Music News

Happy Birthday, B.B. King!

Anyone the least bit familiar with the blues is bound to

know the name B.B. King. In fact, there's no blues man alive today who is more

widely recognized or duly honored, given his numerous accomplishments. Born on

a Mississippi cotton plantation 86 years ago today, Riley B. King has been

heralded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, an accomplished singer

and recording artist whose string of hits -- "Rock Me Baby," "Everyday I Have

the Blues," and "The Thrill Is Gone" among them -- has not only become a part of the

musical mainstream but consistently covered by the younger artists who

followed in his wake. Eric Clapton, U2, and the late Gary Moore are among those

who consider themselves his disciples.

Still, for all his honors and accolades -- including induction into both the Blues

Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inclusion in the

Kennedy Center Honors, numerous Grammy awards, and the National Medal of

the Arts -- there are still things about this legendary

artist that have escaped most people's attention. Here are seven

facts about the great B.B. King you may not know:

* King's cousin is another legend of the blues, Bukka White. It was White who gave B.B. his first guitar. 

* Many of King's early records were produced by Sam Phillips, the same individual who helmed Sun Records and mentored such talents as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. 

* King got his start in radio, first as a performer on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show on Memphis station KWEM and later, as a DJ and performer on his own program on WDIA. 

* The initials "B.B." originated with his radio name, which found him tagged as "Beale Street Blues Boy." Later, it was shortened to "B.B.," the name that stuck with him his entire career. 

* Most people know that King's guitar has the pet name "Lucille." Yet, the origin of that nickname resulted from tragic circumstances. One winter, in 1949, he was performing at a club in the tiny town of Twist, Arkansas. During his show, two men began fighting and in the process knocked over a barrel of kerosene that had been used to heat the place. The venue went up in flames, and everyone fled in a panic. However, once outside, King realized he had left his guitar in the building, and he rushed back in to retrieve it. As it turned out, the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. According to legend, King promptly christened his guitar -- and all those he acquired thereafter -- "Lucille" to remind himself that he should never do something so stupid as to run into a burning building -- or to get into a tussle over a woman. 

* King's own idol is, interestingly enough, Frank Sinatra. A self-described "Sinatra nut," he claims he used to play Sinatra's classic album In the Wee Small Hours every night before going to bed. He also credits Sinatra with opening doors to black entertainers in traditionally white venues. In fact, it was Sinatra who helped King break into Las Vegas' major venues in the '60s. 

* It's estimated that over the course of 62 years, King has performed some 15,000 gigs, and at one point, he was playing 300 shows a year. When asked by a journalist if his 2006 tour would indeed be his last, he replied by citing the title of one of his favorite films, the James Bond thriller Never Say Never Again.

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Lee Zimmerman