What would the blues be without Riley King? He got his nickname from his time playing on Beale Street in Memphis (Great American Things, January 21, 2010), where he was “Beale Boy” or “B.B.” Today, King owns the popular B.B. King’s Blues Club that anchors that headquarters of the blues — and has other locations in cities from coast to coast.
During his prime, King was one of the hardest-working musicians in the business, routinely performing 300 or more shows a year. He worked his way up playing the “chitlin‘ circuit,” the smoky blues clubs of the South. One night, two men got into a fight during one of his shows, knocking over kerosene barrels and setting the building on fire. Although two people died in the blaze, King rushed back in to get his favorite guitar. He later learned the two men were fighting over a woman named “Lucille,” and that’s been the name of his world-famous guitar ever since.
Only blues enthusiasts know most of King’s singles, though a few have become popular hits. His signature song is “The Thrill Is Gone,” which earned him the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male in 1971. King is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was selected by Rolling Stone as number three on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” and he has won both the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- B.B.’s still the king of blues (mysanantonio.com)