Today marks what would have been B.B. King’s 96th birthday. The legendary blues guitarist and singer-songwriter was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 in Belclair, Mississippi. After an amazing career that spanned more than half a century, King died on May 14, 2015 at the age of 89.
B.B. got his start playing on Memphis’ famed Beale Street in the 1940s and ‘50s. He would go on to become not only one of the blues’ greatest ambassadors but also one of the most influential guitarists in the genre, earning him the nickname King Of The Blues. His biting picking style, emotive string bending and vibrato would influence generations of amazing guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr. and more.
Also adding to King’s mythology was his use of usually black Gibson ES-335 and 355 models which he named Lucile. As the story goes, B.B. was playing a gig in Twist, Arkansas in Winter 1949. The dancehall was heated by a burning barrel of kerosene. A fight broke out between two men and they upset the barrel setting the place on fire. The hall was evacuated but King realized he left his guitar inside. He ran back into the burning building to get his Gibson guitar and later learned the men were fighting over a woman named Lucile. From there on out B.B.’s guitars were named Lucile.
Nearly 40 years later, King and Lucile performed at the very first Farm Aid just days after B.B.’s 60th birthday on September 22, 1985. King opens his set with the standard “Everyday I Have The Blues,” which sees the guitarist tearing things up right out of the gate. B.B. was not only a guitar player and singer but also a highly interactive showman characterized by his sense of humor. If B.B. didn’t get the reaction from the crowd he wanted, the crowd was going to hear about usually in a hilarious way. His Farm Aid performance of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is a great example of his showmanship. The set also includes “How Blue Can You Get,” which not only showcases all the elements of King’s guitar style but also sees him changing a guitar string on the fly as he sings.
In honor of B.B. King, watch three performances from his appearance at Farm Aid in 1985 below via the JamBase Live Video Archive: