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B.B. King, Young Blues Guitarist

Back in 1951, a young blues guitarist named Riley King had his first hit song titled “3 O’clock Blues. ” The song was so great, promoters whisked the young man from his Memphis, Tennessee home to the big top of New York City, where he shortened his stage name from Beale Street Blues Boy to “B. B. ” Boogie woogie pianist Robert “H-Bomb” Ferguson recalls the first time he met B. B. King before the legendary guitarist’s first show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. “When I saw B. B. , man, I laughed. This cat came out on stage with a purple suit, red shirt and green tie,” says Ferguson.

King agrees with Ferguson’s memory, but notes that the color scheme was different. ” It was a red suit with a red tie with red shoes. Red and black sock and black shoes,” notes King. Over the past forty years, King has established himself as the indisputable king of blues guitarists. His creative style of blending gospel, jazz, and deep Delta blues has influenced two generations of blues and rock guitarists.

Unabashedly, King admits that he’s an original: “There’s a whole lot of things I don’t do as well as other people, but I can do and do very well being B. B. King. ” King launched his career as a professional musician on the streets of Memphis during the 1940s. He played gospel and blues on street corners for tips. Standing in-between blues and gospel, King took the path offering the promise of more financial rewards. At 66, King remains indefatigable. He does about 300 concert dates annually. Few artists who have attained the success that King has continue to drive themselves at such a grueling pace. The force pushing King to stay in front of the spotlight is simple.

He wanted to be remembered. “If you’re out there, people never forget you. That is one of the things I believe in today, never being forgotten. I would like to be remembered as a person that loved people and wanted to be loved by them”. King has wrought a unique style of blues often imitated, but never duplicated. Despite an unorthodox approach to the music, King has helped to shape the blues by bringing it into the mainstream. He hates when people label the blues as sad music.

Blues to me is many things,” notes the King. “It has to do with people, places and things. And the way of life that we lived in the past, we are living today, and the way I believe we will live tomorrow. It tells you about the world as well; it tells you about yourself as well as the ones you love. ” Perched at the pinnacle of the music he helped define, King notes that the blues of 1992 are different from the music he started playing as a boy back on the cotton plantation his family worked in Mississippi.

He has witnessed the transformation of the blues from African American folksong to popular art form accepted and appreciated across the globe. “It’s changed quite a bit from the way that we’ve known it to be. You don’t find as many straight acoustic guitars as we used to. We find more, today, people playing electric guitars and electric blues. You have today blues superstars,” says King. “All he’ll do is play Lucille,” King says with a smile, pointing toward his trademark Gibson guitar.

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