Riley B. King, better known as B.B. King, or Blues Boy King, passed at the age of 89. He helped shape modern music and was an ambassador for the art form of the blues. He was a dynamo, touring up to the last couple months, with dates still planned for late into this year. I had a chance to see him a few years back when he performed on a bill with Etta James and Al Green, although Etta James was a no show due to illness (she would pass in 2012).
Here are three things about B.B. you may not have known:
- His guitar was named Lucille. He named it one night in Arkansas when a fight broke out in a bar he was playing. In the course of the violence, someone started a fire. B.B. fled the bar, but had to run back into the burning building to retrieve his guitar. He named it Lucille after that night, for the woman who started that fire.
- B.B. King couldn't play guitar and sing at the same time. Listen to him or watch him and you'll see this. Or as B.B. tells it: "When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille."
- Frank Sinatra was King's favorite performer, and King credits Sinatra for helping out black performers seeking access to venues at a time when those doors were closed. From B.B.'s autobiography, Blues All Around Me, "I'd started playing all black clubs on the edge of Vegas. That was back in the fifties. By the seventies, Sid was able to slip me into Caesar's Palace, thanks to Frank Sinatra, who was headlining. They asked Sinatra whether it was all right for me to play Nero's Nook, the lounge. 'Hell, Yes!' he said. Not just 'Yes', but 'Hell, Yes!' That meant a lot to me."
B.B. King, we will miss your wit, your easy going manner, and your smooth guitar work.