Riley B. King was born in 1925 on a plantation near the town of Itta Bena in Mississippi. His father left the family when Riley was young and after his mother remarried he was brought up by his grandmother in Kilmichael, Mississippi. Riley attended church regularly where he sang in the gospel choir. He got his first guitar aged 12 and moved to Indianola in 1943 to work as a tractor driver. There he joined the St. John's Quartet and performed in churches as well as local radio. Riley grew up listening to country, blues and gospel music. His cousin Bukka White then taught him the finer points of blues guitar in Memphis in 1946. There the young King soon gained a reputation and in 1948 performed on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio program on KWEM in West Memphis. Riley proved so popular he got a ten-minute spot on the Memphis radio station WDIA called King's Spot. Later this was expanded and became the Sepia Swing Club.
At first Riley was billed as "The Peptikon Boy" (a cheap alcoholic drink) but later he became "The Beale Street Blues Boy," which was shortened to Blues Boy and then the snappier B.B. King. The young guitarist recorded his first record for Bullet Records in 1949. Later in the same year he signed with RPM Records based in Los Angeles. Most of his early waxings were overseen by Sam Phillips in the studio. BB King’s first R&B chart-topper was in 1951, "Three O'Clock Blues. “
On the promotional tour of the "Chitlin' circuit" whilst playing in a Arkansas juke joint a fight broke out over a woman . The brawlers accidently knocked over a kerosene-filled heater which set the room ablaze. People scrabbled for the exits but once BB realized he left his beloved guitar he went back into the burning building to retrieve it. He christened his guitar Lucille after the girl the fight was all about.
BB started recording in LA and had 20 chart successes including: You Know I Love You" (1952); "Woke Up This Morning" and "Please Love Me" (1953); "When My Heart Beats like a Hammer," "Whole Lotta' Love," and "You Upset Me Baby" (1954); "Every Day I Have the Blues", "Sneakin' Around," and "Ten Long Years" (1955); "Bad Luck," "Sweet Little Angel," "On My Word of Honor" (1956); and "Please Accept My Love" in 1958.
In 1956 he founded his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom, with headquarters at Beale Street in Memphis. There, among other projects, he produced artists such as Millard Lee His piano player) and Levi Seabury.
The hits continued into the sixities with "Sweet Sixteen", "(She’s my baby) Got a Right to Love My Baby" and "Partin' Time."
In 1962 BB King switched labels to ABC Paramount Records and cut Live at the Regal (Chicago) two years later. BB’s continued with "How Blue Can You Get," "Don't Answer the Door" , "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss" and "Why I Sing the Blues."
He recorded "The Thrill Is Gone" in 1969 which was a massive crossover hit.
In 1973, he recorded two huge sellers with "To Know You Is to Love You" and "I Like to Live the Love".
BB King enjoyed working with other artists and performed and recorded with many luminaries as he has toured endlessly up until the present day.
B.B. King is without a doubt the single most important electric guitarist of the last half century. His bent notes and staccato picking style have influenced legions of contemporary bluesmen, while his gritty and confident voice provides a worthy match for his passionate playing. Over a period of 64 years, King has played in excess of 15,000 performances. Sadly after a short illness King died on May 14 2015 at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada
Worth a listen
Three O'Clock Blues (1951)
You Know I Love You (1952)
Woke Up This Morning (1953)
Please Love Me (1953)
When My Heart Beats like a Hammer (1954)
Whole Lotta' Love (1954)
You Upset Me Baby (1954)
Every Day I Have the Blues (1955)
Sneakin' Around (1955 )
Ten Long Years (1955)
Bad Luck (1956)
Sweet Little Angel (1956)
On My Word of Honor (1956)
Please Accept My Love (1958)
Sweet Sixteen (1960 )
(She’s my baby) Got a Right to Love My Baby(1960 )
Partin' Time (1960 )
How Blue Can You Get(1964)
Don't Answer the Door( 1966)
Paying the Cost to Be the Boss(1968 )
Why I Sing the Blues (1969)
The Thrill Is Gone (1969)
To Know You Is to Love You (1973)
I Like to Live the Love (1973)
Let the good time roll (1976)
When loves comes to town (1988)