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Riley B. "BB" KingRiley B. King (born September 16, 1925), known by the stage name B.B. King, is an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter acclaimed for his expressive singing and fluid, complex guitar playing.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at #3 on its list of the "100 greatest guitarists of all time" . According to Edward M. Komara, King "introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed." King has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Early lifeKing was born in Indianola, Mississippi, to Albert King and Nora Ella Farr.
In 1930, when King was four years old, his father abandoned the family and his mother married another man. Because Nora Elle was too poor to raise her son, King was raised by his maternal grandmother Elnora Farr in Kilmichael, Mississippi.
King grew up singing in the gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. At age 12, he purchased his first guitar for $15.00. In 1943, King left Kilmichael to work as a tractor driver.
In 1946, King followed his cousin Bukka White to Memphis, Tennessee. White took him in for the next ten months. However, King shortly returned to Mississippi, where he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit, and returned to West Memphis, Arkansas, two years later in 1948. He performed on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas he began to develop a local audience for his sound. King's appearances led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the legendary Memphis radio station WDIA. "King's Spot," became so popular, it was expanded and became the "Sepia Swing Club."
Initially he worked at the local R&B radio station WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, where he gained the nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy", later shortened to "B.B." It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker. "Once I'd heard him for the first time, I knew I'd have to have an electric guitar myself. 'Had' to have one, short of stealing!", he said.
In 1949, King began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King's early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. Before his RPM contract, King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single "Miss Martha King" (1949), which did not chart well. "My very first recordings in 1949 were for a company out of Nashville called Bullet, the Bullet Record Transcription company," King recalls. "I had horns that very first session. I had Phineas Newborn on piano; his father played drums, and his brother, Calvin, played guitar with me. I had Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch on tenor sax, his brother, Thomas Branch, on trumpet, and a lady trombone player. The Newborn family were the house band at the famous Plantation Inn in West Memphis."
King assembled his own band; the B.B. King Review, under the leadership of Millard Lee. The band initially consisted of Calvin Owens and Kenneth Sands (trumpet), Lawrence Burdin (alto saxophone), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone), Millard Lee (piano), George Joyner (bass) and Earl Forest and Ted Curry (drums). Onzie Horne was a trained musician elicited as an arranger to assist King with his compositions. By his own admission, he cannot play chords well and always relies on improvisation. This was followed by tours across the USA with performances in major theaters in cities such ...
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