Blues”, he was not the first person to do so. Bluesman Lowell Fulson also had a hit with the song back in 1948. King’s version of “3’o Clock Blues” was one of the best-selling R&B records of the year in 1952 and essentially put him on the musical map. It remained a staple of his concert setlists throughout his career in blues. Incidentally, B.B.’s version was recorded in a makeshift studio in a YMCA in Memphis. Before recording it, King got himself clean and had a good meal.
2. The Many Lucille’s of B.B. King:
Even many non-blues fans know that B.B. King christened his guitar with the name “Lucille”. What many people don’t know is that there is not just one, but that there have been many guitars played by B.B. that he dubbed Lucille. This is different than, say, Blackie of Eric Clapton or Number One of Steve Ray Vaughan, which both refer to a single solitary instrument. However, most of the guitars that King has called Lucille are of a particular model: the Gibson ES-355 in black with gold hardware. You can read more about the background of the original Lucille in Rolling Stone magazine.
3. B.B. King goes to Hollywood:
B.B.’s music has been featured on over 50 soundtracks from film and also television. “Three O’Clock Blues”, in fact, appeared as recently as 2016 on the soundtrack to the show Vinyl. Other notable television soundtrack appearances include the shows True Blood, Lost, and Entourage and Hollywood films like Heat, Casino, and The Fugitive. Despite that last appearance, B.B. King was never accused of being the one-armed-bluesman.
4. Rolling Stone Thinks B.B. King is Really Good at Guitar:
In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Blues Boy Riley as the 6th greatest guitarist, ever. Noting historic influences like Charley Patton, T-Bone Walker, and Robert Johnson, Billy Gibbons of Z.Z. Top wrote, “There are two things he does that I was desperate to learn… Both figures never fail to get you moving in your seat – or out of your seat. It’s that powerful.” Who finished ahead of B.B.? In descending order: Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix.
5. B.B. Gets Fresh:
B.B. King had a guest appearance on that beloved American institution of sitcom television, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It’s an adorable scene featuring both Will Smith as the Fresh Prince and his cousin, Carlton. Oh, and Lucille’s there, too. You can watch the clip here:
6. No steak, please. Just pass the kale:
B.B. King was a vegetarian. He also took care of his health in other ways: he hadn’t smoked since he was 25 years old, and he didn’t drink either in his later years. Well, mostly. But despite being a vegetarian, he’s done commercials for McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Hey, even if he eschews meat, a bluesman’s gotta eat!
7. Do you know how to fly? Fly? Yes. Land? Yes too:
B.B. King was a privately licensed pilot and often would fly himself to a gig. However, when B.B. King was 70 years old he was asked by his insurance company not to fly anymore. Those insurance companies just know how to take the fun out of everything.
8. Rock Hall Gets It Right – the Second Time Around:
In 1987, B.B. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was the second year of inductions. Which means there was a first year in which B.B. King was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is silly. Granted, the first year featured a very strong class, with names like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Robert Johnson. But still… as much as I like ‘em, did the Everley Brothers really deserve to go in before B.B.?
9. Nuts for Them There Ol’ Blue Eyes
: You might expect B.B. King’s favorite singer to be Robert Johnson and you could hardly blame him if it were. But no. B.B. King’s favorite singer was crooner of the American pop songbook Frank Sinatra. On Frank, B.B. said, “I’m a Sinatra nut. No one sings a ballad with more tenderness. I practically put that In the Wee Small Hours album under my pillow every night when I went to sleep. And when Sinatra wants to swing, no one swings any harder. No one phrases any hipper. With those Nelson Riddle and Billy May charts, with the Count Basie band in Vegas, Sinatra was the slickest singer around. You could hear all the hurt and happiness in his voice; you could appreciate how he put his life experience into his songs. He always sang the truth.”
10. Delta Blues:
B.B. King isn’t considered a Delta Blues musician, but he actually is from the Mississippi Delta. Like a true Delta bluesman, he was born on a cotton plantation, which was named Berclair, close to the town of Itta Bena in Mississippi, although he considered the neighboring city of Indianola his home. His parents were sharecroppers on the plantation.
11. B.B. King Received the Nation’s Highest Civilian Honor:
The Presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s as big as it gets, folks. The award recognizes exceptional meritorious service, and was established in 1945 by President Truman. B.B. King received the award from George W. Bush on December 15, 2006. Well-deserved.
– Brian M. Reiser,
Tribut Apparel / Joe Bonamassa Official Blog