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B.B. King

“King of the Blues”

Born on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1925, Riley B. King would start from very humble beginnings. His family moved around the area, and the young Riley experienced early a life of constant motion. As a youngster he was a farm laborer, but drawn to music, he took up the guitar; he played on street corners, and would sometimes play in as many as four towns a night. In 1946, he hitchhiked to Memphis, to pursue his music career. Memphis was a large musical community where every style of music could be found, a good place for a young man who wanted to play the blues. Riley stayed with his cousin Bukka White, a celebrated bluesman in his own right, who was able to show him first hand the guitar foundations of the blues.

Playing an acoustic set of rural blues, he kicked around a lot of the clubs in Memphis, getting a break in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. This led to steady engagements at the 16th St. Grill in West Memphis, and later to a ten-minute spot on black Memphis radio station WDIA. “King's Spot,” became so popular, it was expanded and became the “Sepia Swing Club.” Becoming a popular local disc jockey, Riley needed a professional sounding name. He was the Beale Street Blues Boy then Blues Boy King, and eventually B.B. King. This led to the studio recording of “Miss Martha King” for the local Bullet label, which didn’t cause much of a stir, but it did stimulate B.B. to pursue a recording contract.

He recorded a couple of singles for Bullet, and then signed with Modern’s RPM where he did “Three O’Clock Blues”, in 1951. This song proved to be a major hit, and he quickly followed that with “Please Love Me”, “You Upset Me Baby”, “Every Day”, (which would become his theme song), “Ten Long Years”, and “Sweet Little Angel”. These are available as “The RPM Hits 1951-1957” (Ace). These recordings rose to the tops of the R&B charts, and he went on the road to promote the songs, thus starting his life of incessant touring. This is how he developed his unique and signature style, every night, playing the blues. By 1955 he had a full time band, and hit the road, where he’s been ever since.

Riding the wave of popularity generated by the RPM records, he churned out a string of hits for their subsidiary Kent label, and stayed with them throughout the ‘50’s. This is the period where he made a name for himself, both in the record charts, and promoting the records by playing live. But by 1961, he had decided to change labels, looking to get a better deal than he was getting at RPM/Kent. He signed with ABC/Paramount records, which had just scored big by signing Ray Charles from Atlantic, they were aware of a bigger market, knew how to market B.B.’s music and were willing to pay for it. B.B. King received a $25,000 signing bonus. The overall environ was much more professional, and though they brought in first class arrangers and musicians, they pretty much gave B.B. a free reign, or so he thought.

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Album Discography



Jimi Hendrix
guitar, electric
Buddy Guy
guitar, electric
Howlin' Wolf
voice / vocals
Eric Clapton
guitar, electric
Van Morrison
voice / vocals
Albert King
guitar, electric
Freddie King
guitar, electric
Lowell Fulson
guitar, electric

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